Sunday, January 30, 2011

No Easy Answers

Here is Secretary of State Clinton, trying to give a nuanced, careful explanation of United States support for a process of dialogue and self-determination for the Egyptian people.  Candy Crowley, however, like many in the media, wants to get the Secretary to take sides.  Are we for Mubarak, or for the people in the street?  Can Mubarak survive even if gives in to some of the protesters' demands?  Surely the administration is right to resist media and other attempts to over-simplify a problem and support one side or the other in another country's internal struggles.  Instead, the United States needs to support a process that will lead Egypt to a system that better recognizes the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people. That means the United States does not support a particular faction or leader, but instead supports human rights, including the right to peaceful protest, and the right to make change through elections, and also the rights to religious freedom and to due process of law.  You'd better believe that means that Egypt needs to make some changes to protect those rights, but it should not matter to the United States whether the existing government is able to make those changes, or whether that government needs to be replaced.  It should only matter whether this protest movement is able to achieve a more just society.

So Candy and others in the media, stop asking divisive questions.  It's entirely fair to ask what our understanding is of what is going on, and what the United States is doing to assist with this situation.  It's not helpful to turn a volatile situation in Egypt into a sporting event in which Americans need to decide which side to root for.  That can only polarize debate in this country, as well as create new problems in Egypt for any particular faction that the United States might decide to support.


  1. Not to give you too hard of a time, but in your previous post didn't you talk about not banning things with which we disagreed?

    "stop asking divisive questions"

    The role of a free press is to ask questions like this.

  2. Indeed, no easy answers. There is a fine line between backing democratic revolution and hoping for democratic evolution. One is far more patient than the other but not necessarily more positive.

    In the past America has supported military dictatorships in hopes that democratic evolution would occur while enjoying economic and defense benefits. It worked in Turkey; but we see failures as well. Democratic evolution takes time. However, the time is being condensed by the internet.

  3. Harrison, I'm sure you have contradicted yourself once or twice on your blog. I seem to do it from time to time myself. As Walt Whitman said, "I am large, I contain multitudes."

    In this case, however, I don't think I was suggesting that the media be banned from asking these kinds of questions. I was just asking Candy Crowley to try thinking of better questions. I wonder if she will read my advice.

    I think, Kevin, that we have supported military dictatorships in the past mainly when they support our foreign policy goals, such as during the Cold War, when they were anti-Soviet, or in the case of Egypt, because they made peace with Israel. There was a rationalization going around, however, in the Reagan era, made famous by Jeanne Kirkpatrick, that right wing dictators are better than left wing dictators, because they are more likely to evolve in a democratic direction. I think there have been enough counter-examples to question that theory, however.

  4. Gee that Whitman quote sounded like something Al Gore would say.

    To expect a serious question from CNN shows you have great faith and are an optimist!

  5. Thought this was interesting and smack on. This Al Jazeera editorial is a breath of fresh air after following events in Egypt on American media.

  6. I understand the thinking behind this editorial, but it is too simplistic. If this is an "either/or" moment, it should not be viewed as either democracy or authoritarianism. Democracy is worthless unless you also have respect for human rights, and respect for the rule of law. If all you advocate is democracy, as when we pushed the Palestinians to hold elections during the Bush administration, you can end with with an intolerant government like Hamas, a dysfunctional state verging on civil war, and just as much repression of minority views.

    And as you might guess, another real, underlying question is what implications a change in government in Egypt and Jordan might have on Israel. The importance of Egypt and Jordan making peace with Israel cannot be overstated, and that peace could be threatened now. There is a segment of opinion which I am sympathetic to that reacts to any news story by asking, "is it good for the Jews?" In the long run, properly functioning democracies in the Arab world should be good for the Jews, since right now Israel is the only functioning democracy in the region, but in the short run, Israelis have reason to be worried.

  7. If I lived in Israel right now I'd be very, very nervous. If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Israel will have the chance to use all those weapons they have.

  8. So true -- they should be very nervous. Lots to think about. However, if a real political change comes to Egypt and the rest of the region it could signal one of the best things that has ever happened for Israel and the rest of the world in decades. As always, the rear view mirror will be clearer 10 years from now!