January 30, 2011

Autocrats, democracy, and pragmatism

Over on a political blog that I check every now and again, one of the respondents to this post argues that the US should keep supporting Mubarak (despite that fact that he's a SOB), and that they would be perfectly content if the conditions of the last 30 years continued unabated. This is one strain of realpolitik that has been pretty common in certain circles the last few days, one that is akin to a long-running foreign policy philosophy that has reigned in the US for decades.

I completely disagree with this sort of thinking, for numerous reasons. Mubarak is a crucial part of the problem, and is helping to create conditions that will only make things worse in the long run. Brutal repression doesn't lead anywhere good, and there are plenty of historical examples that bear this out. Seems pretty self explanatory, really. Repressive regimes are rampant throughout the region, and Egypt is just another case in point. These governments only fuel inequality, repression, poverty, and violence. Why is it that we think that supporting an autocratic regime--which represses the rights of its citizens--is in any way an acceptable solution?

In the long run, supporting anti-democratic regimes only undermines US legitimacy and credibility, especially considering all of our talk about freedom, democracy, and liberty. History has PLENTY of examples that bear this out (Somoza was "our bastard" in Central America, and that worked out just wonderfully, didn't it?). But then, maybe all of that talk about freedom and democracy is just a bunch of rhetoric and political theater. That's the pessimistic version of this particular trend.

Eventually, these types of alliances always come back to haunt us--and Egypt could be yet another case. Considering the fact that we have tacitly supported Mubarak for three decades, there is no reason to assume that a new government will necessarily look upon the US with favor. This is a real problem...but nobody should really be shocked, all things considered. Thirty years is a long time.

I definitely agree with anyone who is skeptical about where events in Egypt are heading. Definitely. It's difficult to tell at this point what will happen, and anyone who claims otherwise is being way too naive. This can go many ways, so it makes sense to step back and avoid making unsubstantiated proclamations. Maybe it's a good time for guarded optimism--maybe this will result in democratic change in Egypt. That said, it also makes sense to revisit some of our basic foreign policy philosophies of the past 50 years, and maybe rethink some of the short-term political compromises that the US has been willing to make--instead of falling back on the same old "let's keep the autocrat in place" thinking. What this means to me is that maybe, just maybe, it's best NOT to side with the dictator. A crazy idea, I know.

It's ironic, considering the foundations of this nation, that today so many politicians (and citizens) are willing to aid and support dictators in the name of our supposed "interests." To me, that's just short-term thinking at its finest (and it also flies completely in the face of our supposed ideals and basic beliefs--not that humans aren't always full of contradictions). Seems like we would have learned our lesson by now. Maybe we need to reassess what we mean when we talk about "our interests," all things considered. I am especially surprised when hardcore self-identified proponents of liberty and democracy so quickly backtrack from their ideals when the population under question exists outside certain political and social boundaries. Apparently, it's "democracy for me and not for thee," all in the name of political pragmatism.

I wrote this on another thread, but I'll repeat it here: there is no way that any US citizen in their right mind would argue that we need to support an autocratic regime in the name of political pragmatism HERE, so why is this an acceptable solution over THERE? Short answer: it's not.

/political rant for the day.

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