Sigh. I really don’t want to write this article, but we have too good a case study of contemporary Western foreign policy reporting, debate, and elite attitudes toward international affairs to ignore. Doing a better job here is vital, as this task involves the fate of millions of people, matters of war and peace, the most basic interests of the United States, and the decency of intellectual discourse.
I refer, of course, to Thomas L. Friedman’s latest effort: “The Belly Dancing Barometer.” (Tens of millions of lives are at stake — that’s worth a flippant title and goofy concept, right?)
Since the start of the 2011 revolution in Tahrir Square, every time the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood faced a choice of whether to behave in an inclusive way or grab more power, true to its Bolshevik tendencies it grabbed more power and sacrificed inclusion. [President] Morsi’s power grab will haunt him.
The Brotherhood needs to understand that its version of political Islam — which is resistant to women’s empowerment and religious and political pluralism — might be sustainable if you are Iran or Saudi Arabia, and you have huge reserves of oil and gas to buy off all the contradictions between your ideology and economic growth. But if you are Egypt, you need to be as open to the world and modernity as possible to unleash all of the potential for growth.
So, let me get this straight.
Friedman is saying that you cannot trust the Brotherhood, as it seeks total power and is anti-democratic.
Hmm: what’s Friedman been saying the last two years? Well, he has been an apologist for the Brotherhood, a cheerleader for the course taken by the “Arab Spring,” and has constantly insisted that the “democratic” revolution is going well. Indeed, in January 2012 I wrote an analysis of Friedman’s coverage titled: “Friedman Cheers as Egyptians are Enslaved.”
Now, when it’s too late? Friedman is supposedly outraged to see what’s going on there.
Now, he concludes that the Egyptian regime is not democratic at all.
However, he draws no conclusions about how U.S. policy should change to adjust for his discovery. Does Friedman now favor — as he hints in the article — using real pressure on Egypt if the regime continues to be repressive at home? Will he criticize Obama for not doing so?
If Mursi [I'll stick with my transliteration] has “Bolshevik tendencies,” might that not also lead to his doing something nasty to U.S. interests?
It’s like identifying a mass murderer, and then asking him “Do you really think you can get away with this without a vast criminal organization behind you?”, rather than hollering: “Help! Police! There’s a mass murderer over there!”
On top of that, Friedman uses that “needs to understand” phrase, so beloved by editorialists but totally absurd when dealing with dictators. Well, what if they don’t understand, Mr. Friedman? How about saying:
Herr Hitler needs to understand that he cannot conquer the whole world. Germany lacks the economic base to do so.
Also, do we now believe in economic determinism? Was the USSR sustainable? Can you imagine someone writing this in 1917 about the Bolsheviks?
Mr. Lenin needs to understand that the Soviet Union [yes, I know it wasn't founded until several years later, but I'm trying to make a point here -- BR] should abandon its Bolshevik tendencies because it will never work out.
Sure, the Soviet Union failed. But it took almost 75 years, and tens of millions died as a result.
And since when did a Middle Eastern radical dictatorship — even one that was elected — put economic pragmatism ahead of seeking its goals: the PLO or Palestinian Authority? Saddam Hussein? Gamal Abdel Nasser?
Has the Iranian government dropped their nuclear weapons program because of economic sanctions?
Arguably, one such leader did bow to economic necessity to moderate. His name was Anwar al-Sadat, and now his regime — under Sadat’s successor, Mubarak — is the villain for America and the West.
Note that Friedman never says: President Obama needs to understand that he cannot trust this Muslim Brotherhood regime, should see it as a threat to U.S. interests, and must work to undermine it.