There is only one major question facing U.S. policy makers: Do we succeed in pushing President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt to institute both significant reforms and accept the necessity of eventual resignation and creation of a transitional government? Or do we find that we are forced to find a new “democratic” government in office as the regime crumbles, and that the only organized political force existing at present uses its clout to in essence become the new Egyptian regime?
That force, as we all know, is the Muslim Brotherhood. On these pages, Barry Rubin has aptly noted that one outcome could be that:
The Muslim Brotherhood throws its full weight behind the rebellion. Soldiers refuse to fire at or join the opposition. Eventually, a radical regime emerges, with the Muslim Brotherhood as either ruler or power behind the throne. Remember that the “moderate democratic” leaders have been largely radical and willing to work with the Brotherhood. In that case, it is a fundamental transformation.
And Rubin’s harsh scenario, unfortunately, is as likely to take place as any other possible better alternative. Rubin is right that, should this occur, it “will be the biggest disaster for the region and the West since the Iranian revolution 30 years ago. And in some ways it will be worse.”
No wonder so many say we should stick with the devil we know. Or as FDR said of the Dominican Republic dictator in the 1940s, Rafael Trujillo, “He’s a son of a bitch. But he’s our son of a bitch.”
As bad as Mubarak is, and the Egyptian people have good reason to despise him, he is a lot better than other dictators who have led regimes in the Middle East. Remember Saddam Hussein, and also recall the forces that took power in Iran after the populace ousted the shah in 1979. I vividly remember all those student protesters on U.S. campuses bearing photos of the victims tortured by the shah’s secret police, and demanding the Shah’s ouster and his replacement by the great democratic revolutionaries led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. That was a popular theme as well in precincts of the always wise American left, symbolized by the arguments of Princeton University political scientist Richard Falk, or the comment of Jimmy Carter’s UN Ambassador Andrew Young that Khomeini was a “saint.”
It is most instructive to look back at Falk’s arguments, made a scant two weeks after the shah’s government fell and he fled Iran, and the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini returned to the country. Khomeini, Falk wrote in The New York Times (Feb.16, 1979), “has been depicted in a manner calculated to frighten,” and President Jimmy Carter had “associated him with religious fanaticism.” He was also “defamed” by the news media, some of whose pundits dared to call Khomeini an advocate of “theocratic fascism.”
Rather than being a religious leader who fit any of those dire characteristics made by his enemies, the movement had “a nonviolent record.” In addition, the would-be radical Islamist was a man who pleaded with Iran’s Jews to stay in the country. Certainly, even Falk had to acknowledge that the coming leader was against Israel. But that “of course” was due to the fact that Israel “supported the shah” and had not “resolved the Palestinian question.”
Khomeini was not dissembling, Falk assured his readers, since he expressed “his real views defiantly and without apology.” Moreover, his closest advisers were “uniformly composed of moderate, progressive individuals” and those he sought to lead a new government, all of whom “share a notable record of concern for human rights and see eager to achieve economic development that results in a modern society.” The reason the entire opposition deferred to Khomeini was not due to coercion, but because they knew that he and the Shiite “tradition is flexible in its approach to the Koran and evolves interpretations that correspond to the changing needs and experience of the people.” Its main desire and “religious orientation” was concern “with resisting oppression and promoting social justice.”
He knew that Khomeini sought “not to govern,” but instead simply to “inspire.” That is why he would live in the holy city of Qum, a place removed “from the daily exercise of power.” He would simply be a “guide or, if necessary, …a critic of the republic.” He would thus be able to show the world what “a genuine Islamic government can do on behalf of its people.” Falk assured readers that Khomeini scorned “so-called Islamic Governments in Saudi Arabia, Libya and Pakistan.” Thus one could talk of “Islam’s finest hour,” in which Khomeini had created “a new model of popular revolution based, for the most part, on nonviolent tactics.” Iran, he knew, would” provide us with a desperately needed model of humane governance for a third-world country.”
And you wonder why those of us who have become conservatives no longer trust the great spokesmen of the American left/liberal intelligentsia.
So far the retired Professor Falk has been quiet about Egypt. But others have not. Leading the pack is Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center. He also seems to be the man who has been one of Barack Obama’s chief advisors on the region, having chaired “at Obama’s request…the strategic review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009.” This is hardly, as the Daily Beast editors seem to think, a credential that puts the man in a good light.