Bill Kristol’s odd omission
February 5, 2011 - 12:58 pm
Bill Kristol writes an entire op-ed about how conservatives ought to stand for freedom in Egypt (we do!), but as far as I can tell, he never manages to work in the following phrase:
An odd omission, to say the least. That phrase, or more precisely the ideology it represents, is causing many conservatives and probably many who don’t consider themselves conservative at all to be a bit wary of what’s happening in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s indigenous Islamist group, and is the fountainhead of modern Islamists from Hamas to al Qaeda, from Cairo across the world. They also pre-date the Mubarak government by several decades. We wary conservatives want democracy in Egypt. But because of the Muslim Brotherhood, we’re wary of what may happen once Mubarak is gone. That wariness is not unreasonable. But Kristol prefers setting up historical references that don’t bear much relevance to Egypt, to swipe at the wary conservatives, while pushing all of us over to where he can suggest that we’re marginalizing ourselves along the lines of Glenn Beck (which is itself debatable, since lately Beck has been mostly reciting what the Muslim Brotherhood actually wants out of life). Take this Kristol paragraph, for instance.
Furthermore, in the last quarter century, there have been transitions from allied dictatorships to allied democracies in Chile, South Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia, to name only a few. The United States has played a role in helping those transitions turn out (reasonably) well. America needn’t be passive or fretful or defensive. We can help foster one outcome over another. As Krauthammer puts it, “Elections will be held. The primary U.S. objective is to guide a transition period that gives secular democrats a chance.”
What’s missing in all those successful or semi-successful transitions from dictatorship to democracy? Why, the ideology represented by the phrase above: the Muslim Brotherhood. And in two of the four cited, the US had a sizable military presence at the time of the transition. Sharia law is spreading, along with radical Islam, in Indonesia, which doesn’t bode well for that country’s long term future. Chile was not home to an apocalyptic, genocidal ideology that had already set the globe afire in war. So those historical transitions really don’t fit the current situation all that well. Iran circa 1979, on the other hand, fits it like an Isotoner. Thus, the wariness.
As for the current situation, we don’t have a sizable military presence in Egypt, but the Muslim Brotherhood is there and is the largest organized opposition to the Mubarak government. Surely that’s relevant to what might or might not happen in Egypt? Surely those facts feed reasonable wariness, and have little or nothing to do with anything Glenn Beck says. And surely the wariness doesn’t mean we’re not “standing for freedom.” It means there’s reason to fear that good Egyptians will end up trading secular dictatorship for Islamist tyranny, whether we think good thoughts about Egypt or not.
Reasonable minds can and do disagree on what the US ought or ought not to do concerning the unrest in Egypt. It’s not a simple situation at all. And it’s not at all clear that the US can do much about it anyway. But if you’re going to write an analysis that chides people for not holding to your point of view, you should at least do them the respect of addressing the source of their actual concerns instead of setting up platoons of straw men.
More: Note to Rich Lowry. Whatever one thinks of Beck, he’s not inventing connections between the American left and the “caliphate promoters.” Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood according to those noted Birchers the Council on Foreign Relations, is among the caliphate promoters, and Code Pink has long been in league with them. What impact that alliance has is certainly debatable, and I doubt that Code Pink is any more effective in Egypt than it has been in the US, but the alliance itself is not an invention of Beck’s.