The PJ Tatler

Propping up dictators

If there’s one line I’m getting tired of hearing in the media’s all-Egypt-all-the-time chatter, it’s the notion that the US “propped up” Mubarak and therefore we’re to blame in some way for what’s going on there now. Shep Smith utters that line every five minutes, as if it’s the most brilliant thing he’s ever said.  Ok, it probably is the most brilliant thing he’s ever said, but consider the source. His is consistently a shallow, emotion-filled analysis that rarely gets past the first layer of anything.

Here’s the deal. The United States “propped up” lots of dictators over the course of the 20th Century for a very simple reason: We were engaged in an existential struggle with a hostile power that wanted every soul on earth to live under its totalitarian ideology.  The Soviets were very active in Egypt, as they were across the Middle East and much of the world, to advance themselves and their communist tyranny at freedom’s expense. Mubarak himself spent two years training with the Soviet air force. The Cold War was not a game of Risk; it was a twilight struggle.

In the Cold War context, the US faced some choices: We could do nothing and hope for the best, or we could engage the world as it was and try to win. In many cases like Egypt, we had to deal with the world as it was as opposed to how we wished to idealize it, or we had to shape it and nudge it to gain every possible advantage against the USSR to win the greater struggle against them. So we “propped up” lots of bad guys in order to oppose a much greater evil. We also nudged a few of them to at least think twice before starting wars with our other, democratic allies. Would we have preferred to find Jeffersonian democracies blooming like lilies everywhere? Of course, and we “propped up” lots of democracies while we helped develop democracies wherever we could — see Japan and South Korea, for instance. Our foreign aid regime was intended to buy friendship and some measure or loyalty or at least non-hostility, but human beings have a habit of not staying bought so it didn’t always work. But this notion that Egypt’s dictatorship is “our fault” doesn’t take the course of the last century into account at all. When we did act to take out dictators, the folks who decry our “propping up” record now were the first to oppose regime change then. And some of them play footsie with even worse dictators and tyrants, from Chavez and Castro to Hamas.

The United States has had to deal with the world as it found it, in order to fight off a fiercely hostile power that would have strangled liberty everywhere. We have no need, in my opinion, to apologize for that.