New Republic: The Lessons We Can Learn From Cairo
The spread of democracy around the world is a natural American aspiration, but sometimes the sincerity of that aspiration is tested by the disruptions of democratization. The astonishing events in Egypt are such a test. They are so thrilling in their purpose and so unclear in their outcome. They provoke exhilaration and anxiety. But they demonstrate to a new generation that the democratic longing is itself one of history's most powerful causes. And, for the United States, they make clear that the spread of democracy is not only a matter of morality, but also a matter of strategy.
The events in Egypt have created confusion in the American foreign policy debate. Some conservatives who were only recently champions of Middle Eastern democracy rushed to defend Mubarak. (Dick Cheney called the Egyptian dictator "a good friend.") Others on the right were more consistent — applauding the protesters for their stand against autocracy. On the left, erstwhile skeptics of democracy promotion hailed the pro-democracy protesters as heroes, and lambasted their erstwhile ally in the White House for failing to denounce the Egyptian regime. Then there were the statements of Obama himself. He seemed irresolute in the early days of the protests, suddenly uncomfortable with the global leadership that was being asked of him, not least by the brave people in Tahrir Square. He issued platitudes about liberty, but declined to make a forceful public stand against Mubarak.
We understand the impulse toward caution: Chaos in Egypt could bring some decidedly undemocratic people to power, this time with theocratic inclinations. This is a nerve-wracking moment. But, as a practical matter, the United States cannot base its policy on nostalgia for a discredited autocrat whose days in office are numbered. Is it realism that is needed? Then let us have realism, which demands that we align ourselves — and our enormous influence upon the Egyptian government and the Egyptian army — with the Egypt that is emerging, and with the attempt to assist it toward a secular democracy.