The Egyptian Puzzle Box

It’s not easy for average Americans to sort out their feelings about the crisis in Egypt.  Our reflexive response was one of sympathy for peaceful protesters standing up to a dictator, and calling for an end to three decades of repressive rule.  To modify a popular Hollywood catch phrase, they had us at “democratic revolution.” 

The heartbreaking poverty of Egypt’s underclass touched the deep compassion which illuminates the American spirit.  We are the greatest humanitarian nation in the history of mankind.  We cannot easily accept the notion of sending billions in foreign aid to a nation where the rulers live in palaces, while the streets are clogged with people who survive on two dollars a day.

By now, most of us have heard of the Muslim Brotherhood, and dismissed assorted media and official efforts to whitewash their record.  Keeping Egypt out of their hands is essential, for its strategic importance cannot be overstated.  Something like eight percent of the world’s shipping passes through the Suez Canal, which U.S. warships are reportedly moving into position to protect.  Israel’s long-standing peace treaty with Egypt is a frayed thread holding the Middle East above an abyss of slaughter and darkness.  The Coptic Christian minority in Egypt could be devoured in an Islamist takeover. 

Egypt’s well-educated moderate Muslim community is a treasure that civilization cannot afford to lose.  After a horrific suicide bombing killed 23 people at the great cathedral in Alexandria, thousands of Muslims volunteered themselves as human shields for the Coptic Christmas services.  The eyes of America are riveted on Egypt because we know that hope grows there.  We want to see more of the future we glimpsed in Alexandria.

We’ve watched the feckless foreign policy of this Administration with mounting horror.  At first we had the spectacle of Vice President Joe Biden trying to claim Mubarak wasn’t a “dictator,” which was absurd.  Even if our national interest requires us to support someone like Mubarak, there is no reason to make fools of ourselves by denying what he is.  Insults to the intelligence of both domestic and international audiences are counterproductive.

Suddenly, as the protests swelled to fill the wide-angle lenses of news cameras, the Administration began talking about “orderly transitions of power.”  When the Camels of Crackdown were unleashed, and Mubarak supporters poured into Tahrir Square with clubs and firebombs, the President’s men panicked and demanded Mubarak’s resignation “right now,” by which they meant “yesterday.”  As the protests settled back into a contest of will, and Mubarak regained the initiative, “yesterday” melted into the moment of Mubarak’s earliest convenience.  Now there has been some violence from the protesters, and there’s talk of a general strike – which Mubarak’s new Vice President, Omar Suleiman, describes ominously as “very dangerous for society, and we can’t put up with this at all.”  The White House diagnosis of Mubarak’s political health may be about to take another dramatic turn for the worse.

The American people might not know what to make of the Egyptian crisis, but we don’t care for the spectacle of an Administration that sacrifices rational and consistent foreign policy for the sake of positioning itself to claim credit for whatever looks like the most likely outcome, on any given day.

We must demand a more consistent foreign policy from our presidential administrations.  Our own chief executives serve for a fraction of the lifelong terms enjoyed by many of the world’s rulers.  We can’t maintain enduring, stable relationships with foreign leaders who know they could be one American election away from being thrown under the bus. 

On the other hand, we’re tired of sacrificing our national philosophy in the name of our strategic interests.  What greater gift can the descendants of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson offer the world than our birthright of truth and liberty… and how can we share it, if our foreign policy requires us to betray it?

Many of us are wondering why we can’t buy a better class of dictator with our billions in foreign aid.  The Egyptian uprising is largely a response to politically corrupted economics, which have nothing to do with the vital mission of suppressing radical Islam that we entrusted to Mubarak.  A system which fails its people at a fundamental level is inherently unstable, no matter how much financial support flows into it from foreign sponsors.  Our support should come with a code of conduct that minimizes the threat of revolution through starvation.

The fruits of our prosperity may provide charity to nurse the people of foreign countries through their most desperate hours, but the treasure of the American character is a far more valuable prize.  We were meant to be missionaries, spreading that treasure throughout the world.  We must also confront the reality that our offer will sometimes be refused.  The hungry darkness of Islamic fascism is a deadly enemy.  Americans want something better for the desperate people thronging the streets of Cairo.  We want to unlock the Egyptian puzzle box, and find a future that is free of both authoritarian rule and primitive savagery.  At the intersection of our enduring idealism, and the unpleasant demands of our national interest in a dangerous region, lies the first move for solving that puzzle.


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