Nothing symbolizes the Utopianism of our times like both liberals and some conservatives calling for us to cut off aid to the Egyptian military, because of the widespread killings in what is becoming a civil war in Egypt. Such utter lack of realism from the left is not new, but hearing some conservatives saying the same things takes some getting used to.
President Obama’s call for the Egyptians to end the violence and form an “inclusive” government, with all factions represented, may sound good to many Americans. But there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that it will happen.
Egypt existed for thousands of years before there was a United States of America. In all those millennia, Egypt has never had a free or democratic society. Nor is Egypt unique in that.
Of all the different nations that have existed at various times and places throughout recorded history, it is doubtful that even ten percent were free or democratic.
Even free and democratic nations existing today took centuries to achieve freedom and democracy. Barack Obama may have enough ego to imagine that he could accomplish, during his White House years, what took centuries to accomplish elsewhere. But do others, including some conservatives, need to share that delusion?
Yet Obama is only the latest in a long line of American officials, including Presidents, who have thought that a universal human desire for freedom meant that freedom and democracy could be exported, even to countries where they have never existed before.
However widespread the desire to be free, that is wholly different from a desire to live in a society where others are free. Nowhere is such tolerance harder to find than in the Middle East.
Has no one noticed the on-going lethal violence between different sects of Muslims in the Middle East, or their intolerance toward Christians and murderous hatred of Jews? Muslims in some other parts of the world have been more tolerant, and there have been five female heads of state in Muslim countries. But not in the Middle East.
Much is made of the fact that the United States gives financial support to the Egyptian military that is shooting down hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of Egyptians in the streets. But we have to make our choices among the options actually available. With the Muslim Brotherhood mounting armed attacks, what can anyone rationally expect, except shooting on both sides?
It would certainly be a lot nicer if everyone laid down their guns, and just sat down together and worked things out peacefully. But has anyone forgotten that, for centuries, Protestants and Catholics slaughtered each other and tried to wipe each other out? Only after the impossibility of achieving that goal became clear did they finally give it up and decide to live and let live.
As regards Egypt, it is not at all clear that any regime that has existed after Mubarak, or that is currently on the horizon, is better than Mubarak was. But the very idea of leaving well enough alone is foreign to those who are looking for moral melodramas and soaring rhetoric, such as talk about “the Arab spring.”
What did we get for our money in Egypt under Mubarak? We got peace in a part of the world where peace cannot be taken for granted — and a part of the world from which oil provides the economic lifeblood of Western civilization.
But we could not leave well enough alone. Now we are paying the price — and perhaps it is only the first installment of the price.
The idea that, when a government we find unsatisfactory is overthrown, we can expect a better government to follow, goes back at least as far as President Woodrow Wilson. His intervention in the First World War — a war “to make the world safe for democracy” — turned out to be a war whose actual end results replaced old monarchies with new, and far worse, totalitarian governments.
Barack Obama’s Middle East interventions have replaced stable and neutral despots in Egypt and Libya with anti-Western despots and chaos. Such is the price of pursuing ideological mirages.
After contributing to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power, and the disastrous aftermath of that, the Obama administration is now publicly lecturing Egyptian leaders, and trying to micro-manage them from thousands of miles away. And some conservatives are joining the Quixotic chorus, playing with fire.
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.