Monday, January 31, 2011

Prudence, Indeed!

If, as they say, politics makes for strange bedfellows, international politics makes for even stranger ones. 

Such was the nature of our long relationship with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as well as our relationships with a host of other dictators, strongmen, and thugs both before him and, without doubt, long after him as well.

The British political philosopher Michael Oakeshott was famously skeptical of any kind of politics that "pursue perfection as the crow flies."  The wisdom of that skepticism is in order here as well.  Somewhere between pristine principle and bald interest lies the less-than-straight line drawn by prudence, the art that is definitely needed as we both witness and react to what is transpiring in Egypt.  As a consequence of it, we will soon be re-evaluating our foreign policy (heck, we're already doing it) and the temptation will be to forgo prudence for what is imagined to be undefiled principle.  That would be unwise and potentially dangerous.

Ironically, we can be thankful, in a fashion, that a Democrat is currently in the White House.  As such, the Democrats cannot afford to act or speak too irresponsibly, as they did for almost the whole of the Iraq War.  (Notice how closed-mouthed, as a party, they've become about the War since they took hold of the full reins of government?)  Were it a Republican Administration instead, we can be sure there would be no relief from ignorant and opportunistic caterwauling about why we ever struck a deal with a dictator in the first place.  Blessedly, the GOP is not so inclined, populated as it is with conservative politicians who, for the most part, understand instinctively the folly of such rhetoric.      

Making common cause with a thug is an always dangerous thing to do.  But the chief reason for our relationship with Mubarak, and virtually every other similar alliance besides, is that despite our wishes to the contrary, no superior alternative exists.  In politics, domestic and international, the nature of the real, not the hoped-for alternative is always what matters in the end.

What was then and is now the real alternative in Egypt?  By framing this as a mass uprising, the media has become complicit in making it seem as though the effective choice is between Mubarak, or someone like him, and an otherwise peaceful democracy.  I'm not so sure.  I'm not so sure that what replaces Mubarak's rule will be peaceful at all, an Egyptian Rainbow Coalition of Muslims, Christians, and secularists calmly dividing the spoils of victory.  In fact, I'm not so sure it will be a democracy at all.  I'm even less sure that it will be a liberal democracy.  No, that's not correct.  I'm virtually certain that whatever replaces Mubarak, it will not be a liberal democracy.

As things stand in Egypt, no mere democracy, no democracy in which the majority rules, rules simply, and rules without prior respect for individual rights, that is, rules without respect for liberty, constitutes in any meaningful sense a palatable alternative to the rule of a strongman like Mubarak, a strongman who is otherwise on our side and who can, and will, hold the forces of radical Islamism at bay.  Those forces remain, to both our principles and our interests, the most immediate and real threat with which we must contend.  Whatever else we do, we need to remember that.

No comments:

Post a Comment