Thursday, February 03, 2011

We Should Shed Tears for Corrupt Dictators?

Pat Buchanan appears to believe so:
But what must Mubarak think of us?

He stood by us through the final Reagan decade of the Cold War. At George H.W. Bush’s request, he sent his soldiers to fight alongside ours against fellow Arabs in Desert Storm. He stayed faithful to a peace with Israel his people detested. He cooperated with George Bush II in some of the nastier business of the War on Terror.

A dictator, yes, but also our man in the Arab world. Yet a few hundred thousand demonstrators in Cairo’s streets caused us to abandon him.

In the last half-century, how many others who cast their lot with us have we abandoned as “corrupt and dictatorial” when they started to lose their grip? Ngo Dinh Diem, Gen. Thieu and Marshal Ky, Lon Nol, Chiang Kai-shek, Marcos, the Shah, Somoza, Pinochet — the list goes on.

When we needed them, they were hailed as America’s great friends. When they needed us, we abandoned them in the name of our rediscovered democratic values.
Buchanan was in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan Administrations, so he's in a position to tell us whether any of the dictators for whom he weeps ever came to the President with a question such as, "I want to create a legacy of bringing my people into enlightenment, creating an educated, free democratic society - can I count on your help?" My guess is that the answer is none. On the other hand, were we to count the times they might have approached a President with a question like, "I need help training my secret police to squelch dissent - can I count on your help?"...

As for Mubarak's cooperation with the U.S. and its principal goals in the region, yes, he did cooperate. But would Buchanan have us believe that no quid pro quo was involved? That even if Egypt were not receiving close to $2 billion per year in aid and participating in U.S. military training exercises, Mubarak would have been as cooperative - or would have cooperated with us at all?

Buchanan sees Mubarak as wanting a better legacy than fleeing his country in the face of popular protest. No doubt. But if that happens it won't be because of anything the United States did. As with the other dictators and tyrants on Buchanan's list, it will be because of the way he ran his country. What are Mubarak's accomplishments as leader of Egypt? If he's looking for a place in the history books, being deposed may in fact be the best way to keep himself from being a footnote between the Presidency of Anwar Sadat and that of his successor.

Mubarak could redeem himself and maintain power until a transition date of his own choosing, if he embraced the democratic process and started speaking about creating a safe context for elections in the fall. He could transform the tail end of his presidency into an interim government, bridging Egypt's undemocratic, dictatorial past with its (possible) more democratic and open future.

Also, if he has to turn tail and flee in the next few days it won't be because the U.S. hasn't tried to support him and to facilitate an orderly transition of government. It will be because, in lieu of making any substantive promise of or timetable for reform, he decided to try to put down the protests with violence. How is that anybody's fault but his own.

No, I don't want to say that U.S. policies don't play a role in this. As part of his quid pro quo with the United States, Mubarak helped sustain policies that were very unpopular with some, most, and perhaps at times all of his population. The U.S. government appreciated that type of loyalty to U.S. interests - but at the same time the government, most notably the administrations of Buchanan's past employers, were quick to withdraw support or attempt to oust allies of this stripe who weren't willing or able to demonstrate the required degree of loyalty. Mubarak might have had difficulty in a more open, democratic society, maintaining his nation's blockade of the Gaza Strip. But nobody said democracy was easy.

As for the rhetorical question, "what must Mubarak think of us," I guess it depends upon whether he knows his history. But in the greater scheme of things it doesn't matter. That's the part that's gotta hurt, right? That (albeit in large part due to his own choice and action) we see him as largely dispensable. That one of his biggest U.S. defenders categorizes him alongside Lon Nol and, implicitly, Manuel Noriega. (Should Saddam Hussein be on Buchanan's list?)

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