egypt and the way forward

There’s a book that I read that I highly recommend to all interested political observers – The Case For Democracy by Natan Sharansky.  The emphasis is on free societies, not simply a system of government in which the people elect their leaders by their votes.   It’s important to disconnect democracy from freedom, because these two words are not synonymous.   The argument is that it is not simply democracy that brings about stability in a country or society  – it is the level of rights and freedoms that are granted to its citizens.

What are these freedoms that former President Bush and, to a lesser extent, President Obama, are suggesting that citizens of other countries long for?  The ones we have here – freedom to speak out against the government without fear of punishment,  the freedom to worship the god of our choice or no god at all,  freedom to speak our minds in all forms of media without government censorship — these are a few of the freedoms we take for granted here in America.  The objective should be a freer Egypt where the average citizen has autonomy in these areas – where the people can choose the path that is best for them and succeed on their own terms.

Not all revolutions are good ones.   Mubarak probably needed to be replaced, but it’s not clear that the end result was the best possible scenario for Egypt going forward.  Sometimes the mob chooses leaders who will continue to restrict the rights of their citizens in order to conform with Muslim fundamentalism and Sharia law.  If at the end of the day, the Muslim Brotherhood ends up controlling Egypt, then Egypt isn’t better off without Mubarak – it’s worse.

The choice should have been an easier one for President Obama in Iran.  The protesters should have been encouraged by this administration to stand up for themselves and their fellow citizens.  This was a missed opportunity.  It didn’t require the use of our military or working through the UN bloat-ocracy.  All that was required was a strong statement of support from the President of the United States.  That’s our role – no other country will fill that void.

Let’s start with this disclaimer.   I agree with the perspective of noted political humorist PJ O’Rourke who once opined that everybody screws up foreign policy – Republicans, Democrats…everybody.   I don’t believe that it’s possible to prevent every worse-case scenario on the national stage, whether it’s Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or North Korea.  But I do think that every President needs to have advisors who have the ability to think strategically and game-plan for the future.   This is more important than ever in these uncertain times, because every US action or inaction could irrevocably set off a series of events that can set the course of history for the next 10-20 years.

Does President Obama have a good team around team to help him navigate these rough international waters?

Newsweek’s Niall Ferguson says no:

I can think of no more damning indictment of the administration’s strategic thinking than this: it never once considered a scenario in which Mubarak faced a popular revolt. Yet the very essence of rigorous strategic thinking is to devise such a scenario and to think through the best responses to them, preferably two or three moves ahead of actual or potential adversaries. It is only by doing these things—ranking priorities and gaming scenarios—that a coherent foreign policy can be made. The Israelis have been hard at work doing this. All the president and his NSC team seem to have done is to draft touchy-feely speeches like the one he delivered in Cairo early in his presidency.

This is something that the President needs to consider – and learn from his mistakes by surrounding himself with the best people who understand the dynamics of the world we live in, so the next domino falling won’t catch the United States by surprise.