Mubarak and Egypt: Latest Chapter of a Flawed U.S. Policy

February 8, 2011 Topic: AutocracyDemocracyGrand StrategySecurity Region: Egypt Blog Brand: The Skeptics

Mubarak and Egypt: Latest Chapter of a Flawed U.S. Policy

Autocrats should be kept at arm's length.

Demonstrators packed Tahrir Sqaure in Cairo again Tuesday, with several thousand marching on the Egyptian Parliament. The common narrative in the media is that the rapidly evolving situation has left the Obama administration struggling to put forth a coherent and consistent message. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times reports that the administration is now taking its foot off the gas pedal, calling for gradual reform rather than a swift implementation of democracy.


Yet when Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman stated he did not think the country was ready for democracy or that lifting the emergency law was a smart move, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was quick to fire back:

…the notion that Egypt isn’t ready for democracy I think runs quite counter to what we see happening in Tahrir Square and on the streets in cities throughout the country of Egypt.


It’s clear that statements like that are not going to be met with any agreement by the people of Egypt because they don’t address the very legitimate grievances that we’ve seen expressed as a result of these protests.

The current policy crisis facing the Obama administration stems in many ways from Washington’s support for Mubarak’s autocratic rule over the past 30 years. The United States has long counted him as our staunchest ally in the Arab world. But as history has shown, U.S. support for authoritarian rulers in client states often does not turn out in our favor. Today in Politico, I have an op-ed that explores this history and warns of the possible repercussions from the current crisis in Egypt for the United States:

U.S. policymakers over the decades have been far too promiscuous about the need for relationships with such leaders. The downside of the cynical strategy is that when long-suffering populations finally cast off their oppressive rulers, they may direct their anger at the United States for having sponsored those regimes.

We have been lucky that hostile responses have not occurred in every nation where a dictatorial U.S. client has been overthrown. And so far in both Egypt and Tunisia, anti-Americanism has not been a prominent feature of the demonstrations.

One hopes that our luck holds. But the latest turbulence should be a reminder to U.S. policymakers to hold even supposedly friendly tyrants at arm’s length rather than enthusiastically embracing them.

Click here to read the full op-ed.