The uprising in Egypt has produced the greatest torrent of wisdom of hindsight since, oh, since the Great Recession. Yes, it’s as long ago as that since we saw so much delayed predictive power.
America should have forced Mubarak out sooner seems, all of a sudden, to be the prevailing view. I cannot say it was obvious at the time. Maintaining the sullen peace between Egypt and Israel was worth something to the West and to the region, wasn’t it? But the regime was sure to come apart at some stage, it is (now) argued. Better to get in front of the curve.
When you make this kind of argument for far-sightedness in economic affairs–on deficit reduction, for instance–you can expect to be told that “in the long run, we are all dead”. That argument is wrong, of course: in the long run, we are not all dead. But the consequences of failing to curb public borrowing are far easier to predict than the consequences of pushing Mubarak out earlier would have been–supposing that the US could even have done it. Stability and peace (however uneasy) are not to be given up lightly, especially when what replaces them is so uncertain. Getting in front of the curve on Iraq did not work out all that well. Obviously, we should have known that all along…
What if US support for Mubarak actually hastened his exit? That would be an interesting complication. David Ignatius makes the point:
Bush meant well by his “freedom agenda,” but he pulled the [Arab] reformists down with him.
That’s why Assad today is less vulnerable than Mubarak: His regime is at least as corrupt and autocratic, but it has remained steadfastly anti-American and anti-Israel. Hard as it is for us in the West to accept, this rejectionism adds to Assad’s power, whereas Mubarak is diminished by his image as the West’s puppet.
Washington debate about the new Arab revolt tends to focus on the U.S. role: Has President Obama blundered by not forcing Mubarak out sooner? Should America abandon other oligarchs before it’s too late? But this isn’t about us.
No, it isn’t. Since nobody knows what comes next in Egypt, I find the confidence with which many recommendations are now being made very hard to take.