Remember the neocons? They were the powerful and controversial group of thinkers who argued that the promotion of democracy in the Middle East was the key to winning the “war on terror”. The influence of the neocons peaked during the Bush administration, when they became vocal advocates for the invasion of Iraq.
Many of the critics of the neocons always argued that all this talk of “democracy” was simply a hypocritical mask for the promotion of US or Israeli interests. So I was interested to see how leading neocon thinkers have reacted to the coup in Egypt and the assault on the Muslim Brotherhood. Have they kept the democratic faith, or have they gone along with the military?
The answer seems to be that leading neocon thinkers have gone in different directions. Robert Kagan, author of “Of Paradise and Power”, is outraged by the coup. He is co-chair of a think-tank working group on Egypt that has issued a statement demanding that the US cut off aid to the Egyptian military. The statement reads, in part:
“Whatever President Obama may say about U.S. support for democratic values in Egypt, continued U.S. aid sends a signal to the Egyptian military – and to the world – that the United States condones the Egyptian leadership’s actions. The continuation of aid removes a source of meaningful international pressure that could help to forestall future atrocities and prevent further steps toward consolidation of an undemocratic system in Egypt.”
It goes on to argue that failing to insist on a return to democracy is “not only morally unconscionable, but also a direct threat to regional stability and U.S. interests.”
Interestingly, the statement is also signed by two other leading figures in the neocon firmament – Elliot Abrams, who worked on the Middle East in the Bush White House, and Reuel Gerecht – as well as other figures, with more traditionally liberal views.
But there are other neocons, who do not take the Kagan-Abrams-Gerecht line. The most interesting amongst these is the columnist, Charles Krauthammer. It was Krauthammer who, in 2004, gave an influential lecture to the American Enterprise Institute, entitled “Democratic Realism”. In it, he argued that “the spread of democracy is not just an end but a means, an indispensable means, for securing America’s interests.” He also demanded rhetorically – “Where is it written that Arabs are incapable of democracy?”
Well, events in Egypt, seem to have changed Krauthammer’s mind. He was recently asked on Fox News, for his view of events and replied thus:
“Look, this is an old issue. We faced this in the Cold War. On one side, we have an army coup, on the other side, a far-left government tending towards to totalitarianism. These are choices that we have to make, there are always, you know — the choice of the better of the two evils. Here, you don’t want to show support for a crackdown of this. So, I think he (Obama) said the right words in deploring the violence, calling for inclusiveness and all this. But he knows it won’t have any effect.
This is now a showdown between the military and Brotherhood, the two strongest institutions in the country over who is going to govern. There’s not a middle way. We are going to have to live with one or the other, and I think he didn’t want to put his thumb on the scale, which would hamper the government. Because, I think, the alternative of the Brotherhood in control would be a catastrophe for Egypt, for the minorities in Egypt, for the women in Egypt and for the United States.”
So there you have it. Kagan has kept the democratic faith. Krauthammer has changed his mind.
Ten years ago, these internal debates in Washington had genuinely world-shaking consequences. These days, however, I doubt that many Arab leaders are reading the op-ed columns in the Washington Post (which publishes both the Ks), with quite as much attention.