American Elephants

Shifting Sands in the Middle East by The Elephant's Child

Osama bin Laden has, according to some stories, been holed up in his compound in Abbottabad for six years.  His goal ,we were told, was a return to the seventh century Muslim Caliphate.  He fought with he mujahadeen in Afghanistan and with American help they drove the Russians out. When the Soviet Union collapsed, he came to believe that he had a big hand in the Soviet collapse.  The Soviet Union was a paper tiger, projecting far more strength than they actually possessed. Osama assumed that America was also a paper tiger and by attacking what he saw as the central symbol of American power — the World Trade Center, he believed he could bring down America.  How bringing down America would restore the Caliphate is unknown.

The sands are surely shifting across the Arab Middle East, but they are not shifting in the direction of al Qaeda. The demonstrators are energized by an opposition to the corruption and repression of their former leaders.  They want jobs, justice, modernity, and perhaps even democracy.  These desires would seem to be the very opposite of the aims of bin Laden and al Qaeda whose goals are even more restrictive, harsh, and narrow.

Yet these countries and these people have no experience of democracy. None. They have no experience of real freedom, of private property, of entrepreneurship, free markets, all those things that we take for granted that are part and parcel of modernity. They have known only corrupt police states or corrupt playboy monarchies.

Last week the Egyptian caretaker government brokered a deal between Iran-backed Hamas in Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank.  Cairo didn’t bother to tell either Israel or the Americans. The agreement will be signed today and it empowers Hamas, which is a terrorist group. The Muslim Brotherhood is the best organized political group in Egypt.  It condemned the bin Laden killing.

Cairo also plans to establish diplomatic relations with Iran , and an Iranian destroyer was allowed to pass through the Suez Canal for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Not signs of a government deeply interested in democracy. Both the US and Israel will face some tough choices.  If Cairo wants closer ties with terrorists, America’s long support for the Egyptian military would have to be reconsidered. Have we delivered that blunt message?

We will come to regret our lack of support for the anti-Mubarak forces. Robert Kagan remarked that “It is not pragmatic to cling to the status quo in a revolutionary ers.” In Bahrain and Yemen, the outcome of uprising is far from certain.  Kagan warns that so-called pragmatism may not be the safest course.

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