John R. Bolton
[ . . . ] Today’s world is filled with failed efforts at democratisation. Russia has passed from totalitarianism, into democracy, and now seems to be passing right out again, regressing to authoritarianism or worse, although seemingly not of the communist variety. Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution has been hijacked by Hizbollah, the Shi’ite terrorist group armed and financed by Iran. And in Gaza, Hamas, albeit Sunni, is similarly armed and financed by Iran. In short, the forms and processes of democracy can produce substantively decidedly illiberal results, as Mussolini’s Fascisti and Hitler’s Brown Shirts should have amply warned us in the last century.
Moreover, beyond the issue of Egypt’s future government, broader US national security interests have legitimate – and enormous – claims. Americans may admire Woodrow Wilson’s aspirations to make the world safe for democracy, but they actually follow Theodore Roosevelt’s devastating response: “First and foremost, we are to make the world safe for ourselves.” Attention to US strategic interests is not evidence of indifference to democracy, but a recognition that America’s democracy itself requires its leaders to do what nation states exist to do, and as its Constitution specifically admonishes, to “provide for the common defence”.
Ironically, once Egyptian demonstrators verged on toppling Mubarak, the Obama Administration suddenly found virtue in demonstrations in Iran, with ringing statements by Vice-President Biden and others. By contrast, after Iran’s fraudulent 2009 presidential election, the White House had been silent or even supportive of Ahmadinejad’s election “victory”, so desperate was it to engage Tehran in negotiations over its nuclear weapons program. Obama’s sustained unwillingness to acknowledge, let alone endorse, the protesters in Iran against their totalitarian, theocratic military rulers provoked enormous criticism, which obviously stung the hyper-media-conscious White House. But while being rhetorically ahead of the media spin cycle is a mark of success at the Obama White House, as in so many other cases, rhetoric is all there is. Mistaking rhetoric for action is the Obama Administration’s hallmark.
So, today’s pressing question for Egypt is what steps the new military rulers should take. First, there should not be a rush to elections. It was a fatal mistake for Palestinians when the Bush Administration, reading supposedly irrefutable polls that Hamas could not win, scheduled elections in 2006 that allowed Hamas to do just that. Democracy is a culture, a way of life, as Mill and Kirkpatrick recognised, not simply the counting of votes. Any realistic assessment of Egypt’s “opposition” shows it to be weak, disorganised, and indifferently led. Moving to early elections, as the Muslim Brotherhood wants, will not bring the Age of Aquarius, but only benefit those factions with existing political infrastructures, which is a formula for domination by the Brotherhood. Far better to proceed when the true democrats are ready, which may not be soon enough for some, but which is unambiguously the more pro-democratic course.
Second, participation in the elections, whenever scheduled, should be limited to real political parties. From Mussolini to Putin, from Hamas to Hezbollah, terrorists, totalitarians and their ilk masquerading as political parties do not really believe in representative government. Banning such faux-democrats from participating in the legitimate political process until they become true political parties is entirely legitimate, and may well be critical to avert disaster. America did so for decades by outlawing the Communist Party, as post-World War II Germany did with the National Socialists. Thus, for President Obama to say, as he did, that the transition “must bring all of Egypt’s voices to the table” is not only naive, but fundamentally dangerous.