Friday, January 28, 2011

Tehran or Tiananmen Square: Which Way Egypt?

Egypt is at a crossroad

Israel faces its greatest threat in decades

The United States is a befuddled bystander

The fall of Tunisia’s corrupt dictator Ben Ali led to predictions that Egypt and Yemen might be next. The self-immolation and student riots have in fact spread to Egypt. Riot police, curfews, the cutoff of the internet, and the presence of the army have not chilled the riots. The students smell blood – that of the Mubarak regime. President Mubarak addressed the nation and announced the termination of his Cabinet, but not his Presidency. The riots continue.

Three options appear for Egypt. First, the military can go along with a brutal suppression of the demonstrations. China used this approach in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989 and Mexico on October 2, 1968 in Mexico City’s Tlatelolco’s Square. More recently Iran used brutal force with various levels of secret police to suppress student demonstrations protesting the fraudulent elections two years ago.

The Soviet Union, having emerged from a coup and a brutal Civil War, was determined not to lose to a domestic revolution in the future. It stationed military divisions in Moscow. These soldiers though were not Slavs from the area, but units from the Asia, such as Mongols, who presumably would not hesitate to shoot at Russians.

The Shah of Iran in 1978 had little spine, and was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. He fled. President Mubarak presumably has more determination. Neither the Shah nor Mubarak are the brutal dictators of Nazi and Soviet days and the Ayatollah.

The second alternative would be for Mubarak to flee, joining Ben Ali in exile. The history of many violent revolutions is that moderates may immediately assume power, but are soon pushed out by extremists, such as in the French Revolution, Bolsheviks in 1919 Russia, and the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran in 1979.

The history of the Mideast, except for Israel, is not one of democracy as we know it. The students seeking freedom today may well find themselves as oppressed tomorrow as the Iranian students of 1978.

The United States finds itself in an all-too-common quandary. Does it continue to support a loyal dictator who has served America’s needs, or does it toss him overboard and pray for the best?

The United States tried both approaches in Iran. It supported the overthrow of Iran’s populist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953. However, President Carter helped push the Shah of Iran out in 1979. The United States, Western Europe and Israel are paying a stiff price for President Carter’s incompetence and naiveté.

If President Obama pulls a Carter, the consequences for the world and civilization will be far worse as the Mideast turns to Islamic radicals.

The omens are not good. The President in a speech earlier today admonished the Egyptian government not to use force against the demonstrators. The Administration earlier threatened to cut off our foreign aid to Egypt if force is used. This is the same President who turned a blind eye early in his Administration as the Ayatollahs crushed their students.

A Carter Redux is foreseeable.

The third alternative is if with the use of moderate force, President Mubarak can outlast the demonstrators as he has in the past. Even if he does, absent meaningful reform and a booming economy, the pressure cooker in Egypt will blow some day, just as Russia’s suppressed 1905 revolution became the Russian Revolution.

Israel needs a stable, peaceful Egypt on its borders. The peace has held between Egypt and Israel since the 1979 peace treaty. Egypt has cut off much of the arms supplies to Hamas in Gaza, and has cooperated, often secretly, with Israel.

If Mubarak falls, and the Islamicists take over, Jordan would be next.

An Israel, surrounded by Islamic fanatics in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, all supplied by the militant Iran, will be threatened constantly, as it has not been threatened in decades.

The West will face not only a militant Mideast, but a cutoff of the vital Suez Canal, and perhaps of Mideast oil. Even without a military war, the resulting economic chaos could imperil Western Civilization as we know it.

This is the foreign policy crisis of the Obama Administration. President Obama needs to show more decisiveness and leadership than he has ever displayed.

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