- The uprisings currently taking place against the autocratic
regimes in the Middle East would seem to be in line with the neoconservatives'
advocacy of radical democratic change in the region. But there is one
significant difference. The neocons had sought to use democratic revolutions
to overthrow the enemies of Israel, even applying it, much less successfully,
to countries such as Saudi Arabia, which were client states of the United
States; but now democratic revolution is engulfing the Mubarak regime in
Egypt, which maintained friendly relations with Israel. As Israeli writer
Aluf Benn points out in Ha'aretz, "[t]he fading power of Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak's government leaves Israel in a state of strategic
distress. Without Mubarak, Israel is left with almost no friends in the
Middle East." ["Without Egypt, Israel will be left with no friends
in Mideast," January 29, 2011, http://bit.ly/eLnNAu ] In a situation
where Israeli interests would be harmed by democratic revolution, the
neocons' ardor for this development has cooled dramatically.
- Daniel Luban on Lobelog points out that in the first
days of the Egyptian revolution the neocons were largely silent on this
development and those who commented tended to express some skepticism
as to its likelihood to bring about positive results. He quotes The
Weekly Standard's Lee Smith cautioning U.S. activists not to become too
fond of the Egyptian demonstrators: "It is not always a good thing
when people go to the streets; indeed the history of revolutionary action
shows that people go to the streets to shed blood more often than they
do to demand democratic reforms." Luban predicts that "[i]f
the protests are ultimately unsuccessful, the neocons will attack Obama
for letting the protesters twist in the wind; if the protests are ultimately
successful, they will claim the events in Egypt as vindication for the
Bush democracy promotion agenda."
- [ "More Silence from America's 'Democracy Promoters',"
January 27, 2011, http://bit.ly/g10AXQ ]
- While my own brief
research confirms Luban's point that the neocons have not championed radical
democratic transformation in the current situation, I also found a number
of commonalities and differences among the views of the neocons who voiced
their opinions as the events in Egypt have become a featured topic in
the mainstream media. In line with what Luban has written, I also did
not find any neoconservatives who have explicitly abandoned their professed
faith in their democratic agenda. For example, they maintain that the
revolts validate their democratic prescription for American Middle East
policy during the past decades-that had the U.S. actually fostered democracy
in the region, the current revolutionary turmoil would not have ensued.
- The neocons differ among themselves, however, in their
assessment of the current situation and in their prescriptions for U.S.
actions. Where they express skepticism of the positive nature of the ongoing
revolution, they try to demonstrate how this does not conflict with their
fundamental faith in democracy. In short, they profess to identify with
the democratic aspirations of the Egyptian demonstrators but question whether
democracy will result from their actions. It should be emphasized that
it is essential for the neocons to praise the democratic aim of the uprising
since they could not do otherwise if they intend to maintain their image
as champions of democracy at a time when most of the world wholeheartedly
identifies with the Egyptian pro-democratic protestors. Moreover, since
most observers agree that the Mubarak regime cannot survive, it is strategically
necessary for the neocons to jump on the bandwagon and encourage the U.S.
government to guide the revolution in directions beneficial to American--and,
of course, Israeli-interests, under the guise of preventing it from leading
to an alleged greater tyranny of the radical Islamists.
- The neocon whose views seem to have changed the least
is long-time neocon operative Elliott Abrams, the son-in-law of neocon
godfather Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. In assessing the current
situation, Abrams heaped blame on America's traditional Middle East foreign
policy that had ignored the domestic policies of autocratic regimes in
its focus on U.S. geostrategic interest and regional stability.
- ["Egypt protests show George W. Bush was right about
freedom in the Arab world," Washington Post, January 28, 2011, http://wapo.st/fIX4dl
- Abrams writes that Egyptian President Mubarak, along
with Tunisia's recently deposed leader, Ben Ali, had "proffered the
same line to Washington: It's us or the Islamists." He contends that
"[r]uling under an endless emergency law, he [Mubarak] has crushed
the moderate opposition while the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood has thrived
underground and in the mosques." Mubarak's tyrannical policies, in
effect, made the Islamist Brotherhood his major opposition, which then
enabled him to justify "the lack of democracy by saying a free election
would bring the Islamists to power." Abrams acknowledges that while
radical Islamists might win free elections, "the regimes that make
moderate politics impossible make extremism far more likely. Rule by emergency
decree long enough, and you end up creating a genuine emergency. And Egypt
has one now."
- Abrams asserts
that George W. Bush's democracy agenda (inspired, of course, by the neocons)
had it completely right about the Middle East, quoting from a Bush 2003
speech which read: "Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating
the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe - because
in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.
As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish,
it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for
- Abrams points out that there was considerable resistance
to the "democracy" agenda as unrealistic from within the Bush
administration and that the Obama administration abandoned it. He stresses
that it has now become essential for Obama to emulate Bush: "Now
is the time to say that the peoples of the Middle East are not 'beyond
the reach of liberty' and that we will assist any peaceful effort to achieve
it - and oppose and condemn efforts to suppress it."
- Bill Kristol, the
editor of The Weekly Standard, and perhaps the most prominent neoconservative
active today, expresses somewhat belated support for the revolutionary
cause in Egypt but wants to make sure that the United States will guide
it in the proper direction. "Mubarak," he contends, "is
now part of the problem, not part of the solution. His attempt to hang
on to power is now an obstacle to stability in Egypt, to say nothing of
considerations of freedom for the Egyptian people and the long-term interests
of the United States. Surely, I would say, it's time for the U.S. government
to take an active role (much but not all of it behind the scenes), working
with the army and civil and political organizations to bring about a South
Korea/Philippines/Chile-like transition in Egypt, from an American-supported
dictatorship to an American-supported and popularly legitimate liberal
- ["Working Group on Egypt Calls for Suspension of
U.S. Aid," January 29, 2011, http://bit.ly/hYFerA]
- Writing in his blog "Neocon Corner," Joshua
Muravchik, a long-time neocon stalwart of a more leftist, social democratic,
persuasion, views the crisis in Egypt as having great potential ramifications.
"The uprising in the streets of Egypt could remake our world,"
Muravchik contends. "Turmoil is contagious. . . . If the flames are
not smothered fast in Egypt, which is still the most influential country
of the Arab world, the conflagration will spread across the region."
- Muravchik posits three possible outcomes. The first,
which he describes as "less than momentous," would see Egypt
becoming "more of a military dictatorship and less of a party-ruled
state. And it might muddle along that way, as it has already for generations.
The consequences would be sad for Egyptians, not so major for the rest
of the world."
- ["What Egypt Portends: Three Scenarios," January
28, 2011, http://bit.ly/aMTaKb]
- Muravchik next offers a "hopeful scenario"
that would involve "an agreement between the regime and leading opponents
on some kind of redistribution of power which could be meaningful only
through honest elections. This would create a model that would be hard
for the region's other autocrats to withstand. A wave of democratization
would spread over the Middle East like the one that hit Eastern and Central
Europe in 1989."
- Finally, Muravchik sets forth the "frightening scenario"
in which "the army crumbles . . . the revolution triumphs, and that
the only organized force capable of picking up power from the streets .
. . is the Muslim Brotherhood."
- The "best bet" for Egypt, Muravchik contends,
is to have a fair election this year, and he emphasizes that it is essential
for the U.S. "to throw its weight into the demand" that this
be done. "If Obama makes such a call, many Egyptian voices will echo
it," Muravchik opines. "The current chaos could make things much
better for Egypt and the region - or much worse. The time for Obama to
find his silver tongue is now."
- David Frum, who crafted George W. Bush's notorious "Axis-of-Evil"
speech, provides more qualified support for the political upheaval in
Egypt. Like Abrams, he agrees that dictatorships are ultimately fragile
and that the U.S. should have actively pushed for democracy there long
ago. "This week's protests remind us that dictatorships do not deliver
stability," Frum asserts. "Dictatorships do not make reliable
allies over the long term. Egypt's friends should be planning - should
have planned long ago - for a transition to a more representative form
of government." But Frum does not see the fall of the Mubarak regime
as certain. And instead of supporting immediate revolutionary change,
as sought by the street demonstrators, he argues for a slow transition
to democracy, which "means gradually bringing more and more of the
population into politics." ["David Frum: Egypt's small steps
towards true democracy," January 29, 2011,
- When directed against what essentially were the enemies
of Israel (a category in which he included Saudi Arabia), Michael Ledeen
championed radical democratic revolution, expressing such extreme views
as: "Creative destruction is our middle name. . . . It is time once
again to export the democratic revolution, "and "One can only
hope that we turn the region into a cauldron, and faster, please. If ever
there were a region that richly deserved being cauldronized, it is the
Middle East today." (The Transparent Cabal, p. 209). But now confronted
with an actual revolutionary upheaval, the ultra-radical Ledeen has metamorphosed
into veritable paragon of caution, maintaining that "[i]n Egypt, which
is by far the most important of the Arab countries affected by the tumult,
there are genuine democrats and also members of organizations (from the
Muslim Brotherhood to Islamic Jihad, Hamas, et al.) who would transform
Egypt from an authoritarian to a totalitarian regime." Allegedly
quoting his grandmother, Ledeen observes: "Things are never so bad
they can't get worse."
- [ "Egypt: Revolution? By Whom? For What?,"
January 28, 2011, http://bit.ly/gEXsaM ]
- Ledeen puts forth considerable effort to show how his
current cautious stance does not conflict with his overall support for
democracy. "We are supposed to be the revolutionaries, and we must
support democratic revolution against tyranny," he solemnly avers.
"But we must not support phony democrats, and for the president to
say 'Egypt's destiny will be determined by the Egyptian people,' or 'everyone
wants to be free' is silly and dangerous. Egypt's destiny will be determined
by a fight among Egyptian people, some of whom wish to be free and others
who wish to install a tyranny worse than Mubarak's. That's the opposite
of freedom. Think about the free elections in Gaza that brought the Hamas
killers to power."
- Ledeen agrees with the other neocons that the traditional
U.S. Middle East policy of all-out support for authoritarian leaders was
bound to fail. "We should have been pressuring the friendly tyrants
in the Middle East to liberalize their polities lo these many years,"
he opines. "We should have done it in the shah's Iran, and in Mubarak's
Egypt, and in Ben Ali's Tunisia. It is possible to move peacefully from
dictatorship to democracy . . . But we didn't."
- Ledeen, however, sees a silver lining in the current
crisis since, he maintains, it offers the ideal opportunity for the U.S.
to come out in support of the Green Movement revolutionaries in Iran, stating
that "if we're going to praise the Tunisian and Egyptian freedom fighters,
all the more reason to hail the true martyrs in Iran." He emphasizes
that it is necessary to "support democratic revolution. But not false
revolutionaries." And of course, he actually means that a "democratic
revolution" is one that advances the interests of Israel, while "false
revolutionaries" are those who act against Israeli interests.
- John Bolton, a long-time member of the neoconservative
nexus, who currently is making noises about running for the Republican
presidential nomination, did not even pay lip service to democracy in his
negative portrayal of the political upheaval in Egypt. It should be said
that this complete slighting of democracy makes Bolton something of an
outlier among the neocons. Instead, he focuses solely on the Muslim Brotherhood
bogeyman. He went so far as to say that he did not "think we have
evidence yet that these demonstrations are necessarily about democracy.
You know the old saying, 'one person, one vote, one time.' The Muslim
Brotherhood doesn't care about democracy, if they get into power you're
not going to have free and fair elections either." To Bolton, the
issue was one revolving fundamentally around American geostrategic interests.
"Let's be clear what the stakes are for the United States," Bolton
asserts. "We have an authoritarian regime in power that has been
our ally." He believes, and seems to hope, that the Egyptian army,
which he describes as the real power in the country, could take actions
to suppress this revolutionary development.
- .[Bolton, AMB. JOHN BOLTON: Is Democracy Coming to Egypt
at Last? http://fxn.ws/hPX9vk ]
- From the neocons' less-than-enthusiastic reaction to
the ongoing democratic revolutionary wave in the Middle East, it is apparent
that they are far from being democratic ideologues, as has often been claimed.
And this has been apparent for some time. In The Transparent Cabal, I
cite many instances where the neocons take positions that are contrary
to supporting democracy--their opposition to democratic rights for Palestinians
being the most egregious, but far from the only example. In fact, I point
out that the "Neoconservatives have not always even claimed to be
exponents of democracy as a policy goal; in fact, it was the rejection
of pushing democracy as a foreign policy goal that loomed large in their
early years. During the Cold War, the neoconservatives emphasized that
it was essential to support dictatorships, if they were pro-United States,
as part of the overall war on Soviet Communism. They were especially critical
of President Jimmy Carter's emphasis on human rights in foreign policy,
which they held had served to undermine anti-Communist pro-American dictatorships,
such as the Shah's Iran and Somoza's Nicaragua, and facilitated their transformation
into anti-American dictatorships that might align with the Soviet Union."
[The Transparent Cabal, pp. 227-228] In short, instead of being ideologues
of democracy, the neocons largely use "democracy" as a rhetorical
weapon to advance their own particular agenda, which currently involves
advancing the interests of the state of Israel, which they claim to be
identical to the interests of the United States.
- Thus it would be
expected that the interests of Israel would loom large in their assessment
of the current political upheaval in Egypt. The neoconservatives thus
express their support for democracy in general in Egypt, but then raise
the specter of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt, and the concomitant
emergence of an undemocratic theocratic state, if a free democratic election
should actually take place. But why should the Muslim Brotherhood, which
is the oldest and largest Islamic political organization, be prohibited
from participating in the politics of Egypt? This trans-national organization
renounces the use of force and expresses its commitment to democracy-a
commitment which it has demonstrated in practice. The Brotherhood's announced
support for Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei to negotiate with the Mubarak
regime would seem to dispel any anti-democratic intent. Moreover, political
parties comprised of its members take part in other democratic governments,
including that of Iraq, where the Islamic Party represents the religious
Arab Sunni population. And the activist secular leaders of the revolution
for democracy in Egypt (who would have the most to lose) do not express
any grave fear that the Muslim Brotherhood would subvert a nascent Egyptian
democracy. ["What's So Scary About Egypt's Islamists?," Time,
November 29, 2010, http://bit.ly/gJocOL]
- It is quite apparent that Muslim Brotherhood is considered
dangerous because it has long been hostile to Israel, and its impact on
Egyptian policy would likely be to move the country away from its current
friendly relationship with Israel. The Brotherhood's prescription for
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to support the Palestinian armed
resistance, especially that of Hamas. Although this certainly goes against
the goals of Israeli and American foreign policy, it is no more a violation
of democracy than the militant foreign policy positions expressed by various
Israeli, or for that matter, U.S. politicians. For a true believer in
democracy, Egyptian foreign policy should be something for the Egyptian
people to determine, not the United States or Israel.
- As I bring out
in The Transparent Cabal, the fundamental goal of the neocons, as with
the Israeli Right, is the destabilization and fragmentation of the Israel's
enemies, for which the rhetoric of democracy provides an ideal façade.
Since Mubarak's Egypt has maintained relatively friendly relations with
Israel, it has not been targeted for destabilization and fragmentation.
Instead the neocons have targeted Saddam's Iraq and the Islamic Republic
of Iran, which are enemies of the U.S. (in part, at least, due to the efforts
of the Israel lobby), as well as of Israel. And, as described in The Transparent
Cabal, the neocons have developed less-publicized plans to destabilize
Saudi Arabia, a crucial friend of the U.S. but in various ways hostile
- It should be emphasized, however, that the neocon position
toward Egypt could definitely change in the future, when it too could become
a target for democratic destabilization. This view actually was mentioned
in a controversial presentation in July 2002 by Laurent Murawiec, a senior
fellow at the neoconservative Hudson Institute, before the Defense Policy
Board (the advisory panel for the U.S. Department of Defense), at the
behest of the board chairman, neocon guru Richard Perle. At a time, when
the Bush administration was gearing up to make war on Iraq, Murawiec's
target for U.S. military intervention was ironically Saudi Arabia, which
he described as the principal supporter of anti-American terrorism
"the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent."
Murawiec concluded his briefing with a summary of what he called a "Grand
Strategy for the Middle East," in which he stated that "Iraq
is the tactical pivot. Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot. Egypt the prize."
In short, neocons are willing to consider destabilizing Egypt sometime
in the future. Should a regime that is hostile to Israel emerge from the
current turmoil, a plan to destabilize the country could move to the forefront.
[The Transparent Cabal, pp. 203-204]
- Amazon Link for The Transparent Cabal: