James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Breathe a sigh of relief about Egypt

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to the light I have.” -- Abraham Lincoln.

As of today, Feb. 13, 2011, sober thoughts on the future are starting to creep in, but the Egyptian people are still blissfully celebrating their victory over the despot, Hosni Mubarak. They deserve every joyful minute.

Although nagging fears somewhat restrain some of us, I think most of the world's people want to share that joy, to clap those incredibly courageous Egyptians on the back and grin with them and jump up and down and dance with them.

From what I see on television, hear on radio and from my own casual contacts in shops and restaurants over the past couple of days, I think the vast majority of Americans –- the silly asses who follow con man Glenn Beck aside -– rejoice with the Egyptians. “And they don't have to do what we say, either,” said a clerk at my local hardware store, after telling me how happy he was for Egyptians.

Yes, OK. Nobody knows how this is going to work out for those gutsy peaceful revolutionaries. But I am optimistic, and I think there is reason to be that way. I also am still sighing sighs of relief: Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton et al didn't screw things up, which at times they appeared on the verge of doing. Clinton, left to her own devices, would have made a mess that could have done immense damage to this country.

Reasons for optimism:

* The Egyptian military, now in charge of government, seems unlikely to want to retain full civil power. It's simply not the style of the top military leaders there, nor have they to date expressed any interest in a military dictatorship. They will, of course, remain the single most powerful force in Egyptian society and government into the foreseeable future; but there is a very good chance they will leave civil governing to civilians if those civilians do a decent job of it. And like Mubarak, who came from their ranks, they have seen the power and determination of the Egyptian people. Also, the military almost certainly would reject a religion-based government.

* There are several examples of similar changes in government that have worked. The most obvious, in the region, is Turkey, where a repressive government was overthrown by the military and handed over to civilians. In Turkey, the army has been a solid supporter of secular government.

* The nonsense spewers on Fox keep raving about the dangers of the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power. That is so unlikely that only Fox and some of the more extreme Republicans would take the proposition seriously at this point.

Egypt has a population of 80 million, give or take a couple of million people. It is widely known and has been widely reported that the Muslim Brotherhood has an active membership of about 100,000, and maybe -– repeat maybe -– that many more who tend to favor them. And, as people who actually know Egypt have said repeatedly over the past three weeks, the Muslim Brotherhood actually, really, no kidding gave up all involvement or contact with violence and terrorists decades ago.

A very telling event took place early in the occupation of Tahrir Square by the people. As reported in the New York Times and two or three other places, Iran's extremist Islamic government issued a statement calling for Egyptians to build an “Islamic revolution.” Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood immediately told Iran to mind it's own business; that what was happening in Egypt was a movement by all Egyptians, Muslim, Christian and other.

(There was, sadly, very little coverage of some other events in Tahrir Square last week. On Friday, when it was still not clear that Mubarak's thugs wouldn't attack again, Christian Egyptians formed a defensive perimeter around Muslims as they prayed. On Sunday, the roles were reversed, as Muslims protected Coptic Christians celebrating a mass in the square.)

* Oh...And the reasons for the Egyptian uprising included economic exploitation and the desire for social freedom. Religion simply wasn't in the mix said all of the experts, there and here.

In truth, the success of the Egyptian non-violent revolution is the most powerful rebuke to Islamic terrorists that can be imagined. Osama bin Laden must feel as though a ton of rock has fallen on his chest. Who would want to strap on a few pounds of plastic explosive to go kill himself and a bunch of innocents when it is suddenly clear that the most effective route to freedom is nonviolent? There's a very good chance that the would-be suicide bombers will be more scarce than they were –- except perhaps in Iraq and Afghanistan, so long as we try to force our will on them.


There were several times during the 18-day Egyptian revolution when it felt as though the Obama/Clinton bunch was on the very edge of coming down on the wrong side.

On Feb. 6, for example, Obama's special envoy to Egypt, Frank Wisner, who enjoys major support from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said that Mubarak, “an old friend” of the United States, should stay in office during a “democratic transition.” Clinton backed him and agreed with him, judging by subsequent reports from Washington, but Obama was greatly angered.

But who, at that point, without later reporting we've now seen, would have been surprised if the president echoed his envoy?

The very serious problem with both Obama and his secretary of state is that both tend to get so deep into political calculations that they often can't see obvious truths. They have a propensity to “triangulate” themselves right into the ground.

Clinton and about half of the White House coterie of advisers, seem to lack even a fingernail hold on an essential truth applying to any functioning democracy: Sometimes leaders must do something not because of political fallout but because it is the right thing to do. Obama's hold on that truth seems tenuous and sporadic.

I feel that we lucked out this time. Their uncertainty about which way the events in Egypt were going to fall kept the Obama administration from doing something terminally stupid.

And, yes, I know people running a country have to do some fine calculating, and have to work primarily, if not exclusively, for the interests of that country and its people. (Not that I think “the people” count all that much for Obama and crew.) But the basic principle, as stated above, must sometimes take precedence, and this was one of those times.

When you think about it, Obama's constant concern with the politics of any situation –- and his frequent getting it wrong -– is not all that surprising.

He came to the political life in Chicago, in Illinois, where voters, alive and dead, know that betrayal is the likely eventual result of any election. They long ago came to expect their politicians to act on the basis of any combination of these forces: greed, power hunger and a desire of “stature” or “legacy.” (They also hope to stay out of prison, something that only slightly more than half of Illinois' governors accomplish.) No one there takes politicians or their campaigns at face value; cynicism is the only reasonable stance. And politicians know no one really expects them to behave with honor.

Obama just talks purtier than most Illinois pols.

Clinton is not so obvious. Maybe she, like her husband, was simply born a cynic. At any rate, to our almost certain detriment at some point, she will go with power and “stability” every time.

After her apparent defiance of her boss -– obviously thinking she knew better than he what should be done –- Clinton should be fired. That won't happen, of course.

Anyway, we weathered that one. Egyptians are free to make their own mistakes and shape their own future. And, yes, the odds are that John McCain would have turned the Egyptian revolution into a disaster for this country. That doesn't make Barack Obama a genius.


Now we should get to recovering democracy in this country.