Voice

Reuters wins the Vizzini Award of the week [UPDATED]

Congratulations to Reuters' Douglas Hamilton for winning this week's Vizzini Award.  The award, for new readers of the blog, goes to someone who uses a term of phrase that clearly does not mean what they think it means

From Hamilton's Jerusalem dispatch:

If Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak is toppled, Israel will lose one of its very few friends in a hostile neighborhood and President Barack Obama will bear a large share of the blame, Israeli pundits said on Monday.

Political commentators expressed shock at how the United States as well as its major European allies appeared to be ready to dump a staunch strategic ally of three decades, simply to conform to the current ideology of political correctness. (emphasis added)

Now, there is a purely short-sighted short-term geopolitical logic out there to justify a stalwart defense of Hosni Mubarak.  Claiming that support for legitimate Egyptian demands is an example of "political correctness" seems, well, completely and totally wrong-headed.  The most one could say that the United States is now in the semi-awkward position  of honoring its own high-powered rhetoric on democracy in the Middle East.  

Even from a strictly realpolitik perspective, however, I'm not sure exactly what Israeli pundits think could be gained from backing Mubarak to the hilt.  Before his Friday speech, most Obama administration statements were at least mildly supportive, calling the Egyptian government "stable" and denying that Mubarak  was a "dictator."  Mubarak's disastrous Friday address, however, dramatically raised the policy costs of backing a crackdown (not to mention that I'm not sure the Egyptian army could have pulled it off anyway).    As Steve Walt notes on his blog: 

To maximize their own security, states want allies that are strong, stable, and that do not cause major strategic problems for them (i.e., by getting into counterproductive quarrels with others). Other things being equal, states are better off if they don't have to worry about their allies' internal stability, and if an allied government enjoys considerable support among its population. An ally that is internally divided, whose government is corrupt or illegitimate, or that is disliked by lots of other countries is ipso facto less valuable than one whose population is unified, whose government is legitimate, and that enjoys lots of international support. For this reason, even a staunch realist would prefer allies that were neither internally fragile nor international pariahs, while recognizing that sometimes you have to work with what you have.

Or, to quote Michael Clayton, "there's no play here." 

This story is still interesting, however, because it certainly represents a data point against the Israel Lobby argument for American foreign policy.  Scanning this good Washington Post write-up from Karen DeYoung, what's interesing is the dog that isn't barking -- namely, not one mention of Israel.   

I suspect this is partly because the prospect of Arab democracy causes a serioius split between Israeli strategists and neoconservative supporters in the United States.  Or it could be because, you know, the explanatory power of the Israel Lobby thesis has been vastly exaggerated. 

UPDATE:  I see that Geneive Abdo argues over at the Middle East Channel that Egypt 2011 is not like Iran 1978/79.  Meanwhile, for another data point that neoconservatives are splitting from Israeli strategists, consider this Max Boot post:

I am hardly one to romanticize ElBaradei or to underestimate the difficulties of dealing with him. But what do his critics propose we do anyway?

Encourage Mubarak to kill lots of demonstrators to stay in power? Because at this point, that is probably what it would take for Mubarak to remain as president. Yet it is not even clear at this juncture that he could employ violence to save himself, given the fact that the Egyptian army has announced it will not fire on the demonstrators.

So what should the U.S. do? Demand that ElBaradei step down as the leader of the protest movement? Any such demand would be laughed off by the demonstrators, who are certainly not going to let their tune be called by Washington. Whom, at any rate, would we want to replace ElBaradei? There is not exactly a surfeit of well-respected liberal leaders, which is why ElBaradei was able to become the leader of the anti-Mubarak movement after having spent decades away from Egypt.

Perhaps we should demand that ElBaradei disassociate himself from the Muslim Brotherhood? Again, such a demand would be ignored, and probably rightly so. It is hard to see how any figure can claim to represent all the protesters without also speaking on behalf of the Brotherhood, which is the country’s largest and best-organized nongovernmental organization.

Daniel W. Drezner

Predicting the future... right now!

Events in Egypt are now officially happening Too Fast to Blog About While Egyptians are Still Awake. 

Sooo... in the meantime, I have a review of George Friedman's The Next Decade:  Where We've Been... and Where We're Going  in the latest issue of Texas Monthly.  Friedman is the founder and CEO of Stratfor, which is based in Austin, Texas. 

Here's how the review opens and closes:

As a rule, those who predict the future of world events should be viewed the same way Hermione Granger viewed Hogwarts’s divination classes—with unremitting skepticism. Social scientists may have something to offer in the way of explanation or short-term speculation, but there are serious limits to any kind of global soothsaying. World politics are simply too complex to forecast anything precisely in the medium term; it’s like asking a meteorologist to predict the weather a decade from now....

Perhaps I exaggerated Hermione’s skepticism of divination a bit. An otherwise stellar student, she was clearly frustrated that she was simply no good at it. Similarly, I should confess a smidgen of envy at Friedman’s conviction that he will be proved right about everything. Some writers are so sure of their beliefs that their assuredness has a viral quality, infecting the reader even if their logic fails. Friedman possesses that certainty in truckloads, and The Next Decade contains a few nuggets of insight as well. But make no mistake: Things will happen over the course of the next decade—and the next year and the next week—that will completely rock George Friedman’s world. (emphasis added)

Hey, are my predictive powers amazing or what??!!  OK, those predictive powers were really the result of an excellent editor at Texas Monthly, but you get the idea. 

I believe you can read the whole thing.  Incidentally, his key insight into Egypt comes on page 92:  "Even if the secular Nasserite regime fell, it would be a generation before Egypt could be a threat, and then only if it gained the patronage of a major power."  Ah, that explains why Israel is handling these events so calmly.  Oh, wait...

For a fun exercise, see if Friedman's current analysis jibes with how he predicts the next decade.