Sunday, January 30, 2011

Why Egypt Matters

It occurs to me that that the people who were of age in the 1970s are increasingly becoming the old folks in the mix. That would basically be anyone 50 and older. Assuming 70 as the upper range of a generation's prime, those of us in our 50s and 60s - i.e, those who were around for Jimmy Carter's presidency - are in the diminishing half of the population. Thus those who are on-coming, those from 21 through their forties, have no real memory of the Vietnam War, the Arab oil imbargo, Watergate,  Jimmy Carter, or Pat Paulsen for that matter.

The mistakes of the 1970s are still festering and history is repeating itself in places like Egypt today, thanks to those who have not learned the right lessons from those mistakes.

In a way this can all be blamed on Richard Nixon. I don't think he had much choice but to cut and run from Vietnam after Johnson escalated then botched the whole thing. But worse than that, Nixon's lamebrained handling of the Watergate burglary brought the honor of the presidency to such a low level that it ushered in Jimmy Carter.

The American people voted for Carter because he represented virtue in their minds after the dirty business of Nixon. Unfortunately they overlooked his incomeptence. Events proved him to be arguably the weakest, most misguided president in the history of the country. Nothing exemplified that more than the Iranian Islamist Revolution, first that it happened at all, and on top of that, that Carter posed himself as taking the high road of democracy when in fact he was paving the way for the draconian rule of the Islamists.

The Shah was certainly a weak sister who ran an ugly regime, but God help you if you were a woman, a Jew, an atheist, or a Christian in Iran after the Shah was gone. Flash forward thirty or so years and here we are with Iran poised to have nuclear weaponry all the while calling for the destruction of Israel, while the world sits on its hands. And our president is focusing on high speed rail and new bridges as the most critical task for our country in his State of the Union address.

So... now the dictator of Egypt is about to fall. He has ruled with an iron fist. He has denied democratic process. There is little to praise about Mubarak. Except that that under his rule the Islamists have been kept at bay. Under his rule Egypt has helped secure the tenuous peace in the region between Israel and its neighbors by living up to its agreements. Under his rule Egypt has not sought nuclear weaponry. Under his rule non-Muslims have had freedom to worship or not in Egypt and women have had freedom to live as relatively equal human beings to men.

When the Iranian revolution took place, it was not all on account of the Islamists. There were millions of Iranians, many of them leftists but all of them hopeful, who thought it would usher in democracy again for the country. But what did happen is that the violence and chaos in he wake of the Shah's departure created a power vacuum and the Islamists marched right in, knowing that America had a weak president who would not oppose them.

I think it is reasonable to argue that a large proportion of the problems that world has had from the Middle East for the last forty years has been a result of the Iranian Revolution. It all came about because Jimmy Carter was a weak and overly idealistic president. Most of my generation who lived through it know that now - that is if they are not in denial, prefering to judge Jimmy Carter as a president by the Habitat houses he has built sicne rather than what he really did at the time.

Now those of you who are up and coming: Examine the atmosphere that has brought this situatin in Egypt to bear. Do we have a strong president, one who says what he means and means what he says? Do we have a president who is unequivocally on the side of freedom? Do we have a president who can see black and white when it comes to moral questions?

The fall of Egypt, no matter how bad Mubarak may be, will not result in democracy and human rights. It will result in another Islamist regime. They will walk right in and take control from the vaccuum created by Mubarak's loss of power and America's lack of will.

It's Jimmy Carter all over again.

Thank you, President Obama.