Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Flotsam - Special "Hosni has left the building." Edition

It is time once again for the Dividist to stroll down the metaphorical beach of the DWSUWF blog and takes note of the detritus that has washed ashore and cluttered this little island of rationality in the great big blogospheric ocean.

A lot of news floated by this week, with a particularly strong current pushing flotsam out of Egypt onto our distant shores.In addition the usual ebb and flow of partisan tides left a few shiny baubles on the beach that caught the Dividist's eye.

ITEM - The Military Dictatorship is Dead.
Watching the jubilation of the Egyptians in Tahrir square, it is impossible to not feel optimistic, happy about this outcome, and excited about Egypt's future.

The ability for wired opposition to organize using the internet and social networking tools have put a well deserved focus on the role facebook, twitter, and google played in Egypt and Tunisia. However, the Dividist thinks that all should keep in mind that while on-line organizing can help facilitate starting a revolution, bullets can still be effective stopping them. Protesters in Tienanmen Square and Iran learned that hard lesson. The Egyptian military chose to show restraint, and probably not because they were hoping to be friended by Mark Zuckerberg. The simple reality is that all we know now is that a military dictatorship that was a strong ally of the US, firmly supported peace with Israel, and was a 30 year rock of stability in an unstable region, has now been replaced with a military dictatorship that will transition Egypt to… no one knows. This may be the nature of Egypt's nascent Democracy, or....

ITEM - Long Live the Military Dictatorship.
This may be the nature of the Egyptian military dictatorship. The Egyptian military is deeply ingrained in the decidedly un-free market that makes up much of the Egyptian economy, and the senior officers have personal fortunes invested in the status quo. They just may decide that, after due consideration, they themselves are best qualified to continue to run things. There are just not that many examples in history of generals or politicians like George Washington, who refuse political power when it is offered on a silver platter and no one is in a position to resist. We can only hope for the best for the people of Egypt, and hope that there is a George Washington in a position of authority in the Egyptian military hierarchy.

ITEM - Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch.
Some GOP 2012 presidential hopefuls were quick to pick nits about Obama’s handling of these events. No surprise there, but they would be better served and earn more credibility with voters by observing the old dictum of leaving politics at the border, and supporting the President's foreign policy. Or at least, if they have nothing good to say during a critical foreign policy crisis, have the good sense to say nothing at all.

ITEM - All's well that ends well.
My take is that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the administration did a masterful job of walking a very narrow path while carefully avoiding many diplomatic land mines along the way. There were a lot of ways this could have gone very wrong for the US. There still is, but so far so good. I cannot help but think that when Obama got that 3:00 AM call, it was good to have Hillary around to conference in.

Frankly, I have no problem with 30 years of spending a billion dollars a year on the Egyptian military to prop up Mubarak. We bought decades of stability, peace with Israel, and an ally in an unstable region and at a time when and where we really needed an ally. As a bonus we got leverage and a relationship with the Egyptian military that probably served us well during this crisis, no doubt with some deftly pulled strings behind the curtain.

If we get a friendly Democratic government in Egypt (or even if we get a friendly slightly less autocratic government), that $1B/year looks like a real bargain compared to the hundreds of billions we spent to install Democracy in Iraq at the point of a gun. The Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush administrations did what we needed to do over the last 30 years with Sadat and Mubarak, and this administration is doing what we need to do right now to stay on the right side of history in Egypt. Foreign policy done right.

ITEM - 2012 Just got tougher for Democrats
Last fall, the Dividist noted that Democrats would be unlikely to hold the majority in the Senate after the 2012 election:
"Much has been made of the structural advantage the Republicans will have in the 2012 Senate races, a point the Dividist has been making since 2008. Of the 33 Senate races up for consideration 23 seats are currently held by Democrats. Moreover, many of those Democrats are among the putative moderate/conservative class of Democratic Senators that won narrow races in red states, on the strength of the 2006 Democratic wave. In that class are Webb in Virginia, McCaskill in Missouri and Tester in Montana. "
Holding the Democratic Senate majority just got tougher, as incumbent Democrat Jim Webb announced he will not run for a second term in Virginia. Republicans are licking their chops. Democrats are grasping at straws.

As we also noted in the same fall compilation, it is becoming clearer that the only way to maintain our happily divided government and avoid a rerun of One Party Republican Rule in 2013, will be to re-elect Barack Obama in 2012.

ITEM - Speaking of Senators and Divided Government...
Republican Senator Roy Blunt has some good things to say about divided government:
"With a growing number of Democratic Senate colleagues worrying about their political futures, a Republican led House, and even a president willing to reach to the other side of the aisle, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt sees opportunity for bipartisanship. “Divided government gives us the opportunity to do hard things, but both sides will have to be willing,” Blunt said Wednesday afternoon to a news conference with Missouri reporters. “If we’re going to get things done, it’s going to require bipartisan support.”
Of course, in addition to divided government giving Congress the "opportunity to do hard things", it also gives the Congress the opportunity to not do stupid and bad things, like:
  • Squander our treasury and blood to occupy Iraq (One Party Republican Rule)
  • Pass wildly expensive Stimulus legislation that does not stimulate the economy (One Party Democratic Rule)
  • Pass wildly expensive Health Care Reform that does not reform the health care system (One Party Democratic Rule)
  • Irresponsibly increase spending and the deficit to record levels (One Party Republican Rule) until they increase spending and the deficit at an even faster rate and to even more irresponsible higher record levels (One Party Democratic Rule)
We've now had divided government restored for a little over a month. So far, so good.

ITEM - Michael Reynolds still owes The Dividist a bottle of 15 year old Laphroiag

Just sayin'. I am almost out.

UPDATED: Incorrectly identified Blunt's party affiliation as Democrat. He is Republican. Fixed now.

Divided and Balanced.™
Now that is fair.


Tully said...

Deft? Masterful? Irrelevant and inept is my take. The admin and its players were all over the map, often in complete contradiction to each other. The Gang That Couldn't Get Its Story Straight.

Well, all's well that ends well, I suppose, and IMHO if anyone had it right it was Hillary when she said that any credible transition would take time -- at the same time Obama was demanding change Right Now.

It will likely be many months before we find out how the chips will settle. Let's hope our years of friendly engagement with the Egyptian military pay off. If they do it will not because of the current White House, but in spite of it. I strongly suspect that our own diplomatic efforts were beside the point, that the Egyptian military had its agenda firmly established and that the timing of Mubarak's departure was at most simply timed to coincide with when the White House officially bowed to the pre-determined result. WE did not steer those events, the E-mil did.

mw said...

I'll go with "irrelevant" and "We did not steer those events". Agreed. That is a statement of simple practical reality.

Explicitly shaping the outcome of a popular uprising is pretty difficult thing to do. Although we as a country are not above trying, we have had historically mixed results. From a foreign policy perspective, an effective job under these circumstances includes recognition of the limited range of options available, and avoiding any actions that will be detrimental to US interests regardless of outcome. That was an extraordinarily difficult diplomatic needle to thread.

Propping the Mubarak regime has served us well in the region over the last 30 years. That bridge could not be burned while there was still a possibility that he might remain in power. Simultaneously, we had to maintain plausible deniability that we were siding with Mubarak and fighting the people protesting on the street. Indeed, we needed to sound supportive and sympathetic to the protesters so we would not be perceived as the enemy should they emerge triumphant. We actually needed to maintain some creative ambiguity about the official US position and whether by design or luck, the somewhat contradictory statements from the State Department and the administration accomplished exactly that.

Also agreed that the Egyptian military was the primary actor steering and shaping the outcome on the ground in Egypt. This is also probably where the greatest US influence was taking place below the radar at the direction of the President and State. There is a very strong and deep Mil-Mil relationship between Egypt and the US. We fund the the Egyptian military to the tune of $1B/year. That buys a lot of leverage directly with the military. We train the Egyptian military, that provides a lot of high level personal contacts. When the final secret history of this is written, it may turn out that we had more influence with the Egyptian military than did Hosni Mubarak.

As you said - all's well that ends well. I remain impressed with how this was handled - not because it was clear that we steered anything. More because within the limited range of action available to the US, there was an opportunity to make a lot of really bad, damaging choices. I don't know whether it was luck or skill, but we did not shoot ourselves in the foot, so I'll give Hillary and Barry the benefit of the doubt. A job well done.

So far.

Tully said...

I guess my standards for competence are a bit higher than a simple lack of spectacular failure.