Friday, August 16, 2013

The “To Hell with Them” Doctrine. By Jonah Goldberg.

The “To Hell with Them” Doctrine. By Jonah Goldberg. National Review Online, August 16, 2013.

The “To Hell with Them” Hawks. By Rich Lowry. National Review, March 27, 2006.

Israel Nervously Watching Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Israel Nervously Watching Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Video. Jamie Colby and Lisa Daftari. America Live. Fox News, August 16, 2013. YouTube. Also here.

Could Egypt become the new Syria? Video. Panel with Judith Miller. America Live. Fox News, August 16, 2013. YouTube.

Millennial Malaise. By Rush Limbaugh.

Young Caller Explains the Millennial Malaise. By Rush Limbaugh., August 16, 2013.

A New American Dream for a New American Century. By Zachary Karabell. NJBR, July 27, 2013.

Al-Sisi’s Hammer, Obama’s Nine-Iron? By Adam Garfinkle.

Al-Sisi’s Hammer, Obama’s Nine-Iron? By Adam Garfinkle. The American Interest, August 15, 2013.

El-Sissi will not be deterred. By Avi Isaacharoff. The Times of Israel, August 16, 2013.


What happened in Egypt yesterday and is continuing to happen today is sad, disheartening and about as completely unsurprising as any such event can be. In Tuesday’s short post I referred in passing to “the impending street clashes in Cairo.” In my August 2 post I specified the epicenter of the violence to come, the Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque compound, and explained why it was coming:
The Egyptian military knows what it’s doing, or at least it thinks it does. It thinks that by showing strength at this early stage in what is bound to be a protracted conflict within Egyptian society, it reduces the likelihood of a civil war and massive domestic violence. Al-Sisi and company believe that if they seem weak now in the face of protests, it will encourage the Brotherhood and the Al-Nour Party salafis to take the next steps and organize for an insurgency.
In others words, al-Sisi and associates believe in the “strong horse” theory of political legitimacy, and they are now in the process of applying that theory to Egyptian realities. Might doesn’t necessarily make right—that’s not at all how Islamic jurisprudence on such matters reads—but it’s good enough for government work failing other, gentler institutional alternatives. The Middle East lacks the warm, fuzzy affection for the underdog that many Americans take to be second nature. The dominant view of what is still a patriarchal, hierarchical and still clingingly pre-modern set of Muslim Middle Eastern societies is that the weak deserve whatever depredations they suffer. It’s a kind of ur-Social Darwinism that has been at work for many centuries before Darwin himself ever saw light of day.
As I also said before, I think Egypt’s military leaders are right about this. And I suspect they recognized that the longer they waited to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood encampments the better prepared the MB would be to resist. And they have resisted, and are still doing so. Several score policemen are dead among the many hundreds of MB protestors in Cairo and around the country. So are hundreds of mostly innocent Copts, who have no recourse but to be on the wrong side of the Brotherhood’s murderous intolerance. Indeed, spending energy and resources to kill Coptic civilians and burn down their churches while Muslim police are bearing down on you with shotguns furnishes about the best example there can be of how MB fanaticism completely swamps its capacity for rational planning of any kind.
But I also said (in my July 4 post, just after the coup) that:
. . . if the Army tries to completely exclude the MB from the nation’s future political configuration, it is bound to sire a new generation of Islamist terrorists. Nothing about General al-Sisi suggests he is that foolish, however. So in a sense the limits of action within the ambit of Army-MB relations remain intact, at least in some form. But who knows? Making big mistakes is the one hallmark that, whatever their other differences, unifies recent Egyptian leaders.
Thus the question of the moment: Is al-Sisi now proving that he is “that foolish”?
Not necessarily. I still think that what we are seeing in Egypt is a kind of deck-clearing phase. I still think a new political modus vivendi between the military and Egypt’s variety of Islamists is possible and likely, once certain red lines are re-established. And I even still think the Egyptian military can and ultimately will play the role of Praetorian guard over the emergence of a more vital civil society, political pluralism and maybe, one day still far off, even something we in the West recognize as democracy—and I think that because of the significant liberalizing social changes in Egypt over the past generation or two that are deep, real and irreversible. But first the generals have to make the MB and the salafis to their “right” (these European terms limp badly applied to Egypt, admittedly) say “uncle.” That may take a few weeks, or months, it now seems—and of course all this is happening in the broader context of a near completely collapsed economy. But the odds are that the military will have its way; the MB will say “uncle.”
That said, if General al-Sisi and company insist on making huge, generative mistakes, if they overdo it so much as to pull down the tent on themselves as well as their enemies, all bets are off. Things are not yet out of hand, but they could be.
Consider that the development of liberal democracy in the West and elsewhere has been a complex, long-running and varied phenomenon. As my TAI colleague Frank Fukuyama has explained, it involves creating a competent post-patrimonial state (which Egypt lacks), genuine rule of law (which Egypt also lacks) and either procedural or substantive accountability (both of which Egypt now lacks. . . . so much, then, for those who were so quick to pronounce Egypt not only ready for democracy but actually a democracy just a few short years ago).
We can see in past developments leading to liberal democracy the dialectical relationships among technological changes, social mobilization, economic specialization and the sometimes derivative, sometimes independent power of political ideas. But what we also see in more cases than not is the outsized and unpredictable role of both happenstance and exotic personalities. Some places become democratic that shouldn’t, according to the lights of social science, and some don’t that should. At times like these analysts can therefore know oodles of history and social science and have ample reservoirs of area- and country expertise and still end up totally wrong because some jerk simply screws up. We’ll know pretty soon if al-Sisi deserves the description. The technical term for this is the “monkey-in-the-machine-room corollary” of political development.