Leaders come in all shapes, sizes

You get what you pay for. For years, American foreign policy has gone hand in hand with what U.S. General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “military industrial complex.”

Most of what we have given the Egyptians has been in the form of military equipment. Their powerful army have a lot of tanks, planes and guns. God only knows what else we have given them in the form of missiles and weapons that some might identify as having “mass destructive” capability. No one is foolish not to understand that our gifts to the Egyptians helped to prop up the existing dictatorship there.

Hosni Mubarak, the presidential dictator, is now stepping down under immense pressure. The army has made the wise choice to support the aspirations of the Egyptian people. Of course, we don’t know what those aspirations are.

In a country where democracy is an illusive concept, one does not just snap one’s fingers and say, “OK, starting tomorrow we’ll have a democracy.” You don’t have to look further than to the new Russia to see that a dictatorship can be surrounded by the trappings of democracy. Journalists can be murdered and competitors for power can be thrown into prison.

In the case of the Russians, the new power elite is the old group headed by a KGB colonel. In relative terms, that may turn out to be a good thing. The old Soviet Union had weapons that would make what the Egyptians have look like child’s toys. If those nuclear weapons fell into the wrong hands chaos could ensue.

Israel has a peace treaty with Egypt. Anwar Sadat died because he entered into that arrangement. A host of repressive measures was put into play by his successors who might well have believed the same thing might happen to them. Of course, the American administrations knew that their interests were beings served. The Egypt-Israeli peace treaty brought some relative calm to the area. The Suez Canal stayed open. We continued to send military stuff to Egypt and to prop up our defense industry.

The problem is that no one knows what is coming next. If the Egyptian army, like the Turkish army in that country, can play the role of guarantor of baseline security, (banks, stores and the like) we will all be in a relatively good place. However, if the army backs off and just says, “Do what you like,” inevitably another dictator in some form will emerge.

Robert Michels, the sociologist, called it, “The Iron Law of Oligarchy.” While every politician I talk to wants people to have democracy, they all know that the next dictator could be even more brutal than the current model. I recently had such a discussion with one of my favorite politicians, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who acknowledges the potential for disaster.

This whole situation calls for some fancy footwork. Hillary Clinton will be the centerpiece for determining what our next steps will be. For her boss, the president, this could be a make or break situation in his presidency.

If he appears weak or vacillating, that could be a nail in his political coffin. A Republican onslaught will be next up with the accusation that it was Obama who lost Egypt. You had better believe that our so called “assets on the ground [spies] will be doing double time. They didn’t distinguish themselves in predicting all this.

So far, this country has been all for the Egyptian army and police to act in a restrained fashion. If this revolution is successful, the Egyptian people, who we are now being told are not our friends, will remember us trying to keep Mubarak in place.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/12/11

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