EGYPT—TIME TO REEVALUATE OUR APPROACH TO FOREIGN AFFAIRS?

I admit to some ambivalence towards what the roll of the U.S. in world affairs should be.

The latest crisis we face, not of our own making, is the near revolution in Egypt.

There are three reasons to be concerned about turmoil in Egypt.

One is the Suez Canal. Its control has both strategic and commercial implications. I am old enough to recall the 1956 Suez Canal crisis when Egypt first asserted its dominance over the Canal to the great consternation of France, Britain and Israel, who initiated military action.

Second is the more amenable stance towards Israel that has marked Egyptian policy since the Camp David accords. That relationship has certainly not been a dynamic without its difficulties, but it has been healthier for the Israelis than their relations with other neighbors.

Third is the fact our closeness to Egypt has aided us in our dealings with other Arab/Muslim nations. It can surely be cited as an area where we have not sought to bully rather than persuade so as to generate enormous resentment and anti-American feelings.

On the other hand some of that resentment could very well be pent up and come back to haunt us if Mubarak is overthrown, much as occurred in Iran when the Shah was disposed.

While we want to sustain a putative ally for the three reasons above, we cannot afford to do so if we appear to be deaf to those with genuine complaints against the regime.

My announced ambivalence is reflective of the ambivalence in our foreign policy itself in our history.

 Yes we have done extraordinary things which should serve as a shining example to others.

Yes we have parlayed our industrial innovation and might into a position of continued strength if not ongoing dominance in international affairs.

Yes we have produced our share of critical thinkers, philosophers, artists and other creative forces that have persuaded many that the “American way of life” is both desirable and attainable.

Yes our relative isolation has enabled us to be somewhat selective in our battles because there is little chance they will have devastating effects on us directly if we choose to ignore them.

Yes we profess moral superiority when dealing internationally.

Yes we believe our strengths and our endurance and prior successes justify us having a larger voice than others.

Yes we engender ardent patriotism for our nation “right or wrong”, but an extreme subset of those patriots express that as our nation “never been wrong”. As you well note, this somewhat reduces to the aphorism ‘our way or the highway”.

But the fact is, despite our promulgation of the democratic ideal and our lip service to it, pragmatically we have avoided or even subverted that ideal in foreign relations possibly as often as we have upheld it.

There are many examples of this overriding pragmatism though we may disagree on some of the specific instances.

Yet, we exhibit great hubris in contemplating our American hegemony. I believe this was at its peak under Dubya and has been tempered somewhat under Obama. But our leaders are often pressured to go where we should not tread, or these leaders foment that pressure, when our interests are not defense or justice but some form of greed.

There is a large part of our populace that reacts to or encourages foreign involvement based on prejudices, some the product of ethnic, racial, or religious bias and others from simple failure to even try to understand other nations and their own unique societies and cultures.

Whichever way we act we face consequences as simple as financial or as complicated as having our citizens held hostage for 444 days, or worse.

While we sit at our keyboards resolving all these issues, we have real people in the diplomatic corps or intelligence services who, if they were free to do so, would present compelling evidence that we are full of crap.

In the end, I believe most Americans, if asked theoretically, would want our democratic ideals to be upheld in our conduct of foreign relations. But in practical application those same Americans would just as soon see us be the 800 pound gorilla in the room, democratic ideals be damned.

We have backed the ruling regime in Egypt for at least the past fifty years. It is not a democracy. Egyptian citizens have taken to the streets demanding democratic ways. American forign policy practices there may have to yield to these demands just as Mubarak may be forced to do.

We have considered Egypt as our friend. Now the test will be if we determine that that friendship is best personified by Mubarak or the Egyptian people. I vote for the people. It will be interesting to see the vote from our government.

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