'This Isn't About Us': How Much Should U.S. Be Involved In Egypt?

Columnists debate the pros and cons of the U.S. stepping up

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The President's remarks last night on the Egyptian protest have been characterized as merely a "public relations" response to the crisis. "After days and days of dithering and an avalanche of criticism from a wide array of experts, the president came forth last night with a new statement on Egypt. But was it all that new? And, if not, why bother?" wondered Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post. As violence erupts between Mubarak opponents and supporters today, foreign policy columnists are trying to clarify what the United State's role in the situation should actually be. Here are the arguments on both sides--from those who think the U.S. should stay out of it, and those who think Obama has a moral responsibility to take a greater role.

Hold Your Rhetorical Fire: This Isn't About the United States

  • Egyptians Don't Need American Leadership observes David Ignatius at The Washington Post. "Washington debate about the new Arab revolt tends to focus on the U.S. role: Has President Obama blundered by not forcing Mubarak out sooner? Should America abandon other oligarchs before it's too late? But this isn't about us. If Washington's well-chosen emissary, former ambassador to Cairo Frank Wisner, has helped broker Mubarak's departure and a stable transition to new elections, so much the better. But Egyptians don't need America to chart their course."
  • A U.S. Intervention On Either Side Would Be 'Mad' At the Guardian, Simon Jenkins finds Western intervention--in favor or against the Mubarak government--to be equally undesirable scenarios:
Had the west not intervened in Iraq and Afghanistan, I bet the Iraqi people would by now have found a way to be rid of Saddam. They or the army would have done what the Tunisians and the Egyptians are doing, and at far less cost in lives, upheaval and chaos. As for the Taliban, as clients of Islamabad they would have come to Pakistani heel. The Afghans would be a threat to nobody but themselves.
  • It's Not About the U.S.  At The Atlantic, Clive Crook concurs with the point made by Ignatius that this isn't about the U.S, and notes: "No, it isn't [about the U.S]. Since nobody knows what comes next in Egypt, I find the confidence with which many recommendations are now being made very hard to take."

Yes, It Is. The U.S. Should Push Harder Against Mubarak

  • Because the Outcome Is Unclear, 'We Must Do What We Can To Influence It,' argues Leon Wieseltier at The New Republic, noting "anecdotal evidence that the protestors want America's support." While Wieseltier concedes that there is also an anti-American protest faction, he writes that we should "put ourselves in a position to retard and to impede the Muslim Brotherhood" while supporting "those factions that really do aspire to democracy and stability."
  • Obama: Throw America's Lot in 'With the Demonstrators in the Streets,' writes Reuters's Gregg Easterbrook. President Obama "should publicly, and enthusiastically, back the protesters who are demanding a new dawn in Egypt." Easterbrook's reasoning, omitting the caveats that he includes later in his article:
But backing the pro-democracy freedom activists on the streets of Cairo — who are showing discipline in mainly being peaceful, a good sign — is the right thing to do.
Propping up dictators in hope of regional stability has long been American policy in the Middle East and nearby areas, and what has it gotten the United States? Oil supplies and endless inconclusive tension. What has it gotten the people of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other nations? A miserable life under dictatorship. That’s not right.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.