Yesterday, the media were abuzz with the rumor Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was going to step aside amid controversy and protests. The media were ecstatic! The Left was ecstatic! And for the same reason: they wished for and got a change in leadership without violence (at least without violence as instigated by the US government like Iraq was).
Oh, so close and yet so far. With Mubarak's announcement he wasn't stepping down and, instead, transferring some of his powers to his Vice President, the Left and the media are faced with a reality they hadn't anticipated. More importantly, though, their reaction to the possibility of Mubarak stepping down shows a dangerous short-sightedness that may not end well for us.
We've been in bed with Mubarak for decades, and doing so has meant we've overlooked a lot of things we wouldn't overlook otherwise. Contrary to what our Vice President Joe Biden has said, he is a dictator, so our natural inclination is to support his removal. The problem is we haven't thought about the implications of the alternatives. In that corner of the world, there are always extremist Muslims looking to take advantage of any amount of chaos to assert itself, and in this case, it's the Muslim Brotherhood waiting in the wings. Of course, there's always a chance groups like the Muslim Brotherhood won't get much traction, but the odds are against it.
The people cheering yesterday at the possibility of Mubarak stepping down miss the all-important question we should all be asking: what happens tomorrow? If Mubarak stepped aside (or steps aside later), there will be a vacuum that can and probably will be filled with someone as bad as Mubarak has been. In short, the change some of us are hoping for may not be change at all.
That's why we need to be very careful with what we're saying and doing in Egypt. After 50+ years of stupidly contradictory foreign policy in the Middle East, we find ourselves in a no-win situation. If we support Mubarak, we silently condone his practices to date. If we oust Mubarak, we create a situation that allows extremists a chance to cause more chaos by flexing their muscle and asserting themselves. We lose in either case.
But at least we feel good about it because we supported change and getting rid of a bad guy, right?