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« WIKISTRAT's "Middle East Monitor", January 2011 | Main | Egypt: coming together nicely enough »
9:33AM

Mubarak's call: for cooler heads - and better downstream outcomes, the best possible path for Egypt (updated)

[EXTENSION OF ARGUMENT AT BOTTOM; VARIOUS UPDATES BOLDED THROUGHOUT]

Mubarak's just-announced decision not to stand for re-election in the slated September poll is obviously a good one, but so is his vow to remain in office until a successor is installed.

Why?

I just like how the paired decision allows the relevant authorities (i.e., the military) to slow things down, while demonstrating it's largely in charge without having to really step out there and harm any numbers (thus decredentializing itself).  The breather also gives all the relevant outside parties time to influence events to their - sometimes yes and sometimes no - reasonable liking.  It also gives the military time to interact with outside powers in a manner that should be reassuring.

We're talking a leaderless revolt that's driven by an underlying socio-economic revolution long in the making but weak in the developing of suitable political leadership.  Carpetbagging Mohamed ElBaradei [who must now dump on the US every chance he gets to prove he's really Egyptian and not just a lifelong UN bureaucrat, otherwise known as electioneering] actually needs time in-situ to develop a real following, for example.  And the Muslim Brotherhood's intentions and capabilities are more easily gauged/managed by the Powers That Remain in the run-up to the election than if something was slapped together, unity government-wise, in the immediate aftermath of Mubarak high-tailing it to Saudi Arabia.

As much as the romance of that image attracts ("See!  We scared the old bastard out of office!"), the subsequent dynamics are rarely so good.  This is a political system that's purposefully been retarded in its development for decades now, so giving it 8 months to find its feet will be a good thing.

Yes, much depends on how Mubarak behaves in the next few days and months (and seeing the social network sites back up is a VERY good sign), because the right moves will placate and soothe and the wrong ones will only inflame.  People on the street need to be satisfied that they've triggered something huge and permanent and that a new political era has already dawned.  Once that shock is over, then the real bottom-up networking and organizing can proceed apace, the key thing being that the police and Interior Ministry stay out of the picture.

That's not to say that I wouldn't expect the military to sanction some serious repression of the Brotherhood if they proceeded to scare people, but in general, it would be best if everybody had their chance to prove themselves under the new conditions without anybody being declared off-limits.  A truly free election where the Brotherhood does okay but somebody far more stabilizing wins the presidency would be a huge victory for democrats everywhere and a severe blow to Iran, al-Qaeda, radical Islam in general, and even the vaunted China model and its alleged transferability to places like Egypt.

Plus, given America' leadership-from-behind to date, the interregnum gives the Obama administration some time to make amends. [Now, Obama, in catch-up mode, demands Mubarak leave right now, and if the military can live with the interim choice, so can I.   But I'm against the general vibe of accelerating the pace out of fear of the mob, as I imagine the Army is - for good reason.  I think that if you fear the Iran 1979 scenario, you want this to be as calm and orderly as possible, so you exploit Mubarak's decision the best you can, in consultation with the military, and you don't just pile on now for the sake of cleaning up your johnny-come-lately mistakes.].  The lag likewise makes possible the international mediation process, if that's welcomed and usefully applied in this instance (and I think it could be).

Done well, this becomes another Big Bang-like notch in our belts, proving that regime-change doesn't have to come at the barrel of the foreign gun but can be opportunistically achieved in concert with globalization's natural advance.  Also done right, the flow of money to remake the Egyptian economy isn't in the form of official developmental aid but foreign direct investment - from all sides in a true collaboration-of-civilizations mode.  

The best outcome of the election is a new president able and willing to make the right investment climate happen (so think legal and security  and social tolerance in addition to economic and political stability) so globalization can flood in far faster and provide the jobs and opportunities and brighter future these protesters truly desire.

In short, I think this whole thing has gone amazing well.  It should be embraced by a down-in-the-mouth West and United States in particular, because this is very much our side winning. This is globalization's connectivity fomenting revolution and leading to even more connectivity and self-empowerment.  Overall, a huge positive that should be celebrated and nurtured for the profound demonstration effect.

Imagine:  just 8 short years after we go into Iraq we face the prospect of that country and Egypt presenting the world with democratically-elected governments.  I know everybody wants everything by Tuesday, but to me, looking at it strategically from a longer-term perspective, I can't believe how well things are turning out in this globalization-versus-radical-Islamic-fundamentalism struggle - or how quickly.

[per the comment on the Big Bang reference--see below, understanding that I'm taking on the notion here, not the commenter per se]

You don't argue that Iraq directly caused Tunisia and Egypt. That's silly, but so is Wilkerson's hatred of all things Bush. The guy went round the bend years ago. Saying there's a direct causality is like saying we descended from modern apes. I'm citing a larger phenomenon that begets both, one that presents us with different challenges, if we so choose to recognize them.

You argue that they're all part of the same process of opening up the Middle East to globalization. Sometimes it makes sense to force the issue, and sometimes it's better to act opportunistically.

["Really? I thought one size supposedly fit all!"]

Iraq was kinetic because Saddam was a big-time disconnector who required an enemy-world image to justify his amazingly cruel rule.  No such effort is required with either Tunisia or Egypt because there, you're not talking a totalitarian ambition (Saddam failed), nor a required world-enemy justification for militarism and constantly threatening behavior to others.  Simply put, not enough boxes were checked, and in Mubarak's defense, he did plenty to help out US interests in keeping the region stable, so even some boxes that could have been checked were left unmarked (and yes, we call that "realism," boo hoo!). 

Where we do draw parallel lines between the two is this:  by taking down Saddam, we triggered a larger tumult in the region.  We triggered all manner of accelerated connectivity, in part because we told the world we'd be responsible for regional stability by taking down its worst, most destabilizing actor and standing up to #2 in Iran (which we've done consistently, and thankfully haven't invaded given our tie-down elsewhere and the related arguments I've long made that Iran is a soft-kill option staring us in the face).  We saw the rippling tumult in 2005, when the Saudis held local elections for the first time in 70 years, Lebanon broke somewhat free of Syria in the Cedar Revolution, Mubarak felt the need to conduct a somewhat freer election, etc. Governments across the board felt some need to either firewall or prove their reform credentials, and Iraq helped fuel that by saying, Change is coming one way or the other.

[And then we got unduly obsessed with Iran's nuclear pursuit, which I have also criticized ad nauseum.  And Obama has persisted in this painfully myopic view of the world and globalization.]

Of course, and I've made these arguments ad nauseum, we could have done Iraq better, but the realist in me concerning the Pentagon and the US military says that the small-wars mindset wasn't going to emerge until we failed using the old "lesser includeds" techniques (big war force pretends to have small-wars skills).  Bush held off on that shift for way too long (until the people spoke in 2006) and now big Blue (Air Force, Navy) are dying to revive it all vis-a-vis China, which I think is nuts.  But evolutions such as these are non-stop fights, and so those of us who believe in them continue that struggle.  But that's a side issue to this argument.

And that larger argument remains:  globalization is impinging on a part of the world that is not ready for it and will experience tremendous social, economic, political and security tumult as it absorbs its impact.  That penetration process is not some elite conspiracy in the West; it's a demand-pull primarily by youth and middle class and students - and oppressed women - locally. When it's impeded enough by evil elites, and those elites constitute security threats in addition, the US calculus will always broach the question of kinetically removing them to facilitate the process ("global capitalist domination" to the neo-Marxist bullshit artists, liberation of an emerging global middle class to me).  Sometimes the threshold is met, but most times it is not.  Why?  We're too busy with other things.  We're feeling down on ourselves.  We're experiencing crisis.  Or it's just not enough of a me-versus-him feeling to justify whipping ourselves into action, which is just how democracies are (and God love them for that). 

But does that mean we don't intervene?  Of course we intervene.  Just get your head out of your butt and realize that interventions aren't all the same.  Some are kinetic and some are very subtle. We're intervening right now plenty in Egypt via our contacts with the military, a very broadband connection spanning decades and thousands of officers (and a process I know well, having been involved with it on many levels for two decades--see PNM for my description vis-a-vis India/Pakistan).  That is an unknown but huge power of the Leviathan force:  we train people all over the world.  And so, when stuff goes down, we have influence.  

Will this influence somehow get us everything we want?  When we want it?  With praise ringing in our ears?  Again, let's stay out of fairyland.  Lumps will be coming, as will brick bats.  Only question for us is, 8-10 years later, do we like the outcome?  Did our side win?

In Iraq, come 2013, we're looking at a very good situation.  A democracy with a handful of free elections by then.  Iranian influence, but not much more than Turkey's (and it's the economics where both matter, not the politics).  A rising oil power that shifts the balance in OPEC away from Iran to a country that has cooperative investment deals with basically every continent in the world--connectivity!  In the end, we still could have done it vastly better, like simply giving the Chinese the entire rebuild contract on day 1 instead of our supremely bad fumbling effort (Check out China preparing to dump $10B into Zimbabwe).  We could have gone COIN from day one instead of 3-4 years in, wasting the vast bulk of our lives and the vast bulk of the Iraqi lives.  And yes, we hold Bush-Cheney accountable for such decisions, but the mistakes were throughout the system, products of decades of assumptions and thinking that many of us still battle to this day.  But, in the end, the Iraq that stands there in 2013 is something entirely different from what the pessimists have long predicted.  It is a force that makes globalization move more broadly and deeply in the region, and that means we win.

My hopes for Egypt are that, by 2020-2022, we're looking at a Turkey-like player with a broad and relatively happy middle class.  It's got a military that's respected and still a very solid friend of the US and the US's friends in the region.  It is Islamist in flavor, because that's the people's heritage and it must be respected, just like a Christian-Judeo one is in the US.  But it's not unduly dominant or nasty to other faiths, because that's bad for globalization and business.  It becomes a conduit for the Horn and North Africa and the PG - connecting in all directions.  

And sooner than you think, it becomes the justification for similarly successful unrest elsewhere.

But yeah, we're now in the business of nation-building in Egypt, and fortunately for us, this time the US won't be in charge.  I hope we learn how much better that can be, and how many more players we can and should help tap right from the start, encouraging the Egyptians to self-empowering connectivity in all directions, so long as they create and sustain the rule sets necessary to make that work.

So to sum up:  my argument here is not to wash away Bush-Cheney's many mistakes.  I'm on record and in books and articles and columns and speeches and posts galore listing all the things they did that I disagreed with.  My point here is to remind us of the larger connections with history - a history we purposefully sought to create and continue to try and shape.  

And to remind you that our side is globalization, and globalization is winning - big time.

So wake up, Austin Powers*, and realize the world has shifted - yet again - in our favor, just when we needed a lift.

And then keep your chin up through all the name-calling to follow. Stick to the long-term perspective, because the dumbasses will be freaking out, bemoaning yet again how "America lost and THEY won!"  It's just our self-critical and Type A nature, which is good much of the time and just plain silly at various stretches of perceived and real crisis.

Simma down, nah!

Basil Exposition: Austin, the Cold War is over!


Austin Powers: Finally those capitalist pigs will pay for their crimes, eh? Eh comrades? Eh?


Exposition: Austin... we won.


Powers:
 Oh, smashing, groovy, yay capitalism! 

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (12)

Tom, your usual optimism is inspiring. Could it be after almost ten years of the 9/11 shock we are about to be experience a year of globalization inspired positive change in the most threatening part of the world?
I'm very much enjoying Wikistrat, especially during these changing times!

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElmer Humes

Col. Wilkerson was on some show the other day saying the neocon theory that Iraq caused Tunisia and Egypt is like saying holiday suicides are because of Santa's coat. This is saying the Big Bang theory is neocon and ridiculous.

How do you respond to Col. Wilkerson?

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNewsJunkie

How's this for an end-game scenario: Mubarek continues for a month or so and then retires "for health reasons". That allows him to claim he wasn't driven out, allows time for the opposition to organize while still having focus, and gives Suleiman time to take over a caretaker government until Sept elections. I think I heard that the VP is not allowed to run for President if he assumes the office on the departure of the elected president.

February 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Emery

Tom, I think your trust in Mubarak to operate in the interest of the Egyptian people is completely misplaced.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHans R Suter

Hans,

I think your understanding of my logic is entirely misplaced. I trust Mubarak to be exactly who he is, and I trust the situation, as it continues to unfold, to box him into certain behavior.

So far, I would say the process is working beautifully, and the military is playing its dutiful role.

Or, Hans, please lay out the scenario by which Mubarak secretly screws everything and everybody over between now and September. Because if you've got it, I'd love to hear it.

Otherwise, you're just saying you're scared by this development, which I readily stipulate. Change of this magnitude is scary, and just about everyone is looking for worst-case scenarios to feed their fear.

But again, this is going about as well as we can hope, and some orderly transition beats a collapse, as history indicates.

February 2, 2011 | Registered CommenterThomas P.M. Barnett

Tom, I hope you're right and yes, it's scary.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHans R Suter

Hans,

My primary concern with speed-not-being-of-the-essence is that, if the mob drives the process, then the most radical voices tend to stand out. I'm with the army right now: you got the change you wanted, and now is the time to disperse and start organizing for what comes next. Eight months is a VERY short time. People need to wrap their minds around the change and let it sink in. I see little chance for Mubarak to back track absent Army support, and I just don't see that coming back.

February 2, 2011 | Registered CommenterThomas P.M. Barnett

Thanks for the reply.

February 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNewsJunkie

How does this play out if there's an incident in which a squad of 'soldier's' (or bad actors that guise) opens up on demonstrators at a delicate moment? Prior to the army's statement that it would stand aside, it looked like a fragile truce. Is that neutrality now sufficiently secure? Might not an incident that sent a panicked, enraged crowd stampeding into a line of soldiers still upset the apple cart (to someone's expected advantage)?

February 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeffrey Cuvilier

Forcing Mubarak out sooner rather than (a little) later seems like a worse idea every passing day.

We'll get a good test of the WikiStrat wargame results as time unfolds. Consider:

According to a Pew opinion survey of Egyptians from June 2010, 59 percent said they back Islamists. Only 27% said they back modernizers. Half of Egyptians support Hamas. Thirty percent support Hizbullah and 20% support al Qaida. Moreover, 95% of them would welcome Islamic influence over their politics. When this preference is translated into actual government policy, it is clear that the Islam they support is the al Qaida Salafist version.

Eighty two percent of Egyptians support executing adulterers by stoning, 77% support whipping and cutting the hands off thieves. 84% support executing any Muslim who changes his religion.

(from: http://www.carolineglick.com/e/2011/01/clueless-in-washington.php)

February 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDip

Isn't this building into a "Revolution-In-A-Box"?

Dignified crowds demanding change.

The Aljazeerian Eye and the Open Source Eye are showing the chorus how everyone is behaving.

Isn't any power contender being tested and evaluated now?

It is a stretch to see things all the way through without going virulent but what if Mubarak releases control with some measure of grace?

How the average Egyptian will benefit I don't know.

Food prices are not going down to suit the revolution.

February 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCraigicus

re: Forcing Mubarak out sooner rather than (a little) later seems like a worse idea every passing day.

H/T @Dip, thanks for the source link.

Inferences of, from Caroline Glick: Her existing credentials, her fluid thinking.

None of the scenarios under discussion are positive.

What has most confounded Israeli officials and commentators alike has not been the strength of the anti-regime protests, but the American response to them. Outside the far Left, commentators from all major newspapers, radio and television stations have variously characterized the US response to events in Egypt as irrational, irresponsible, catastrophic, stupid, blind, treacherous, and terrifying.

They have pointed out that the Obama administration's behavior - as well as that of many of its prominent conservative critics - is liable to have disastrous consequences for the US's other authoritarian Arab allies, for Israel and for the US itself.

The question most Israelis are asking is why are the Americans behaving so destructively? Why are President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton charting a course that will necessarily lead to the transformation of Egypt into the first Salafist Islamic theocracy? And why are conservative commentators and Republican politicians urging them to be even more outspoken in their support for the rioters in the streets?

Does the US not understand what will happen in the region as a result of its actions? Does the US really fail to understand what will happen to its strategic interests in the Middle East if the Muslim Brotherhood either forms the next regime or is the power behind the throne of the next regime in Cairo?

Distressingly, the answer is that indeed, the US has no idea what it is doing. The reason the world's only (quickly declining) superpower is riding blind is because its leaders are trapped between two irrational, narcissistic policy paradigms and they can't see their way past them.

February 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCritt Jarvis

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