During the Bush years, one of the justifications the administration most relied on for many of its policies in the world was that it was engaging in “democracy promotion.” One of the most vocal members about this supposed cause was Bush administration U.N. ambassador John Bolton.
Throughout his tenure as a high-level administration official, Bolton repeatedly insisted that one of his top priorities was helping spread freedom, respect for human rights, and democracy throughout he world. He was instrumental in the Bush administration’s refusal to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, supposedly out of his objection to the poor human rights records of several of the council’s members.
Yet during an interview with right-wing radio host Mark Levin yesterday, Bolton used his time on the show to attack and undermine the pro-democracy protest movement currently underway in Egypt. The former U.N. ambassador claimed that the “real alternative” to the Mubarak government is not “Jeffersonian democracy” but rather the opposition Muslim Brotherhood. After Levin postulated that “every Jihadi nutjob is probably pouring into Egypt right now,” Bolton followed up by saying this is the “big opportunity” for jihadists and mocked the calls of the international community to restore internet services, saying that the “Muslim Brotherhood knows how to use Twitter just like naive college students do”:
LEVIN: So what do you make with what’s going on in Egypt right now?
BOLTON: Well, I think it’s a real crisis for the regime. I think the outpourings in the street that have now been joined by the Muslim Brotherhood really do put the issue squarely on the table [...] My take is that they are digging in for a fight, they intend to resist, and that the real alternative is not Jefferson democracy versus the Mubarak regime, but that it’s the Muslim Brotherhood versus the Mubarak regime, and that has enormous implications for the U.S., for Israel, and our other friends in the region.
LEVIN: See, that’s my take on it too. I’m not aware of these spontaneous Jeffersonian democracy drives in the Arab world. Maybe I could be missing something. Mike Ledeen makes the point, I think he’s right, that every Jihadi nutjob is probably pouring into Egypt right now.
BOLTON: Oh, this is the big opportunity. That’s why so much of the Obama administration opposition to it has been feckless. [...] And the Muslim Brotherhood knows how to use Twitter just like naive college students do. So I don’t disagree. There are a lot of people in the streets who have legitimate grievances, they want more open government, so even if Mubarak were to fall, those idealistic people aren’t going to create the new government, the Brotherhood is.
Listen to it:
For starters, Bolton is conflating a much wider movement for democracy with the Egyptian Islamist political movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood. The current demonstrations started on January 25, a date which had no religious significance but rather marked the date of an anticolonial police revolt against the British. The protests, largely lead by Egypt’s more progressive younger generation, went on for days before the Brotherhood even became involved.
Second of all, while there are many legitimate concerns about the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood’s politics, they are not equivalent to anti-American jihadists. The Egyptian brotherhood “renounced violence years ago, but its relative moderation has made it the target of extreme vilification by more radical Islamists. Al Qaeda’s leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, started their political lives affiliated with the Brotherhood but both have denounced it for decades as too soft and a cat’s paw of Mubarak and America.” In other words, Bolton is attacking a mostly nonviolent Islamist movement that has acted as a bulwark against violent extremism. Following brutal attacks against Coptic Christians late last year, the Muslim Brotherhood unequivocally condemned the terrorism, calling for peace.
Lastly, and most importantly of all, as former CIA officer and chair of the Obama administration’s 2009 Afghanistan and Pakistan strategic policy review Bruce Reidel writes, “Egyptians will decide the outcome, not Washington. We should not try to pick Egyptians’ rulers. Every time we have done so, from Vietnam’s generals to Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, we have had buyer’s remorse. … [We] should not be afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. Living with it won’t be easy but it should not be seen as inevitably our enemy. We need not demonize it nor endorse it. In any case, Egyptians now will decide their fate.” In other words, supporting democracy overseas does not mean supporting only leaders who we have no disagreements with.
If Bolton is siding with Mubarak against the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people — which include but are far from limited to nonviolent Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood — he should no longer pretend to be a friend of democracy (something he admitted in 2010 when he said that democracy is “not always the answer“).
During an appearance on CNN’s John King USA, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) refused to commit to cutting off funding to the Mubarak regime and also repeatedly warned against including the Muslim Brotherhood in a future democratic process.
,Despite repeated goading from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that the Egyptian uprising may be “bad for the US,” Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) insisted that democracy is better than the status quo in the Middle East. “Because ultimately, the more Democratic the Middle East is, the less likely it is we’re going to have conflagration and conflicts between countries. That’s my view. I hope that turns out to be right,” he said.