The Washington Post reports today that, “As it braces for the likelihood of a new ruler in Egypt, the U.S. government is rapidly reassessing its tenuous relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood.” This is good news. As I wrote in the American Prospect on Monday, developing a more coherent approach to the fact of political Islam in Egypt and the region is key to an improved, and more reality-based, set of Middle East policies.
In an article in the Daily Beast yesterday looking into Glenn Beck’s completely bizarre fear-mongering to the protests in Egypt — in which, somehow, Russia ends up controlling the Netherlands — Michelle Goldberg also noted how Egypt has split the U.S. conservative movement.
“Not surprisingly, Goldberg writes, “the politicians closest to the religious right have been the quickest to side with Mubarak”:
On Tuesday Mike Huckabee, who is in Israel, called into Fox & Friends to criticize the Obama administration for failing to back an ally. In Israel, he said, there’s “real shock and surprise… at how quickly the Obama administration abandoned a 30-year ally and a longstanding friend to peace and stability President Mubarak.” On Sean Hannity’s radio show, Newt Gingrich warned that Egypt “could go the way of Iran.”
As Republican Congressman Allen West told Huckabee put it in an interview on Monday, “Over there, sometimes it does require a stronger hand to keep those radical elements at bay.”
Also freaking out about the Muslim Brotherhood leading an Iran-style takeover of Egypt are Red State’s Erick Erickson and National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, both of whom have attacked the Obama administration for signaling that the Brotherhood would play a role in a reformed Egyptian government. That is, they’re outraged that Obama might actually be serious about inclusive democracy in the Middle East.
Goldberg also notes that “At least some neoconservatives, meanwhile, have shown an admirable consistency, urging support for Egypt’s demonstrators”:
Michael Rubin of the AEI, for example, wrote a piece for Forbes.com headlined “The U.S. Should Not Fear Regime Change.” “I don’t see many neoconservatives who love Mubarak and really want to protect him,” Rubin told me, adding, “When it comes to support for dictatorships, you can only kick the can down the road for so long before the road ends.”
This highlights an interesting difference of opinion between neoconservatives and conservative Israelis, who are often thought to move in lockstep. “Israelis aren’t on board on the democracy game,” says Rubin. “They’d much rather rely on aging dictators to keep things quiet. They’re perfectly happy selling out Lebanon to Syria, and perfectly happy selling out the Egyptian people to Hosni Mubarak.”
It’s worth noting that there’s also a split within the neoconservative faction itself over some of these questions, with Rubin, Elliott Abrams, and Max Boot in support of democratic inclusion in Egypt, and others like Frank Gaffney and Daniel Pipes accusing Obama of, in Pipes’ words, “myopically siding with the Islamists against Mr. Mubarak.”
One last quick point on the neocons disagreeing with Israel over Egypt. Groups like J Street have taken a lot of heat – much of it from neocons – over their criticisms of Israeli settlement construction. But now we see that it’s perfectly fine to depart from the Israeli line (and to criticize Israeli policy in more frank and explicit terms than J Street has ever done) depending, apparently, on who’s doing it. Isn’t that interesting.