Walking the Line (or: Egypt Free for All, Not Free-For-All)

February 12th, 2011

A follow-up to The Coming Caliphate and Bin Laden’s Nightmare, inspired by The Freedom Doctrine (Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post 2/11/11).

“The United States supports democracy throughout the Middle East. It will use its influence to help democrats everywhere throw off dictatorial rule.” – element one of Charles Krauthammer’s Freedom Doctrine


“A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold.” – Luke 8:5-8


“I keep my eyes wide open all the time.
I keep the ends out for the tie that binds.
Because you’re mine, I walk the line.” – Johnny Cash

It’s hard to walk a principled foreign policy line,

But Charles Krauthammer does just fine.

Normally I don’t subscribe to Necon doctrine,

But I like Krauthammer’s proposed Freedom Doctrine.

It walks the fine line between Glenn Beck’s Coming Caliphate

And the notion that everything will automatically turn out great.

Democracies are like plants (especially when newly found):

They must be sown in fertile ground.

They need tender care to survive,

Let alone to grow and thrive.

That’s what America should help provide,

And that’s how we can ensure we’re on the right side.

We want Egypt to be politically free for all,

Not a political free-for-all.

We therefore need to walk that difficult line,

Remembering the tie that us to freedom-seekers worldwide binds.

In wanting democracy, they’re like us and we’re like them,

Not our implacable enemies, as Glenn Beck protrays them.

And that’s how we link Egyptians’ democratic aspiration

With what is ultimately in the interest of our Nation.


In the spectrum of American responses to the democratic protests in Egypt, there are fine lines between head-in-the-sand optimism, realism, and paranoia. Glenn Beck and others on the right who have condemned the protests as the first step in establishing an Islamofascist/socialist Caliphate claim that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is either ignorant of the risk that Islamosfascism poses to the Western world, or actively in cahoots with the Islamofascists (the latter group surprisingly includes Obama and both president Bushes). This view is insane, and is in fact contradicted by evidence on the ground: the Egyptian protests have not included the anti-American and anti-Israeli signs and chants of previous protests in the Arab world, nor have groups like the Muslim Brotherhood played anything approaching a leading in their organization.

Still, it would be naïve to, on that basis, assume that democracy will automatically triumph and that there is no risk that popular democratic movements in Egypt and other Arab countries could not be hijacked by Islamofascism. Glenn Beck and his cohorts see this risk (indeed, they see nothing else), and respond by preemptively and incorrectly condemning the Egyptian protesters as Islamofascists, and urges us to oppose them accordingly (he never says exactly how – invade Egypt?). Or, to continue our biblical analogy, Glenn assumes that the thorns will win out, and wants us to preemptively nuke the field to keep that from happening. That preemptive opposition is one of the worst things we could do, and would ironically be most likely to bring about the very outcome that the Beckists fear: anti-Americanism and radicalization of the movement.

But how does one escape from the conspiracy-theory simplicity of Glenn Beck’s paranoia without stumbling into head-in-the-sand democratic triumphalism (itself a view more strongly associated with Bush II than the socio-fascist liberals that Beck excoriates)? It’s a fine line.

Charles Krauthammer, whom I don’t often agrees with, walks that fine line. In yesterday’s Washington Post, he proposes a new Freedom Doctrine to support the development of democratic governments in the Middle East. He –correctly—analogizes to US support for democratic governments and parties in Western Europe during the post WW2 era, when Communism was the internal and external force that threatened Western democracies. His four point plan both offers specific policy guidance, and is consistent with both the American national psyche (we have an innate preference for democracy and freedom over dictatorship, so we invariably get ourselves in trouble when we support the latter) and in our long-term national interest. I heartily recommend reading and seriously considering his article.

I do have one disagreement with Krauthammer: he refers to the new global threat as Islamism. That term is inherently self-defeating, since it lumps all Muslims together and makes it appear (at least to Muslims, but also to our own public) that Islam itself is the enemy. I far prefer the term Islamofascism. And while the “fascism” label is certainly overused (especially on the right), it is in this case accurate. And as with every broad policy prescription, the devil is in the details, and I suspect I’d disagree with Krauthammer on how exactly his four point plan should be implemented. But in its principles and broad terms, I believe it’s spot on.

I hope that the Obama Administration tries it… and that Republicans support him.

Here’s your theme music, I Walk the Line by the immortal Johnny Cash (also a great movie).


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