Difficult as it may be, let's try for an honest and realistic discussion of Egypt. Of course, the Obama administration, most Americans, most Egyptians, and I myself would prefer a democratic government in Cairo instead of President Mubarak's corrupt and repressive establishment. That's not the issue. The real issue is this: If Mubarak tumbles and if Washington uses its influence—and yes, it does have influence at approximately $3 billion in annual total aid—to push him out, what kind of government will follow his? Will it be even less democratic and more repressive? And what will be the implications for U.S. security in the region?
So, let's stop prancing around and proclaiming our devotion to peace, "universal rights" and people power. Instead, let's step back and look hard at what we know and don't know about this popular explosion in the bosom of one of America's most vital allies—and what the United States can and can't do about it.
The devil we know is President Mubarak. In the history of Mideast bad guys, he's far from the worst. Remember Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomenei, President Ahmadinejad, President Assad of Syria, and the many and varied leaders of Muslim terrorist groups? No sensible American would excuse Mubarak's corrupt regime—a bureaucracy that would make Kafka blush, a nasty police force, and a repressive political system. Very bad, indeed. On the plus side, he's led Egypt's economy to 6 to 7 percent real growth in past years and has conducted a foreign policy highly supportive of U.S. interests.