Thursday, August 01, 2013

Neocons and Democracy: Egypt as a Case Study

If one thing has become clear in the wake of last week’s military coup d’etat against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, it’s that democracy promotion is not a core principle of neoconservatism. Unlike protecting Israeli security and preserving its military superiority over any and all possible regional challenges (which is a core neoconservative tenet), democracy promotion is something that neoconservatives disagree among themselves about — a conclusion that is quite inescapable after reviewing the reactions of prominent neoconservatives to last week’s coup in Cairo. Some, most notably Robert Kagan, are clearly committed to democratic governance and see it pretty much as a universal aspiration, just as many liberal internationalists do. An apparent preponderance of neocons, such as Daniel Pipes, the contributors to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and Commentary’s ’Contentions’ blog, on the other hand, are much clearer in their view that democracy may be a universal aspiration, but it can be a disaster in practice, especially when the wrong people get elected, in which case authoritarian rulers and military coups are much to be preferred.

The latter group harkens back to the tradition established by Jeane Kirkpatrick and Elliott Abrams, among others, in the late 1970’s when anti-communist “friendly authoritarians” — no matter their human rights records — were much preferred to left-wingers who claimed to be democrats but whose anti-imperialist, anti-American or pro-Palestinian sympathies were deemed too risky to indulge. These leftists have now been replaced by Islamists as the group we need “friendly authoritarians” (or “friendly militaries”) to keep under control, if not crush altogether.

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