Realism Isn’t Always Realistic

by Patrick Appel

Egypt Public Opinion

Douthat makes smart points:

I think in general, the kind of realism on display in our relationship to Egypt has been a better model for dealing with problematic governments in unstable regions than some of the alternatives, from Iraq to Libya, that recent presidencies have experimented with.

But there also moments when the ground moves, and you have to take a step back and reassess whether the approach that realism seems to dictate is actually realistic. So, for instance: There is a difference between supporting a longstanding, creaking dictatorship on terms negotiated during the Cold War and supporting a second-generation junta that’s just deliberately overturned a democratic election. There is a difference between supporting a leadership, however corrupt, with a proven record of delivering relative stability and a leadership that so far is mostly delivering bloody chaos. And there’s a difference between supporting a government that’s willing to bend to your wishes at crucial moments and a government that seems intent on embarrassing you while telling the world it doesn’t need your help.

Larison adds:

When a client is engaged in behavior that seems both self-destructive and dangerous to us, it is irresponsible for the U.S. to continue the relationship as if nothing is amiss. That’s a standard that the U.S. ought to apply to all of its client relationships, but it certainly applies in the case of Egypt.

(Chart showing that the public supports cutting aid to Egypt from Pew)