Barbara Kay: Obama’s Carter-esque foreign policy deployed to Egypt
In November, 1979, Richard V. Allen, Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy
advisor, commended a just-published magazine article to his boss’s
attention. “What you gave me to read was extraordinary!” Reagan told
Allen. “Who is this guy Jeane Kirkpatrick?”
The “guy,” a political science professor at Georgetown University and a
Democrat of the muscularly anti-Communist school, went on to become
president Reagan’s ambassador to the UN.
Jeane Kirkpatrick’s influential Commentary magazine article,
“Dictatorships and Double Standards,” assesses Jimmy Carter’s hypocrisy
in foreign affairs, a hypocrisy that led to a betrayal of America’s
real interests. She viewed Carter as the quintessence of a romantically
cosmopolitan mentality that wrongly perceives all change as progress
toward a happy ending. Re-reading the article last week, I found that
if I substituted the word “Islamism” for “Communism” and “Obama” for
“Carter,” much of Kirkpatrick’s insightful essay is helpful to
understanding the current situation in Egypt.
Kirkpatrick contrasted (a) Carter’s moralistic dudgeon toward regimes
that were autocratic and repressive but generally Western-friendly,
with (b) his cultivated insouciance toward communist regimes that were
outright totalitarian. Carter made overtures of “normalization” to
Vietnam, Cuba and the Chinese People’s Republic, all hostile to
America; but cooled relations with South Korea, South Africa and the
Phillipines, countries friendly to America.
Similarly, before being soundly rebuffed, Obama made “reaching out” to
anti-Western, Islamist Iran a key plank in his platform. He routinely
offers encouraging words to Islamist or Islamizing countries, like
jihad-peddling Saudi Arabia and Israel-baiting Turkey, while shaming
pro-America, democratic Israel.
The nub of Kirkpatrick’s thesis is the distinction between regimes
headed up by “traditional rulers of semi-traditional societies” such as
Iran’s former Shah (or Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak) — which typically may be
characterized as our SOBs: venal, corrupt, repressive, but with limited
regional ambitions and broadly pro-America in outlook — and
totalitarian, anti-Western regimes seeking regional or world dominion.
Our SOBs can be nudged toward democratization. Ideology based regimes
such as communism and Islamism typically cannot. History, Kirkpatrick
reminds us, shows many recent examples of authoritarian states turned
democratic — notably Brazil and Spain. But no revolutionary Communist
society has ever willingly democratized (Russia was forced to, and is
still no democracy; China has modernized but not democratized).
Likewise, in our era, moderate Islamic societies have become more
Islamist, but Islamist societies have not spontaneously moderated.
All totalitarian regimes lock down society; they suppress speech and
dissident action. They are impervious to sticks and carrots alike,
yielding only to force majeure. If democracy is the goal, Kirkpatrick
says, America is far better off in alliance with “traditional
authoritarian governments.” For revolutions often produce more
repressive governance than the autocracies they replace. Taiwan was
preferable to Red China; Czarist Russia was liberal beside the Soviet
Union; next to Iran’s West-loathing mullahs, the Shah was a model of
As a litmus test for alliance, America should ally itself with those
nations that don’t produce refugees, Kirkpatrick says. Neither
democracies nor traditional autocracies do. While traditional
autocracies such as Egypt tolerate social iniquities, they do not
interfere in personal economic acquisition, or disturb ancient rhythms
of culture or manipulate personal relationships — the things that
matter to individuals.
Totalitarian regimes, on the other hand, do create refugees. They
“claim jurisdiction over the whole life of the society” and “so violate
internalized values and habits that inhabitants flee by the tens of
thousands.” By the end of 1978, more than six million refugees had fled
Marxist countries, a million from Cuba alone (how many more since
then?). Four million refugees have fled post-revolution Iran. Compare
with Argentina, Brazil and Chile under authoritarian governance: about
In short, Kirkpatrick says, “When U.S. policymakers and large portions
of the liberal press interpret insurgency as evidence of widespread
popular discontent and a will to democracy, the scene is set for
The Muslim Brotherhood, the only well-organized movement in Egypt, like
all revolutionary forces presents as democratic and reformist (remember
the mullahs in Iran in 1977 forswearing their wish for political
power?). But it is the fountainhead of a global Islamist movement as
intent on conquering the United States — and the rest of the world — as
communism was. Obama should not have pushed for a vacuum of leadership,
for the Brotherhood is eager to fill it, and if they do, Obama will
have been the midwife to yet another totalitarian country. Obama just
doesn’t get it at all.
In 1980, the United States had Reagan to save the country from a naive
president who invariably backed the wrong historical horse. Who will
save the West from Carter’s equally naive heir?