The Headline on National Review Online’s “The Corner” blog said it all: “Toward a Soft Landing in Egypt: The key is the military.”
Charles Krauthammer’s op-ed was reprinted from his regular column in the Washington Post on Feb. 4, 2011 which ran under the same headline–but the subhead, “The key is the military,” was NRO’s flourish. Yet it was apt. At the height of the uprising in Egypt, Krauthammer, a sage of the neoconservative right, was heard all about town calling for Egypt’s generals to step in as the only adults on the scene.
“The worldwide euphoria that has greeted the Egyptian uprising is understandable,” he purrs with condescension in his 2011 WaPo missive. “All revolutions are blissful in the first days. The romance could be forgiven if this were Paris 1789. But it is not. In the intervening 222 years, we have learned how these things can end.”
We find out pretty quickly how Krauthammer, who more than once claimed that our own president should defer to “his commanders on the ground,” wants Egypt’s revolution to end. Or at least, how it should get to where it’s going:
The Egyptian military, on the other hand, is the most stable and important institution in the country. It is Western-oriented and rightly suspicious of the Brotherhood. And it is widely respected, carrying the prestige of the 1952 “Free Officers Movement” that overthrew the monarchy and the 1973 October War that restored Egyptian pride along with the Sinai.
The military is the best vehicle for guiding the country to free elections over the coming months. Whether it does so with Mubarak at the top, or with Vice President Omar Suleiman, or perhaps with some technocrat who arouses no ire among the demonstrators, matters not to us. If the army calculates that sacrificing Mubarak [through exile] will satisfy the opposition and end the unrest, so be it.
The overriding objective is a period of stability during which secularists and other democratic elements of civil society can organize themselves for the coming elections and prevail.
[Mohamed Mustafa] ElBaradei is a menace. [Hosni] Mubarak will be gone one way or the other. The key is the military. The U.S. should say very little in public and do everything behind the scenes to help the military midwife—and then guarantee–what is still something of a long shot: Egyptian democracy.
Krauthammer and other Washington neoconservative foreign-policy pundits would give their blessing to Attila the Hun as Egypt’s next ruler before they’d accept the leadership of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Krauthammer has said as much, here in this Dec. 2011 appearance on Fox News:
The problem is what Obama is doing now. Two weeks ago, I think a week and a half ago, he urged the generals to transfer power to the elected representative. That is disastrous. The military is the only guarantor of a Democratic system in the future, the same way that in Turkey the military for 50 years after the Ataturk revolution in the early ’20s guaranteed a secular, open society. If the military is gone, as Obama had urged, and it’s a good thing the military didn’t listen to him, then what you are going to get is the rule of the Islamists, who, as you say, if you add up the vote, that’s over 60 percent of the vote. They can essentially rewrite or write a constitution that could be extremely repressive.
FOX NEWS HOST BRETT BAIER: And are people in Israel concerned about that possibility, the real possibility that everything gets rewritten?
KRAUTHAMMER: Absolutely, everything is rewritten if the Salafist[s] and the Brotherhood are in power. You could get outbreak of war which could engulf the entire region.
To Krauthammer, a civilian, even secular transition would “be a disaster.” Instead, he turns to the military, which raised Hosni Mubarak up from chief of the Air Force and Egyptian deputy minister of Defence to chief air marshal to vice president in 1975. Unelected, he took over the presidency in 1981 after President Anwar El Sadat was assassinated. He was a creature of the military, which in turn lived off the spoils of corruption (and U.S military aid) throughout Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship. When he was no longer of use during the turmoil of the revolution, the military let him go.
“Mubarak was just the tip of an iceberg, the key base of which was the army, and the army is still in command,” noted Professor Gilbert Achar of the University of London in an interview about the transition of power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on Feb. 11, 2011, not long after Krauthammer’s pro-military remarks.
Looking back at the past year, and especially the last several days, has Krauthammer gotten what he asked for, a military “midwife” of democracy? Just the opposite: the military appears to be strangling democracy in the cradle.
The “sweeping new powers” announced by the military (which last week imposed martial law on Egypt ahead of the presidential runoff) effectively give the military (SCAF) complete legislative powers, control over the budget, waging war, and who writes the permanent constitution. This came days after the High Constitutional Court (HCC) dissolved the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament. SCAF also said it would not hold new elections for parliament until the new constitution is passed. Oh yeah, and the new rules effectively render the president a figurehead. There was also some confusing talk from one SCAF official who actually charged that whomever becomes president (to be announced Thursday) would be “a transitional one for few months only,” while SCAF officials separately and vaguely assured they would transfer power to the new president in a “grand ceremony” sometime at the end of the month.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is claiming victory in the runoff, appears to be the biggest loser in all of this (right next to all those people who risked–and lost–their lives protesting in Tahrir Square for freedom against dictatorship last year). If the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi wins, there will no doubt be a power struggle, with the military in the catbird seat. If the former prime minister and Mubarak appointee Ahmed Shafiq wins, then not so much. Shafiq, a former officer in the Egyptian Air Force, has been notably quiet about the military’s power grab. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood and the secular freedom movement have again taken to the streets.
And so why should Krauthammer be unhappy with this “soft coup” everyone is talking about? He nearly exclaimed his “soft approval” for it when he reasoned through the High Court’s dissolution of the parliament on Fox News Friday:
[The Brotherhood] could strike a deal with the generals. The generals have been in charge since 1952 and they were not going to go quietly. The reason they disbanded the parliament is because just a few days ago [parliament] appointed a 100-man committee to draw up a constitution. And that is the threat. So the parliament is gone, I’m sure the committee will be dissolved.
The problem is there’s going to be president election. There is no constitution that will determine whether it will be an empty presidency, a symbolic one, or a strong one, as happened in the past. So the army wanted to make sure that it could control the writing of a constitution which would determine the powers whoever wins on this Election Day. I think the army is going to stay in charge. It looks at the experience of Turkey, that the army stayed in charge for 80 years, and I think that is how it sees its role. It’s not going to go quietly.
So “the threat” was that the democratically-elected parliament established a committee to write the new constitution? It seems to me that Krauthammer would much rather the military, which has propped up a corrupt dictatorship for the last 30 years, write it. He can try to lipstick that pig all he wants, but it appears that what he wanted all along was a return to the status quo, and he just might get it.
One wonders if he would have asked for that same “military midwife” had he been present at our own constitutional birthing. Thankfully, in that case, the citizens, not his kind of “adults,” prevailed.