Perry and Hawkish Illusions of Control
Rick Perry recently offered a reminder that his foreign policy judgment isn’t very good:
Asked how he would have handled the 2011 Egyptian revolution, Perry sought to contrast that situation with the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran. In the former, Perry says President Obama should have stood more solidly behind Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, while in the latter he says the president should have more forcefully stood on the side of the Iranian protesters.
Perry’s positions are predictable and typical of hawkish critics of the administration, but the most important thing to note here is that Perry thinks that the U.S. ought to have taken the most futile position possible in both cases under the circumstances. Standing behind Mubarak was a losing proposition for the U.S. in early 2011. Even Mubarak’s supposed allies in the Egyptian military were ready to cut him loose when he became a liability, so it would have been foolish to be more pro-Mubarak than they were. Stronger U.S. backing for him would not have mattered very much, and would have left the U.S. defending a dictator that virtually no one in his country was prepared to defend. Siding “more forcefully” with Iranian protesters wouldn’t have caused the regime to “fail,” as Perry imagines, not least since the Green movement was not seeking the overthrow of the Iranian regime, but would have tarred the protesters through association with U.S. backing. If Perry had his way, the U.S. would have rallied behind two losing causes, and it would achieved nothing except to demonstrate American obliviousness to the internal conditions in both Egypt and Iran.
Perry’s criticisms are unsurprisingly wrongheaded, but they also reflect the extent to which hawks like Perry pretend that U.S. action or inaction is the decisive factor in foreign political crises. If Obama had been more supportive of Mubarak and more supportive of the Green movement, it is almost certainly the case that things in both places would have been very similar to what they were. Hawks consistently overrate U.S. influence in other countries’ political developments, and they overestimate the ability of our government to influence events in other parts of the world according to Washington’s preferences. The last thing that the U.S. needs is to have a president with an exaggerated belief in the ability of the U.S. to “shape” the politics of other nations.