Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2011 / 26 Shevat, 5771

Walking the Middle East Tightrope

By Arnold Ahlert | "Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things… I would not refer to him as a dictator."--Vice President Joe Biden, Friday, January 28

Joe "The Gaff That Keeps on Giving" Biden has uttered a remarkable number of inane statements in his career. Many of them have revealed a level of cluelessness that would have sent him packing from the national stage, were it not for a media which has grabbed its collective ankles covering for him. Yet underscoring Abraham Lincoln's observation that it is "better to remain silent and be thought a fool than speak out and remove all doubt," Mr. Biden's above quote is breath-taking.

To use a theater term, it's a "two-fer." First, it demonstrates a unprecedented level of obtuseness with regard to reality. While Hosni Mubarak has been "elected," his 30-year reign, underwritten by Egypt's military, and often enforced by the legendary brutality of Egypt's security forces, is one viewed by Egyptians themselves as dictatorial. And then there are the "details" with regard to the current uprising, manifesting themselves even as I write this: the government has shut down the Internet and cell phone services; it has imposed a country-wide curfew; it is holding Nobel Peace laureate and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei under house arrest; over one thousand other Egyptians have been detained and/or injured by the police; one protester has been killed; and the state controls the media.

Second, and far more importantly, Mr. Biden's remark is stunning for its timing. To put that timing in perspective, a quote:

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe-- because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo."

An integral part of that status quo is Hosni Mubarak, Mr. Biden. Just like former Tunisian strongman Ben Ali was--until two weeks ago. Two weeks from now? Mr. Biden may have backed a regime whose fall could further inspire the forces of anti-Americanism more than willing to make a complete mockery of the Obama administration's "Muslim outreach program." That is not to say such a program was anything more than wishful thinking and a distortion of history. But shouldn't members of the same administration be on the same page--maybe now more than ever?

In quick order, the United States needs to do two things. First, we must play as neutral a role as is conceivably possible. That means Joe Biden needs to stop defining terms, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton needs to drop the talk about the Egyptian government's "stability," when it is anything but. No doubt such talk is predicated on the assumption that the fall of the Mubarak regime would hand Egypt over to the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the most virulent Islamist and anti-American factions in the region. Yet the high point for the movement, which is technically outlawed in in Egypt, was the election of 2005, when the Bush administration induced Mubarak to let their representatives run for office. They won 88 of about 500 seats, and even in the controversial parliamentary election of last year, they contested less than a third of all parliament seats. Many analysts think the group's appeal in Eqypt is less pro-Muslim Brotherhood and more anti-regime--which is why America doesn't need to add fuel to the Islamist fire by choosing sides.

Second, it's about time Americans relentlessly pressured the Obama administration to embark on a full-scale, "Manhattan Project effort" to bolster domestic oil production. Everyone with a brain knows Middle East "stability" is all about protecting our access to oil reserves. Reserves which can't possibly be replaced with "green" energy any time in the near future. It is one thing to be held hostage with regard to oil due to unforeseen upheavals in a region which supplies a substantial portion of that oil to our country. It's another thing altogether to willfully contribute to our own misery in order to satisfy our eco-jackboots who couldn't care less how much Americans pay for oil-related products and services.

"Drill here, drill now" has never been a more pressing priority.

Whether we like or not, America is being dragged into a new and dangerous world in the Middle East. It is a world where America must understand--and promote--the critical difference between democracy and freedom. Democracy which produces nations under the yoke of Sharia Law will not be free. They will have done nothing more than replace secular repression with religious totalitarianism. Such is not a foregone conclusion, but one thing is certain: the status quo is finished, and we'd better be prepared to deal with whatever replaces it.

And that doesn't mean just the Obama administration, who, if their track record so far is any indication, may not be up to the task. It is no secret that Republicans are searching for a standard-bearer to represent them in the 2012 election. Great leaders are often defined by their ability to step up in times of historical uncertainty. This is one of them. If the forces of darkness prevail in the Middle East, the ability to navigate such a reality may be beyond this president's pay grade---and that's before the dealing with how the implications of such a development will affect Israel. Do Republicans have such a leader-in-the-making?

Lastly, the quote I used to underscore Joe Biden's utter lack of timing was part of a speech given by George W. Bush--in November of 2003. At the time, Mr. Bush was roundly criticized for attempting to rattle the Middle East status quo, largely by an American left which believed (and maybe still believes) that freedom and democracy were concepts beyond the capabilities of Muslims in the region. Maybe democracy is, but it certainly looks like the urge to be free is not. How closely either will mirror Western versions of those concepts, if at all, is anyone's guess.

The revolutionary fever spreading across the Middle East is happening far too quickly to know where it is headed. It's either the beginning of an Arabic Renaissance or an Islamist Dark Ages. America should pray for the best--and prepare for the worst. And maybe, while it is all going on, the administration should send Joe Biden on a long vacation.

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