Egypt and the Idealist-Realist Debate in U.S. Foreign Policy

Started Dec 9, 2011 | Discussions thread
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yanisha
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Egypt and the Idealist-Realist Debate in U.S. Foreign Policy
Dec 9, 2011

Excellent article.

Egypt and the Idealist-Realist Debate in U.S. Foreign Policy

http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20111205-egypt-and-idealist-realist-debate-us-foreign-policy?utm_source=freelist-f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20111206&utm_term=gweekly&utm_content=readmore&elq=ef4f014d87944b4097c3f3f2d3a6130d

A bit of the article:

The collision between the doctrine of national self-determination and the Western notion of human rights is not an abstract question but an extremely practical one for Europe and the United States. Egypt is the largest Arab country and one of the major centers of Islamic life. Since 1952, it has had a secular and military-run government. Since 1973, it has had a pro-Western government. At a time when the United States is trying to end its wars in the Islamic world (along with its NATO partners, in the case of Afghanistan), and with relations with Iran already poor and getting worse, the democratic transformation of Egypt into a radical Islamic regime would shift the balance of power in the region wildly.

This raises questions regarding the type of regime Egypt has, whether it is democratically elected and whether it respects human rights. Then there is the question of how this new regime might affect the United States and other countries. The same can be said, for example, about Syria, where an oppressive regime is resisting a movement that some in the West regard as democratic. It may be, but its moral principles might be anathema to the West. At the same time, the old repressive regime might be unpopular but more in the interests of the West.

Then pose this scenario: Assume there is a choice between a repressive, undemocratic regime that is in the interests of a Western country and a regime that is democratic but repressive by Western standards and hostile to those interests. Which is preferable, and what steps should be taken?

These are blindingly complex questions that some observers — the realists as opposed to the idealists — say not only are unanswerable but also undermine the ability to pursue national interests without in any way improving the moral character of the world. In other words, you are choosing between two types of repression from a Western point of view and there is no preference. Therefore, a country like the United States should ignore the moral question altogether and focus on a simpler question, and one that’s answerable: the national interest.

Egypt is an excellent place to point out the tension within U.S. foreign policy between idealists, who argue that pursuing Enlightenment principles is in the national interest, and realists, who argue that the pursuit of principles is very different from their attainment. You can wind up with regimes that are neither just nor protective of American interests. In other words, the United States can wind up with a regime hostile to the United States and oppressive by American standards. Far from a moral improvement, this would be a practical disaster.

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