Interesting post from John Podhoretz, Jonah. Actually, I haven’t said that we should back Mubarak to the hilt. On the contrary, I’ve endorsed Barry Rubin’s take, who I understand to favor a modified, post-Mubarak version of the current system, backed up by the army, but more open to reformist forces than Mubarak was.
I think it’s the democratizers who overestimate American influence. It’s been noted for some time that the Arab world has been the great exception to the wave of democracies that swept over much of the globe in recent years. I think we’ve overestimated how democratic many Third World countries have become, but clearly the Arab world has been the most resistant region to democracy for some time now. I think the underlying reasons for that are rooted in culture and social structure. We are blaming American policy for a deeply-rooted authoritarian system that we did not create and cannot easily change.
The best we can do is work to push the systems that already exist in one direction or another. American aid to Egypt gives us tremendous leverage. It does not, however, allow us to create a liberal democracy where the basis for one is largely absent.