In the February 21st edition of National Review (currently on newsstands, preceding link requires subscription), Dalrymple writes of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts (or revolutions?). Though geopolitical matters seem to represent a small percentage of his subject matter, this piece is an argument for more. It is excellent, and I am struggling to quote only the best parts without lifting the whole thing:
One of the problems with history is that it is lived forwards but written backwards. Those who are called upon to make it do not have the advantage of knowing how things will turn out; the precise moment at which democracies should ditch their dictatorial allies in favor of their opponents is therefore difficult to gauge. Treachery is an art that requires subtle judgment in its exercise.….We are inclined to defend comfort more fiercely than liberty, especially when the comfort is our own and the liberty is someone else’s. We search our capacious minds for justifications for our attitude, and if we have been sufficiently well, or at least lengthily, educated, we can generally find them.….In immortal words that bring to mind (by means of contrast) the Gettysburg Address, [American Vice President Joe Biden] called on “President Mubarak to begin to move in the direction of being more responsive to some of the needs of the people out there.” The French said the same to Ben Ali, though rather more elegantly.….The choice in politics is rarely between the good and the bad; it is more often between the bad and the appalling, especially where long-term dictators, friendly to American or other Western interests, might be replaced by revolutionary regimes; and there is plenty of scope for the appalling in Egypt. A change of rulers might be the joy of fools, as the Romanian saying has it, but it is also, often enough, the despair of policymakers.….While Western chancelleries fret as to what they should do, they might reflect on the consoling fact of their impotence. It is one of the great illusions of power that it is possible to mold people and events entirely according to one’s wishes. One can influence them all right, but seldom precisely in the direction that one wants; as for American aid to Egypt, it is a very blunt instrument that can be used only infrequently. And where there is little power, there is little responsibility. Prevarication is sometimes to politics what masterly inactivity once was to medicine.