TB: How important has Israel been to the revival of Islam?
DP: It is a major factor in the neighboring states. But elsewhere, in Morocco, Iran, Malaysia, it has minor importance.
TB: Since the “Arab Spring,” Israel seems increasingly beleaguered.
DP: Not really, not yet, though I agree that it will be more beleaguered with time. Its neighbors are so consumed with their own affairs that they hardly pay Israel attention. But once the neighbors get their houses in order, Israel will most likely face new difficulties.
TB: You have questioned U.S. support for Islamic democracy, which does seem naïve.
DP: The U.S. has been the patron for democracy for a century, since Wilson’s 14 Points, and a wonderful heritage it has been. When an American travels the world, he finds himself in country after country where his country played a monumentally positive role, especially in democratizing the system. We naturally want to extend this to Muslim-majority countries. Sadly, these for some time have offered an unpleasant choice between brutal and greedy dictators or ideological, extreme, and antagonistic elected Islamists. It’s not a choice we should accept.
TB: So what should we do?
DP: I offer three simple guidelines. One, always oppose the Islamists. Like fascists and Communists, they are the totalitarian enemy, whether they wear long beards in Pakistan or suits in Washington.
Two, always support the liberal, modern, secular people who share our worldview. They look to us for moral and other sustenance; we should be true to them. They are not that strong, and cannot take power soon anywhere, but they represent hope, offering the Muslim world’s only prospect of escape from the dreary dichotomy of dictatorship or extremism.
Three, and more difficult, cooperate with dictators but condition it on pushing them toward reform and opening up. We need the Mubaraks of the world and they need us. Fine, but relentlessly keep the pressure on them to improve their rule. Had we begun this process with Abdullah Saleh of Yemen in 1978 or with Mubarak in 1981, things could have been very different by 2011. But we didn’t.
TB: Egypt might be the test case.
DP: Well, it’s a bit late. Mohammed Morsi is not a greedy dictator but he emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood, and his efforts since reaching power have been purely Islamist.
TB: What about the recent elections?
DP: I do not believe that a single one of the elections and referenda in Egypt was fairly conducted. It surprises me that Western governments and media are so gullible on this score.
TB: You could say we were supporting the democracy element in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Were we not?
DP: Yes and rightly so. The initial demonstrations of early 2011 were spearheaded by the liberals and seculars who deserve U.S. support. But they got quickly pushed aside and Washington barely paid them further attention.
TB: We gave foreign aid to Mubarak. Was that a bad idea?
DP: That aid dates back to the utterly different circumstances of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979 and became progressively more wrong-headed. It should long ago have been discontinued. More broadly, I believe in aid for emergencies (soup and blankets) and as a bribe, but not for economic development. That the Obama administration is contemplating aid, including military hardware, to the Morsi government outrages me.
Tom Bethell is a senior editor of The American Spectator