During our own revolution, we persuaded the French to support our efforts. They agreed, not from a love of democracy but from a love of themselves: they were well aware that backing us would weaken their major rival, the British. Now that we are a super power, we take a similar sort of approach: we back those who we think will support what we perceive as our interests (or at least the interests of those who hold wealth and power). Matters of principle are brought up against our enemies as rhetoric, but generally seem to fail to move us.
This “pragmatic” approach has led us to back rather repressive autocratic rulers. During the Cold War we would support almost anyone who would oppose the Soviets and we were tolerate of truly horrible violations of human rights and what we regard as our core political values. However, we often seemed to be woefully ignorant of what our approach would spawn. The most notable example is, of course, the fall of our ally the Shah and the creation of one of our most devoted foes. Our actions also served to create considerable anti-American sentiment in the world and helped to forge many of the problems that we now face. But at least we beat the Communists. Well, not China or Cuba. But at least the Soviets.
In the case of Egypt we pursued the classic approach: backing an autocratic ruler who was willing to play ball with us while being willfully ignorant of what was really going on within the country. As such, we were apparently surprised at what happened in Egypt (though it will, as always, seem obvious in hindsight).
With memories of Iran dancing in our heads, we are not entirely sure what to do. Will we lose yet another autocrat to a revolution of their own people and face another Iran? Will democracy triumph? Will chaos rule the land? Time, as always, will tell.
I would like to say that we have learned valuable lessons about backing autocrats against their own people, but that is obviously not the case.
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