Great powers find themselves compelled to support regimes they consider problematic, unpleasant, or even odious. The United States is no exception. Many of its friends and allies have far greater democratic deficits than Egypt, although few receive more combined U.S. aid than Cairo does.
- The US has less influence over Mubarak’s government than it would if the regime were under greater threat; and
- The US faces much greater uncertainty about the costs and benefits of calibrating its level of support for the regime and the pro-democracy protesters.
The Obama Administration cannot pull a “Ferdinand Marcos” in Egypt; despite all that aid, Mubarak is less dependent on Washington than Marcos was. While I expect that the hearts of most people in the Obama Administration are, like most other Americans, with the brave men and women protesting on the streets of Egypt, they also need to worry about the geo-strategic costs of alienating — or losing completely — an important regional ally, whether by supporting a doomed regime or undercutting a survivor.
- Making use of concomitant leverage to pressure a regime to enact liberalizing reforms;
- Being more secure in the knowledge that democratization will not threaten its geo-strategic interests;
- Pivoting to supporters within civil society; or
- Doing all of the above.