Friday, January 27, 2012

Breather from Politics

I’ve been watching the endless debates with a certain amount of ambivalence. My passion is not what it was. In my heart of hearts I wonder how much any of this matters. Some of this comes from the tremendous intellectual impact of encountering books like Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable which (among other things) serves as a reminder that – for all of humanity’s impressive achievements – we are tiny specks of nothing blown about by chance. Some of it comes from some personal stuff, that I have only touched on but not really written about. But in the face of this one begins to consider what really matters – and I’m certain it is not the plague of preening pundits posturing on cable news.

In What’s Bred in the Bone, Robertson Davies (one of my favorite novelists) gets it right on politics.
Francis Cornish, the main character, is encountering his estranged wife who has become a Communist. She bawls out the wealthy Cornish for his ambivalence about the masses. Cornish replies:
The best thing about Plato was his good style. He liked inventing systems, but he was too fine an artist to trust his systems fully. Now I’ve come to hate systems. I hate your pet system, and I hate Fascism, and I hate the system that exists. But I suppose their must me some system and I’ll take any system that leaves me alone to got on with my work, and that probably means the least efficient, ramshackle, contradictory system.
Politics and public affairs is what I do. And human nature is such that systems that create the conditions in which people can “get on with what matters to them” are fragile things. Ultimately politics is about protecting, preserving and where possible expanding this space. That is worthy calling and an important one. But there is no salvation in it; it is only a means.

It is worth putting that into perspective every once in a while.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The AQ Khan Network and its Fourth Customer at Carnegie

On Monday I had the good fortune to attend The A.Q. Khan Network and its Fourth Customer at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace featuring my friend (and ArmsControlWonk regular) Josh Pollack.

The event (which can be viewed online here) is based on an article initially published here. My own initial thoughts about it can be read here.

The core question is who was the AQ Khan network’s fourth customer. It was well-known that Khan dealt with Iran, North Korea, and Libya. But there was regular talk of an un-named fourth customer, there were also unaccounted for shipments of sensitive equipment. A related question is who was really running the network. At various points Khan attempted to blame the military or the Dubai middlemen for the nuclear smuggling – although at other times he insisted it was entirely his work (as befits the man who claims to be the father of the Pakistani bomb.) Pollack also notes some upcoming research by others which indicates that most of the stuff AQ Khan sold was actually junk.

Pollack argues, persuasively, that the fourth customer is none other than India. India was known to have dabbled in the nuclear black market so its tendrils would have encountered the AQ Khan network. There were certain very specific similarities in centrifuge design that seem beyond coincidence.

The full story will probably never be known. Although technically under house arrest, AQ Khan manages to run a website and write columns. Pakistani authorities are loath to permit international access to Khan or press their national hero to hard. At the same time, many of the key figures in the smuggling network that could shed light on the matter are deceased.

However, the possibility that India was the fourth customer gives Khan far greater incentives to deny that he was the king-pin of the smuggling network as it would destroy his reputation as a Pakistani patriot.

I had to ask how Khan could have gotten away with this for so long. After all, his primary achievement was stealing centrifuge designs while working in Europe. Shouldn’t that have set off some alarms in Rawalpindi. Several people who know Pakistan assured me that Khan’s reputation made it difficult to monitor him and that he was given enormous freedom to operate. The existence of such large blind spots does little to reinforce confidence in the Pakistani state.

The policy implications of India being Khan’s 4th customer are unclear. At events about India and Pakistan there are usually representatives from each side that use the Q&A period to deliver diatribes escoriating the other side. This did not happen here. Neither side has much incentive to draw attention to this story. Even in refuting it, the Indians would only draw attention to the story – which has the potential of undermining their nuclear deal with the US. Pakistan probably does not want to remind the world of its lack of control of its nuclear program.

Unearthing the full story of the AQ Khan network needs to continue. As frightening as al-Qaeda is – the AQ Khan network could be the harbinger of far worse destruction.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Belated Thoughts on MLK Day

Although MLK day has passed, the resonance of the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have remained with me. MLK was the perfect counter-point to terrorism. King, facing profound injustice against his community developed tactics and strategies that were moral and effective. They demanded enormous self-discipline, but these methods relied on and appealed to the very humanity of those committing and tolerating the injustice. At every turn, he rejected calls to violence – calls that were understandable. The United States was founded on certain premises:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
King held the United States accountable to its own values and he did so successfully by appealing to the very best in this country.

Politics is the complex art of settling disagreements in a manner that most of the people effected can live with (there are presumably other definitions – but this one works) so that violence is not necessary. Losers in disputes understand that they will have legitimate opportunities in the future under the same process and that the outcome is not so unjust that the system itself needs to be removed.

King’s non-violent resistance pushed the boundaries of the system without turning to violence – pointing out the system’s own inconsistencies and pressing for their rectification within that system.

Terrorism, in contrast, seeks to negate politics arguing that only violence – and not violence within the bounds of jus in bello but the explicit targeting of civilians.

This is not a comment on the cause – many terrorists have legitimate (or at least understandable) causes. The Tamils of Sri Lanka did suffer discrimination at the hands of the Sinhalese majority. But in fostering a bloodbath on that beautiful island, the Tamil Tigers can hardly be said to have brought any justice to the Tamils. They only made things worse for everyone. Ultimately the Tamil Tigers were pursuing maximalist ambitions in order – not merely to achieve justice but to pursue power-mad dreams that would have been unjust to the Sinhalese majority.

The Turkish government did not treat the Turkey’s Kurdish minority justly. But the turn to violence only made things worse. And yes, the same question can be asked as to whether terrorism has served the Palestinians – who do have legitimate grievances with which even this arch-Zionist can sympathize? (But I lacked the energy to delve into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a holiday morning.)

Ultimately, the great challenge of non-violence is that in a sense it is so much harder then terrorism. Terrorism requires a relative few; non-violence requires many. While terrorism requires discipline and skill it feeds off of anger, which Homer aptly said is, …far sweeter than trickling honey, expand[ing] in the breast like smoke…” Anger, once ignited, is extremely difficult to extinguish – even for the movement’s founders.Contrast that with King’s words in his elegant Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action…. W[hen w]e had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?"
It is the harder path and the narrower one. It may not work in all times and places. Would non-violent resistance have stopped Hitler or Stalin? This seems, at best, unlikely. But there are many, many more cases where it could work and MLK Day and his life as a whole, is a testament to this hopeful possibility.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Politicians: Caricatures under the Microscope

When discussing politics I am frequently told that George W. Bush is dumb. I readily concede that he was probably our dumbest president ever (or at least tied with Warren Harding). But that doesn’t mean that he is actually stupid.

As we watch a bunch of presidential hopefuls stumble through primaries and caucuses it worth considering the bizarre microscope under which politicians are forced to function.

It is said that the camera adds ten pounds (I think I heard it in an episode of Friends.) The American political process, which has a lot of cameras and lot of other people, also on camera, talking about it presses a person flat against the glass and gives us a strange distorted image of that individual in which perhaps one quality will be grotesquely prominent.

This is not an original thought, I got it from that leading sociologist and observer of the American scene Dave Barry in Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway. Barry described the two major party candidates for president in 2000:
Al Gore… who had developed this annoying, condescending manner of speech that made him sound, when he spoke to us, as though he were addressing a herd of unusually stupid sheep…. George W. Bush… who often sounded as though he had the brain of a sheep…. Here’s the thing: I have actually spent time in social settings with both Al Gore and George W. Bush. I’m not saying I got to know them well, but I will say that Gore seemed more natural in person and Bush seemed smarter. They were nothing like the two over programmed androids I saw debating each other on TV, both of them desperately trying to get all their memorized sound bites in.
Similarly, a knowledgeable acquaintance, as we were discussing my dissertation, observed that despite being gaffe-prone, Biden seems to have won the President’s confidence. Biden is the perfect example of the strange distorted view we have of politicians. This CNN video is a short compilation of Biden’s greatest hits including misspeaking and falling asleep in public during speeches. But here is the thing, imagine if a camera were following one of us around all the time. Biden’s job involves an enormous amount of talking. Considering how much he has to speak, it is amazing he doesn’t make many, many more times the gaffes he makes. Sort of like being the worst hitter in the major leagues – Biden may be more gaffe prone then most politicians – but very few of us would be capable of doing better. (Falling asleep during boring speeches and meetings seems hardly noteworthy – especially since we see West Point cadets with heavy eyelids as President Obama speaks to them.)

That is not to say that our process is necessarily bad. Sometimes that caricature we see in place of the person reveals a truth.

Anyway, it isn’t clear that the bizarre selection process gives us the best person to president. But if a candidate can’t get through the process – they probably have no business in the White House. Running for president requires personally performing at a very high level, thinking strategically, and organizing nationally – all at the same time. Someone who can do all of that might be able to cut it in the Oval Office.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wordling My Prospectus

In my endless quest to generate content here, without actually writing anything, here is a the Wordle for my prospectus. I could just post my prospectus... but no.
Wordle allows you to take words out. So I removed the words "vice" and every form of "president" (including "presidential" and "presidency") since seeing those words show up a lot does not reveal much.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Implications of the Cyber-Strike on Israel

The U.S. had WikiLeaks, not Israel has xOmar 0 who got hold of thousands of Israeli credit cards and posted them online. According to Israeli sources he is a student in Mexico and perhaps not a great super-hacker.

Although the hacker claims to have sensitive data on over a million Israelis, the banks involved say it is only thousands. Nonetheless the Israeli government is cyber-rattling. The Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called the incident:
…a breach of sovereignty comparable to a terrorist operation, and must be treated as such. …Israel has active capabilities for striking at those who are trying to harm it, and no agency or hacker will be immune from retaliatory action.
This incident raises a number of questions. I have long speculated about strategic identity theft. Not the strategies of identity theft, but rather using identity theft to interfere with a target’s functioning. In one way, this is very much beginning to occur. As I’ve written before, efforts to infiltrate critical networks to gather intelligence rely on the same combination of technological and social engineering that cyber-criminals use. But there are important differences. Cyber-criminals use low-cost techniques that target the easiest (and often most gullible) targets. Right now the Internet environment supports that approach. The systems by which credit cards are processed leaks. An enormous percentage of the world’s credit cards are already compromised. With easy access to thousands of credit cards, even if most false charges are rejected a tiny number of successful charges will bring a comfortable return. Spam works the same way, if one in ten thousand spam emails are successful, then the answer is to send out a billion spam – which doesn’t really cost much more than sending out a million or a thousand.

Of course cyber-criminals (if they think this through) don’t want to overwhelm Internet commerce, because that is how they make their money. They need to keep the level of crime low enough that financial institutions can absorb the loss. A few thousand lost credit cards here and there can be replaced. It is a cost of doing business.

But what happens if the attacker is not a criminal but instead an adversary that seeks to undermine the target’s ability to function? Credit card theft is among the least sophisticated and complex forms of identity theft. But occasionally, there are stories about people who discover that they are leading second financial lives, owning homes and taking on debt because their identity has been pirated. Could enough financial fraud occur to actually undermine an economy (we have recently seen how sensitive and fragile advanced economies can be)? The scale of this operation, even against a relatively small country, would have to be enormous – but that doesn’t make it impossible. What if, instead, an adversary targeted several hundred key bureaucrats so that critical agencies had difficulty functioning, as their top officials were suddenly all wrestling with personal bankruptcy? Even if these scenarios were not completely effective, they could certainly create a sense of panic.

This panic might be a sufficient end in its own right. One of the most valuable resources a state has is the attention of its leaders. The ability to generate a cyber-crisis might be an excellent way to distract an already busy leadership.

xOmar 0 may have sought to do this, but achieving it was beyond his abilities. But that is no reason to be sanguine. That fact that an individual with limited skills and resources can do this indicates how much more is possible. This incident is a possible harbinger of things to come. In one very specific way, these issues do resemble terrorism in that the targeted states often did not have effective policy options (this was a particular problem for the U.S in the 1980s.) Ayalon’s bluster aside, twenty-first century leaders facing cyber-crises may have the same problem – limited policy options – which means that the crisis becomes a greater and greater distraction. The fact that it has not happened yet is no reason to believe that it cannot.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Aaron Mannes on Israeli Counter-Terror in Journal of International Security Affairs

The Fall/Winter 2011 issue of The Journal of International Security Affairs includes my review of Daniel Byman’s A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism. My review is below, but definitely check out the rest of the issue on how American counter-terror efforts are going, 10 years after 9/11. It includes great reads from Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Matthew Levitt, Avi Jorisch, Barry Rubin, and many more.

Counterterrorism’s Cost
Daniel Byman examines the strengths and weaknesses of Israel’s counter-terror policies and institutions.
By Aaron Mannes

Daniel Byman, A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism (Oxford University Press, 2011), 496pp. $34.95.

One of the many virtues of Daniel Byman's A High Price is that it peels back the curtain on the complex security environment faced by Israeli decisionmakers. In doing so, it highlights where Israel has fared well in its own war on terror—and points out where it needs to do better.

Israel's fight against terrorism began even before the establishment of the state itself, with Arab raids against Jewish communities in Turkish and Mandatory Palestine. After independence, but well before the establishment of the PLO, Egypt and Jordan supported cross-border fedayeen raids. Israeli responses are also familiar, including reprisal raids and targeted killings. Byman discusses Israeli counter-terror innovations in response to the rise of Fatah and international terrorism, how Israel kept its Arab populations and later the West Bank and Gaza relatively peaceful through systematic intelligence operations and rewarding supporters, and how counter-terrorism policy evolved in the wake of Oslo and during the Second Intifada. There are also extensive descriptions of Israel's involvement in Lebanon, and its efforts against Jewish terrorism.

This solid overview, a balanced assessment of Israeli successes and failures, sets the stage for the final quarter of the book, a discussion of lessons learned from Israel’s counter-terror experience that focuses on interrogation, targeted killings, and Israel’s defensive measures, along with a survey of Israel’s national security institutions. In brief, Israel has been tactically successful and even brilliant, but strategically shortsighted. But Byman explains why this situation prevails in terms of institutional arrangements, political realities, and frequently a lack of better options.

Israel's targeted killings policy epitomizes this situation. Tactically, Israel has developed impressive intelligence and strike capabilities, along with careful frameworks for evaluating targets and opportunities. While some mistakes have been made, Israel has gone to great lengths to avoid accidentally killing the wrong person or killing civilians. Unfortunately, in the political arena, when these mistakes occur—as they inevitably do—civilian casualties overshadow these efforts. Nonetheless, the United States has modeled its own legal justifications on those of Israel, and the decreasing lethality of Palestinian terrorist organizations is a testament to the effectiveness of that model.

However, Byman argues, on the political and strategic level targeted killings at times are are counter-productive—particularly when they are unsuccessful. In 1997, for example, Israel orchestrated an elaborate effort to assassinate Hamas leader Khaled Mishal in Jordan using poison. But the attempt failed, and Israel was forced to supply an antidote, release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners (including Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin) in exchange for its agents, and relations with both Jordan (Israel's closest Arab ally) and Canada (Israeli agents were traveling under Canadian passports), as well as Israel’s reputation writ large, were damaged. Rather than decapitating Hamas, the targeted killing’s failure re-invigorated it. There were strong arguments for attempting this operation, but a more careful view of the potential political consequences would have been warranted.

More broadly, Byman cites critics who argue that Israeli policies don't take Palestinian politics into account. Targeted killings have frequently been seen as undermining fragile truces with the Palestinians. But Byman also notes, correctly, that Palestinian leaders rarely take Israeli politics into account either, and that the depth of the connections between the PA and Hamas raise serious questions about whether there was ever a reliable Palestinian peace partner in the first place.

Byman examines many other Israeli practices in this vein. West Bank checkpoints complicate Palestinian lives, cutting towns off from one another and hampering travel and commerce. They also work; terrorists have far more difficulty infiltrating targets and about 30 percent of Israeli arrests are conducted at checkpoints. The IDF responded to criticism of the checkpoints by constructing better checkpoint facilities, professionalizing checkpoint personnel and standardizing procedures. Still, these barriers turn trips that should take minutes into hours, so it is no surprise that Palestinians resent them. Yet the threat is very real. Ambulances have been used to ferry explosives, so that time-consuming Israeli searches of Palestinian ambulances are not merely Israeli caprice. While the number of ambulances used this way is a tiny percentage of the total, an Israeli soldier has every incentive err on the side of caution.

Similar arguments apply to Israel's defensive barrier on the West Bank, to targeted killings, and to Israel's interrogation and detention policies. There is little question that Israeli tactics work. Terrorism has been reduced. Time and again since the founding of the Jewish state, new terrorist tactics have been countered and neutralized. But, Byman notes, Israel has not effectively embraced the COIN paradigm in which “hearts and minds” are the crucial battlefield. It is an open question whether or not Arab hearts and minds could ever have been won over, but it is fair to say that Israel never really tried. Byman’s discussion of Israel’s institutions provides confirmation of the Israeli preference for “kinetic” rather than “smart” counter-terror policies.

The reasons are practical. The conflicts between the Departments of State and Defense that characterize the U.S. national security process have no equivalent in Israel. Israel’s National Security Council is a mere shell, not an effective coordination mechanism. There are no political institutions to rival the influence or capabilities of the IDF. Thus, when policy options are presented, only the IDF provides comprehensive, well-fleshed-out options. And unsurprisingly, those are frequently military in nature. This is not to say that military options are not essential. However, Israeli policymakers need other options and a broader understanding of the political consequences.

Byman is correct when he states that Israel's political system hampers decision-making and more on this topic would be welcome. Byman focuses on Israel's proportional representation system as being responsible for Israel fragmented politics. This is a widely held belief, but in fact is inaccurate. Many other countries use a form of proportional representation. Where Israel is unique is that the entire country is a single district represented by the entire 120-member Knesset. One of the important consequences is that this creates enormous incentives for political entrepreneurs to leave a major party and establish their own party where they can wield disproportionate influence as coalition-makers. To govern, Israeli prime ministers need to assemble complex coalitions, giving key posts to leaders of other parties. One experienced Israeli foreign policy hand told Byman, “the prime minister must strike a deal with the minister of defense every morning.”

Israel's impossible political system is not completely at fault, however. The situation itself is impossible. Israel's foundation was rooted in the Holocaust. Israelis are motivated by the principle that never again will Jews be slaughtered without fighting back. Only rarely have Israeli politicians have suffered electoral backlash for pressing for retaliation or tough tactics. Still, Byman may overemphasize this argument. Israel's national ethos only reinforces human nature. It is difficult to imagine a country facing a comparable threat and not reacting similarly.

The look at Israeli institutions is not all negative. One area where Israel can offer lessons to the world is in institutional adaptability. No country can anticipate every threat, but Israeli security shifts gears in the face of new threats remarkably quickly. After being humbled by a 1968 hijacking by the PFLP, Israel developed a range of responses including armed sky marshals and improved security that neutralized this danger; Israeli jets haven't been hijacked since.

The Shin Bet is a particular example of this kind of organizational flexibility, first and foremost because it is an elite organization that prides itself on specialization and deep knowledge. Pre-Oslo, when Israel had direct control of the West Bank and Gaza, case officers and interrogators were key players. After the Accords were signed in 1993, as the Shin Bet lost its easy access to Palestinian agents and had to rely more on signals intelligence, analysts went from an auxiliary role to a primary one. Of course, American intelligences agencies are much larger and have to operate on an international rather then regional basis. Nonetheless, Israel’s experiences with organizational reform could be useful to U.S. policymakers. This institutional adaptability shows that if Israel sought to undertake real national security process reform and embrace a broader set of options, it could almost certainly do so and bring the same spirit of innovation to them. As the United States and the rest of the world struggle to counter radical Islam, creative ideas and energy would be welcome.

Byman’s overall conclusion is sobering. Effective counter-terror tactics buy time, and the IDF and Israel’s other security agencies have done an admirable job in buying Israel time. Now Israel and the West must start using this time effectively, to formulate a larger strategy against terrorism. A decade after 9/11, it is counsel worth heeding.

Aaron Mannes, the author of Profiles in Terror: The Guide to Middle East Terrorist Organizations (Rowman & Littlefield-JINSA 2004) and TheTerrorWonk Plus (, is a researcher at the University of Maryland’s Laboratory for Computational Cultural Dynamics and a PhD student at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Possibility of a Bleak Future for Egypt

Egypt is beginning its third round of elections. Islamists - the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists - heavily dominated the first two rounds. There is little reason to believe that this will change in later rounds.

One spot of good news is that the Islamists have stated that they intend to honor Egypt's international commitments, i.e. the peace treaty with Israel. This is all to the good, since conflict with Israel would be a disaster for Egypt on almost every level. The more likely danger would be that Israel would have to divert to its southern border - which has been relatively quiet for over 30 years. Here again, this wouldn't be good for Israel, but it wouldn't do much good for Egypt either.

But the real dangers are to Egypt itself.

The universe of elections in the Middle East is small, so a statistical proof is probably not appropriate. But I can think of two cases in which reasonably fair elections in Arab countries that did not have a king (that can really matter) took place and brought Islamist parties to power. The two cases were Algeria and the PA. Both ended in civil wars as the displaced powers decided not to share with the elected Islamists. In Algeria the military rejected the election results and plunged the country into a decade of civil war that took tens of thousands of lives, helped spark the growth of al-Qaeda, and has not completely come to an end. In the PA the civil war was much quicker, but bloody nonetheless as Hamas purged Gaza of Fatah – creating an Islamist mini-state along the strategic crossroads of two continents.

One certainly hopes things do not go this way in Egypt - ideally the military and the Islamists will figure out a way to live with one another. But that may not be possible. Egypt’s economy is a nightmare. Even if the immediate situation were stable (and it isn’t) the long-term trends are terrible. The population is growing very fast, the country is running out of water, and Egypt has limited resources or industries for export. Actually, Egypt's great export is tourism where Egypt really does have incomparable resources. Unfortunately political instability hits tourism harder then just about any other industry.

The Islamists will need to figure out how to manage this, but if the military continues holding on to key elements of power the Muslim Brotherhood will become extremely frustrated. It isn’t hard to see this blowing up. The military's ongoing crackdowns show every sign that the military is prepared to defend its place in the national order. Seeing the once all-powerful Mubarak a broken man on trial certainly cannot give confidence to the Egyptian brass. So far the Islamists are trying to show the military that they are not looking for a confrontation, but given that ultimately they will be unable to address Egypt's core problems at some point there is a real possibility of the Islamists and the military coming into conflict. If a frustrated MB continues to cooperate withthe military and not challenge the perks of the top brass, it is easy to imagine more radical forces emerging and pressing for the rejection of the democratic process and calling for violent revolution. A further complicating factor is the question of the military's ability to crackdown. If protests go past a certain point, and the military police are insufficient, the regular army may not respond. This open question only increases the possibility of a deadly miscalculation.

The United States faces an unenviable challenge. Keeping Egypt more or less stable is in our national interest. Supporting a rejection of the democratic process is against American interests and values - but so is seeing Egypt become an Islamist state. Navigating this diplomatic Scylla and Charybdis will involve very difficult choices about identifying the less evil.

it would be a fine thing if Egypt's military rulers were well-schooled in give-and-take politics and could be seen as fostering and cultivating Egyptian democracy and reform. Alas, this is unlikely based on past behavior.


Predicting the Arab Spring was impossible, but foreseeing the possibility that Mubarak’s reign would become untenable was not. This day was going to come, sooner or later.

There is an ugly reality in international affairs that sometimes the US must do business with unpleasant regimes. The old “he’s an SOB, but he’s our SOB” problem. Jeanne Kirkpatrick handled it a touch more eloquently in her landmark essay "Dictatorships and Double-Standards." Kirkpatrick notes that the U.S. had a reasonably good record of working with dictators while pressing them to keep open a space for political opposition. All over the world, when dictators fell there was a civil society to replace them. At the same time, while the U.S. was certainly blamed in many quarters for its support of the dictator, it also had allies among the opposition and relations were not destroyed when a democratic government took over. This trend, which occured on several continents in different circumstances, was quite remarkable and a real achievement for American diplomacy.

Unfortunately, the Middle East was immune. It is difficult to say whether this was due to the region's political culture or a failure of American diplomacy. In my study of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission (there was also a parallel Mubarak-Gore Commission) I noted the American belief in aid packages that transform nations (sort of IR social work.) It doesn't always take. Still, efforts in Egypt could have been more extensive. Egypt's economy really only started liberalizing in the past decade (friends who follow this closely credit Gamal Mubarak with real success in this) but it can take time for liberalization to improve the well-being of every sector of society and Egyptians didn't have much time to wait.

Whether or not a secular opposition could have flourished in Egypt is an open question - but Mubarak never gave it much of a chance. Nor was the government held accountable for the consistent stream of conspiracy theory and vitriol emanating from the state controlled press. Finally, reforming Egyptian institutions may have been beyond American capabilities - but at least greater efforts could have been made in the three decades in which Egypt was a leading recipient of US foreign aid.

Too late now. Hopefully - and it really is a slender hope - Egypt can find a way forward and shake the vast weight of history. Hopefully, but past experience does not augur well for the future.