Egypt and the Global Crisis of Legitimacy

I've been having trouble wrapping my head around the implications of what's already taken place in Egypt, and clearly there's still a lot more on tap. The U.S. and Europe are now calling for an orderly transition to begin immediately, and while that makes for sound policy, the sheer impossibility of that demand underscores what I think is the most alarming dynamic here: a crisis of legitimacy, on three levels.

The first level is clearly within Egypt itself, because while it's easy to say that President Hosni Mubarak must go, there's no objective standard for determining the legitimacy of what comes next. The opposition is neither organized nor monolithic. The Mubarak regime is inseparable from the institutions of governance. And while there's no doubt that the Mubarak regime is widely despised, it, too, represents interests that cannot be discounted, most notably that of the Egyptian military.

That leads to the second level, that of the legitimacy of the U.S. intervention in Egypt, which has been effective primarily because of the military-to-military links between the Egyptian and U.S. militaries. Andrew Exum makes an insightful comparison on this subject between Egypt and Pakistan, where our lack of military contacts helps explain our inability to exercise the same kind of influence over Pakistani politics. While Exum makes a compelling point, it's one that goes right to the heart of the problems inherent in the militarization of foreign policy. One of those is that leveraging U.S. military influence leads to the militarization of domestic politics on the receiving country's end, as the armed forces become the ultimate kingmaker. And that's especially the case when military influence is all the U.S. has to leverage.

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