Monday, March 07, 2011

Bernstein concentrate

Jonathan Bernstein's alertness to the tradeoffs, calculations of political advantage, and levers of influence that are elected officials' stock-in-trade often yield, shall we say, mordant clarity.  So today, waving off the NYT revelation that U.S. military aid to Egypt went largely to enrich well-placed Egyptian officers, noting that U.S. military aid to Egypt was essentially an extended bribe to keep the Israeli front quiet, Bernstein concludes:
I think I'd rather have all that money wasted on a fleet of private luxury jets than spent on fighters and bombers.
Well, me too. And ha ha!  I got a real reader's buzz from that closer. But as is often the case with Bernstein, the worldly insight begs the thornier issues of just how well realpolitik serves the country's ultimate interests. The  question here, was the "military aid" money well-spent, taps directly into the core question about our Mideast policy: has propping up dictators, and so keeping the oil flowing and Israel militarily dominant (odd that military aid to Egypt could support Israeli dominance, but it has), served the U.S.'s ultimate interests? 

I don't think there's any simple answer to the question of the extent to which the U.S. should support dictators or work to foster political reform, or the extent to which both can be done simultaneously.  But certainly it's not an open-and-shut case that our multibillion dollar bribe to Egypt (or the even larger dollar flow to Israel) has been money well-spent.  Only within the narrow constraints Bernstein sets for his purview -- "Assuming that basic deal made sense for the United States" -- can you laughingly embrace the conclusion -- better luxury jets than fighters and bombers.

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