No, they didn’t

Khaled al-Qazzaz, an imprisoned official from the Morsi government overthrown by Egypt’s military a year ago, asks in an article smuggled from prison, “Why are you so silent about me?”

He’s right to ask. As the readers’ comments make clear, the Muslim Brotherhood did not enjoy much popularity in the West, nor, probably, should it have. But that is beside the point. The US is about to restore military aid to Egypt, after that country went from Mubarak’s autocracy to Morsi’s elected government, and then to General Sisi’s military coup and the slaughter and arrest of political opponents. We will probably restore aid with a resigned shrug and some lame mumbling about human rights.

Dick Cheney has been making the rounds again, this time accusing the Obama administration of “abandoning” Iraq. It’s an election year, and it’s not surprising to see partisans take to the talk shows to stump for their side and denounce the opposition, but Mr. Cheney adopts the persona of the wise old policy hand lecturing the irresponsible Obama, as well as his ex-Secretary of State and presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. It’s not at all clear whether Cheney himself could have rolled Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki into granting immunity to US troops and thus prolonging their presence, but it’s a good bet that the institutions of Iraqi government would not have benefited from the experience.

And this is the point. Democracy is about institutions. Elections and constitutions are important, but without functioning institutions they are window-dressing. The institutions of Iraq’s democracy do not function, and the institutions of Egypt’s short-lived one were not permitted to.

It is especially poignant that we in the US were persuaded by leaders like Cheney to pay such a high price going to war in the name of democracy. You don’t have to dig deep in our own history to grasp the importance of democratic institutions; our own failed disastrously 75 years after the Constitution was ratified, leading to years of blood-letting and the grinding, catastrophic defeat of Old Dixie.

The fact that we don’t much care for Sunnis in general, or the Islamists of the Brotherhood, should not be an excuse to turn our backs on democratic institutions. If we do indeed care about democracy, then we’d better be prepared to deal with people we don’t like in order to support the growth of functioning institutions. Otherwise, we hang a leering epitaph over thousands of US dead: “They died for Dick.”

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