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US right-wingers split over Egypt protests

04 February 11 10:14
John Bolton, US right-winger and former US ambassador to the UN under President George W Bush - file photo 2006
By Andrew North
BBC News, Washington

You might have thought the American right would welcome the sight of people power in Tunisia and Egypt after lecturing the Arab world on democracy for so long.

Instead it has divided them - with some calling on President Hosni Mubarak to go but some neocons preferring the status quo, even as it collapses.

One right-wing TV anchor talks of "the destruction of the Western world", portraying the protests as a covert power grab by Islamic radicals leading to a new caliphate across the Mediterranean.

Many of these critics were once vocal supporters of President George W Bush and his belief that invading Iraq would bring democracy to the region.

That was then.

Today John Bolton - one of the loudest Bush cheerleaders - says the US is "better advised to remain silent" on Egypt and calls the Obama Administration's approach "mush".

His is the "devil we know" argument.

The US may not like its longtime ally President Hosni Mubarak, he warns, but it risks far worse if Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood takes power instead.

Like other Republicans speaking out, Mr Bolton may be motivated by thoughts of a White House run in 2012, with the Republican primary race approaching.

No mention of democracy either from another possible candidate, Mike Huckabee, who says the US has forgotten President Mubarak's role in keeping peace between Egypt and Israel.

Different dominoes?

It is a concern Israel shares, and while saying little in public it has been making its feelings known to both Republican and Democrat lawmakers as it nervously watches events across its border.

Rupert Murdoch's Fox News has helped amplify worries about what comes next.

Night after night since Egypt's protests began, its presenters have raised fears of a new Islamic surge across the Middle East, threatening both US and Israeli interests.

Many on the US right used to hope the Iraq invasion would lead to regimes toppling like dominoes across the region.

This week Fox anchor Bill O'Reilly was warning of a different domino effect, where the Muslim Brotherhood takes power in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen with al-Qaeda following behind.

Another presenter, Glenn Beck, famous for his apocalyptic world view, called the first uprising in Tunisia "our Archduke Ferdinand moment" - a reference to how World War I broke out.

'3am phone call'

Some of Mr Bush's supporters are still with him, and say Egypt proves he was right.

Elliot Abrams, his former deputy national security adviser, criticised the Obama administration for being too soft on President Mubarak at the start.

"Will our own government learn that dictatorships are never truly stable?" he wrote in the Washington Post.

He has dismissed Israeli concerns about what or who will replace Mr Mubarak. They are right to fear the Muslim Brotherhood, he argues, but dictatorship only makes groups like this stronger.

There is still some more familiar neocon talk around.

For President Obama, Egypt is "the 3am phone call," says William Kristol in the Weekly Standard, arguing that the US has "probably engineered the ouster of too few" leaders in the Middle East.

Senator John McCain has now also called for President Mubarak to go.

But while the argument rages, many Republicans are keeping quiet on the Middle East for now - even some of those thought to be planning a presidential bid.

Foreign policy turned out to be a bit of a minefield for Sarah Palin last time around.

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