When the bill comes due

America's support of Hosni Mubarak was a convenient compromise, says Editor William Falk in this edition of The Week

William Falk

Ideally, I'd be an idealist, but reality keeps getting in the way. You know how it is. As you grow older and take on responsibilities, certain compromises must be made, dreams deferred or abandoned. And so it’s hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for our leaders in Washington, who also would like to act on their highest ideals but just can’t, goldarnit. Take, for example, the problem of Egypt. For three decades, U.S. presidents have looked the other way as Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt like a pharaoh, suppressing dissent, jailing opponents, stuffing billions into private bank accounts; he was a dictator, but human rights in Egypt were not our concern. After 9/11, President George W. Bush proclaimed a new Freedom Agenda in which the U.S. would liberate Arabs from tyranny. But when Mubarak rigged another election, Bush said not a peep; in fact, he gladly borrowed Mubarak’s dungeons to conduct "enhanced interrogations" of terrorist suspects. In a speech in Cairo in 2009, Barack Obama made some noises of his own about freedom and democracy, but continued to send aid and arms to Mubarak right up to the moment when it became clear he would fall.

So it goes. Name a problem, and idealism loses to the brutal pragmatism of short-term self-interest every time: The massive federal budget deficit, the soaring cost of Social Security and Medicare, our foolish dependence on foreign oil, our heedless emission of greenhouse gases. We’ll do better — mañana. Ideally, I'd like to escape the consequences of such pragmatism, and move my family to a beachfront hut in New Zealand. Realistically, I can't — not until I deal with certain responsibilities. You know how it is.

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William Falk

William Falk is editor-in-chief of The Week, and has held that role since the magazine's first issue in 2001. He has previously been a reporter, columnist, and editor at the Gannett Westchester Newspapers and at Newsday, where he was part of two reporting teams that won Pulitzer Prizes.