Egypt protests: US conservatives divided on how to view them
Egypt's street revolution represents a threat to the US and the capitalist system, some tea party icons say, while in the GOP establishment others see it as the spread of freedom to the Arab world.
A fierce dispute raging among conservative commentators on the protests in Egypt is straining – but has yet to break – a bipartisan consensus among congressional leaders backing President Obama’s handling of events.Skip to next paragraph
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At issue is whether Egypt’s street revolution represents a threat to the US and the capitalist system – a theme of tea party icons Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin – or rather the spread of freedom to the Arab world, a theme of the conservative establishment that cheered President Bush’s war in Iraq.
House Republican leaders – the Obama administration’s strongest supporters on the war in Afghanistan – have cautioned their members, especially committee chairs, to avoid getting out ahead of the White House on Egypt.
“I don't think it is helpful for this president, who is having a tough enough time as it is, to have 535 members of Congress to opine on his conduct of foreign policy,” said House majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, at a press briefing on Tuesday. “All I can tell you is my priority is to make sure we stop the spread of radical Islam.”
His remarks, the first from top House Republican leaders who were away from Capitol Hill last week, came in response to a question, but were vetted in advance. They touched bases with both sides of the dispute in conservative ranks.
In a scathing editorial in this week’s Weekly Standard, editor William Kristol characterized Mr. Beck’s “rants” about a caliphate taking over the Middle East and alleged ties to the American left as “hysteria.”
“Nor is it a sign of health when other American conservatives are so fearful of a popular awakening that they side with the dictator against the Democrats,” he wrote.
Responding on "The Glenn Beck Program" on radio Tuesday, Beck charged that “people like Bill Kristol” no longer stand for conservative principles. “All they stand for is power,” he said. “They’ll do everything they can to keep Republican power entrenched.”
The rift in conservative ranks over the US response to Egypt also extends to issues such as how deeply to cut government spending or even whether to provoke a government shutdown.
“The newer voices in the Republican Party – the Becks and Palins – have been the most vocal in warning about this [Egyptian] revolution,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University. Their attack is not just on Mr. Obama, he says, but on Mr. Bush’s foreign policy aims to promote freedom in the Arab world.
“Beck says that’s not going to happen," Mr. Zelizer says. "It’s just going to be fundamentalism.”