David F. Nesenoff: What is going on in Egypt? Do you have some new personal insight?
Ari Fleischer: My heart is with the protesters; who doesn’t hope that this leads to freedom and democracy. But my mind is cognizant of recent Middle East history and I’m wary of how this is going to play out. So this is a classic conundrum of foreign policy, American ideals and realpolitik.
DFN: As far as Israel is concerned and the Muslim Brotherhood, there’s certainly a great fear that putting the democracy label on terrorists legitimize certain groups. Is this your understanding?
AF: Israel is on the front lines and it has the most to win or lose. When you're on the front line, even if it’s a cold peace that lasted for 30 years, its something you don’t want to miss. And so the stakes in Israel are much higher than the stakes in the United States. It’s a little easier for Americans to hope for a democracy because we won’t suffer the immediate consequences the way Israel would… if it turns out to be like Iran 1979.
DFN: You worked with President Bush as his Press Secretary; would a Republican administration handle the present situation differently?
AF: President Bush was vociferous in speaking out for the freedom agenda. And he believes very strongly that left to their own devices, people will seek peace and freedom. Of course when you leave people to their own devices, those devices can get hijacked by Muslim extremists. And that’s again why it’s such a conundrum.
DFN: Some say that President Bush bet on Hamas losing when there was a democratic election and that might have been the wrong call on his part.
AF: Or he thought Hamas would be exposed for what they are. And eventually the people of Gaza would throw Hamas out because they weren’t delivering on a better and more peaceful life. That was Bush’s bet but I don’t think that matters anymore because he’s not in office.
I’ve got to say, and I say this as a partisan Republican, Barack Obama has largely handled this well. My view is that the best course for Israel and America is what I call slow and steady. Slowly say goodbye to Mubarak, and steadily push for reform.