Julian E. Zelizer: Should Top U.S. Goal Be Democracy?

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter," published by Times Books, and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush's administration, published by Princeton University Press.]

In American diplomatic circles, the "realists" have long argued that the U.S. must be primarily focused on national self-interest, rather than concentrating on trying to promote democracy and human rights in other countries.

They object to the style of idealism promoted by President Woodrow Wilson, who envisioned that war and diplomacy could transform international relations by institutionalizing cooperation among nations, allowing for the self-determination of people and ending war for all time....

The realists have been highly skeptical about Egypt. They warn that revolution in Egypt could open the door to Islamic fundamentalism, as in Iran in 1979, and cost the U.S. and Israel one of their most loyal allies....

However, if Mubarak stifles the revolution, or fundamentalism takes hold, realists will, for a long time, point to Egypt as the prime example of why we cannot hope for much better than the status quo when it comes to the Middle East.

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