Pinochet Model for Mubarak; Balance of Authority and Liberty Could Reform Egypt

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As the Middle East roils with street protests against author- itarian leaders in Yemen and Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pivots - a hilarious Presi- dent Obama-esque word that means to abandon one policy (e.g., pragmatism in the Arab world) and embrace its polar opposite (e.g.. human rights and democracy)

Actually, pivots is far too mild a term - Mrs Clinton is changing her mind so fast and doing more pirouettes than Natalie Portman in Black Swan, making any foreign policy watcher dizzy in trying to figure out exactly what the Obama administration stands for. Will she save her career, end up like the deranged Miss Portman in the last scene, or worse, join Mr. Obama with the deer-in-the-headlights look of former President Carter as he went through his Iran moment in 1979 - no doubt a thought that is bringing cold sweats to the White House as it contemplates 2012.

When you can't decide whether to hope secretly that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak lives up to his street rep and crushes all dissent or whether that high-handed, manipulative, ineffective, United Nations apparatchik-rebranded-as-a-defender-of-democracy, Mohamed ElBaradei will bring lasting democracy to Egypt - how can I say it politely? - you have no foreign policy. This dictator-transition game is a blood sport and the clever maneuverers are quickly replaced by the not-so-subtle killers, as was evident in the post-shah politics of Iran. We're looking for foreign policy in all the wrong places. What to do?

The transition of the Czech Republic, Poland and other Eastern European countries to stable democracy and free markets might be of use but they are also specialized cases because of the strong NATO presence, the familiarity with Western European politics and economies, and the carrot of EU membership.

The best model is Chile. Former Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet, as with Mr. Mubarak, was a military-raised nationalist whose task was no walk in the park. He oversaw a brutal regime with the requisite tens of thousands of disappearances, tortures and murders. But he also allowed conditions to be put in place that led to a stabilized, vibrant, economy and smooth transition to democratic power, although it required a lot of prodding on the last point.

Beginning in the late 1980s and early 1990s - a period Mrs. Clinton should be familiar with - Pinochet developed a team of University of Chicago-educated economists - the Chicago Boys - under the leadership of Finance Minister Hernan Buchi; launched a huge privatization of the state-run enterprises from telephones to electric utilities to mining; converted a copper-commodity-based, hypercyclical economy to a dynamic, low-inflation, stable economy almost overnight; and set up the frameworks - again, with prodding - for a stable system of democracy. …