In volatile and complex world, America must stand for ideals

The Army War College deems the state of the world as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Otherwise known as VUCA, it essentially means the world order is traversing unpredictable rapids as alliances veer, tides change, and bedrock assumptions erode under new and powerful waves.

This week, I am leading a delegation of New Yorkers to Egypt to study how the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world impacts the Middle East. The trip is funded only by the Long Island University Global Institute, where I serve as chairman, not with Egyptian public or private resources.

Egypt is no doubt an observation post of the clash of complexities and contradictions, the press of cloudy ambiguity against murky realities on the ground. If hope springs eternal, the Arab Spring in Egypt was merely fleeting. It arrived in 2011, fortifying assumptions about the inevitable pull of democracy and a free press, and of reform and equitable governance.

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But it was inhospitable and short lived. Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected president in a democratic and free election. The Muslim Brotherhood ascended to newfound powers. Meanwhile, the peace with Israel, a lynchpin within Middle East regional security, was rattled. Terrorist groups launched and intensified attacks from the broad rugged terrain of the Sinai Peninsula, while harmful fractures spread across civil society and public dissatisfaction grew within Egypt.

A tumultuous year after the election of Morsi, the military had effectively ended the Egyptian experiment with democracy. His government was dissolved and Defense Minister Abdel Fattah Sisi became president. The Muslim Brotherhood was banned, and free expression was curtailed. Just last week, a compliant parliament extended the term for president, which means that Sisi could effectively remain in office all the way until 2034.

Sisi publicly stated that Egyptians must defer practicing “real democracy” in order to preserve the “social consensus.” He made a bargain with the Egyptian people that they would have less democracy but more security and development. These reversals to democracy are troubling and expose a deeply uncomfortable contradiction for foreign policy idealists like me.

Today, the Middle East is far more stable. An Egyptian military operation confronted, with mixed effect, Islamic State movements within the Sinai Peninsula. The possibility of war with Israel, which would pull the region into conflagration, is remote as the two countries share vital resources.

So here is the important question for our leaders. Can both stability and democracy coexist in nations that are roiled by volatilities, uncertainties, complexities, and ambiguity? The answer seems to be no, according to President TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis MORE, who has a penchant for authoritarian leaders. He enjoys calling our free press the “enemy of the people” and was painfully slow to condemn the brutal murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Of course, I believe he is wrong. The United States must stand for ideals rather than just pragmatism. However, I also suggest that those of us who support fundamental human rights and democratic norms think about Egypt and the places like it, and offer constructive models that promote both stability and democracy. Ultimately, in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, one cannot truly be sustained without the other.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years. He is former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and current chairman of the Long Island University Global Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael and Facebook @RepSteveIsrael.