As far as I can tell, no one has any idea what is going to happen next in Egypt. But that isn’t the problem. The problem is that what happens in Egypt can have major consequences for us and it shouldn’t. The angst with which we regard developments there are a consequence of a foreign policy orientation that keeps us too deeply involved in regional affairs and domestic politics around the world. Egypt is not a major trading partner. It is not a significant military ally or rival. Yes, we give them a big pot of money — 35 years of bribery in order to keep them relatively quiet vis-a-vis Israel; but the reality is that there is no reason why developments in Egypt should be a significant concern for the United States… except that we have convinced ourselves that Middle Eastern stability is of the utmost importance, and Egypt happens to be a populous country. Because we are so reliant on oil, and so deeply involved in Middle Eastern affairs, Egypt is crucially important. But if you take a step back, it should be apparent that the fact that we are now on pins and needles over developments in Tahrir Square is, itself, a sign of the dysfunctions and pathologies in how we engage the world.
This is why it makes me crazy when I hear people ranting about how we need a permanent military presence in Iraq, or how Afghanistan is a potential base from which to project influence in Central Asia (and maybe to contain China somehow). While those advocates are looking at the benefits of involvement whatever they might be, they systematically underestimate the costs associated with exposing ourselves to instability in countries whose inherent strategic importance to the United States is minimal.