I’m back from the Michigan Republican Party State Convention in Grand Rapids, which was nowhere near as raucous as the one in Lansing in August. The strength of the Tea Party is undeniable — so much so that the candidates were clearly competing for Tea Party support. I wish I had been quicker with my camera because at one point (during one of the many candidate videos) all four big screens behind the convention stage displayed the Gadsden Flag! A great moment for photo journalism, except I had to turn on my camera and by the time it was on with the lens extended, no more Gadsden. So I’m stuck having to whine about what a great photo it would have been in this blog. Tough to recreate a Gadsden moment with mere words. 

Oh, well.

Rick Snyder, the new governor, seems quite determined not only to cooperate with the Tea Party people, but he just exudes that Big Tent optimism which in fairness to him really did heighten the crest of the November 2 Republican wave. His “tough nerd” approach was seen as genuinely refreshing as well as reassuring — and having him at the top of the ticket drew in centrists, independents, and a number of Democrats. A lot of conservatives and Tea Partyers grumble about him being a RINO, and while only time will tell whether he is that, the fact remains that he broadened the scope and the base of the Republican victory here. I think his presence at the top of the ticket might have even made the Tea Party revolution less frightening to those “squishy” independents and namby-pamby liberals who believe the tripe they’re fed by the MSM. Something like that results more from human psychology than any genuine coalition, but I have never seen so many signs for a Republican in Ann Arbor as there were for Rick Snyder, and a lot of people have told me the same thing.

Anyway, from what I have been seeing, I would venture two observations. The Tea Party has become the backbone of the Republican Party in Michigan, and best of all, the coalition is holding. Libertarians and social conservatives not only coexist, but from what I have seen firsthand here, they are working together.

My biggest worry right now is premature, so I probably shouldn’t be discussing it. There is an issue which has largely been avoided and which is fortunately not looming large before us. It has been on the back burner, and hopefully it will stay there, and I’d like to imagine that because it is not technically a Tea Party issue, Tea Partyers can just sort of agree to disagree where necessary and work around it the same way libertarians and social conservatives have been doing — by focusing on the more important issues involving the oft-stated Tea Party Principles of —

Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets.

For a moment, I would like to contemplate those simple principles.

What makes them so beautiful is their serene silence about so many of the issues which divide conservatives.

Damn, there I went, using a word that doesn’t appear in Tea Party Principles. Far from merely being silent about social issues like abortion, same sex marriage, or the legalization of drugs, Tea Party Principles say nothing about conservatism — whether economic or social, or libertarianism in any of its manifestations, or even Republicanism.

It’s just that the word “conservative” is used so much that it is beginning to serve as a catchall for everyone right of RINO (including libertarians and social conservatives).

What Tea Party principles are also silent about is something I am so reluctant to discuss that I feel like quitting this post right now and putting it off for another day. That would not constitute procrastination so much as it would simple avoidance.

Denial. There it is.

I want to deny that this issue exists, OK? It is potentially mean and ugly and divisive in ways that even the hottest button social issues are not. It strikes more at what it means to be a country, and I am feeling guilty for having avoided it as long as I have.

Funny thing I’d say that. Because the issue I’m avoiding has a long history in this blog.

War. You know, Iraq, Afghanistan, and all that national security stuff? The issue that has made Republicans and conservatives traditionally win with the voters, which seemed to nearly vanish in the last election as conservatism shifted its focus to the economy.

My point is that not only is war not a Tea Party issue, but it doesn’t seem very “conservative” now, nor has it been “conservative” for some time. What a relief that has been!

If I may back up for a moment to the not so distant past, I can remember a time when the word “conservative” was synonymous with “war supporter.” It was that way for the first five or six years of this blog. I complained about such an illogical definition, and so did a lot of people, because it placed many bloggers who were not philosophically conservative in the conservative camp. 

To say that times have changed would be understatement.

War has faded into political irrelevancy, and it is not a Tea Party issue, nor is it seen as factoring into whatever you want to call the current ideological debate for the heart and soul of conservatism, or even the heart and soul of the Republican Party.

I’m not comfortable with this issue, and much as I would like to stay in the nice state of denial, there’s that saying that denial is a river in Egypt. (Not!) In an odd coincidence, Egypt came up as a topic of discussion yesterday among Tea Partyers I know. I may be hypersensitive, but I immediately detected an undercurrent of serious disagreement and I was so relieved that everyone had Barack Obama to blame. Having a convenient villain makes it so much easier for the Ron Paul libertarians (the backbone of the Tea Party in my area) to find a common philosophical ground which acts as a buffer between very different views on war and national security.

And anyway, I am so glad to be able to report that war and national security are, barely, still not Tea Party issues!

Is my denial still flowing?

How long can it last? 

(Anyway, I’m glad M. Simon is blogging about Egypt.)

MORE: I’m probably just being paranoid, but what I find most disturbing about the unreset in Egypt is a possible Zawahiri/al Qaeda connection:

Perhaps the president believes that the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian who headed the U.N. nuclear agency, will emerge from house arrest and take over.

Revolutions are seldom so neat.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s Egyptian-born right-hand man who merged al-Qaida with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, has long had designs on his native land.

In the Pulitzer-winning history of al-Qaida, “The Looming Tower,” Lawrence Wright notes that Zawahiri’s “strategy was to force the Egyptian regime to become even more repressive, to make the people hate it. In this he succeeded.”

Embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was as afraid of real capitalism as of political dissent. The Heritage Foundation’s latest Index of Economic Freedom gives Egypt poor marks despite recent “incremental reforms to liberalize the socialist economy.”

Egypt’s GDP growth fell markedly in the wake of the global financial crisis, and government corruption and the lack of a dependable rule of law in the economic sphere are factors that have kept poverty and unemployment painfully high — poisonously mixed with political repression.

Even so, should Mubarak fall, there is real danger of the Islamic Brotherhood imperiling this U.S. ally. Barack Obama sure picked a foolish place to give a community-organizing speech.

Zawahiri cut his political teeth in Egypt:

By the age of 14, al-Zawahiri had joined the Muslim Brotherhood. The following year the Egyptian government executed Qutb for conspiracy, and al-Zawahiri, along with four other secondary school students, helped form an “underground cell devoted to overthrowing the government and establishing an Islamist state.” It was at this early age that al-Zawahiri developed a mission in life, “to put Qutb’s vision into action.”[13] His cell eventually merged with others to form al-Jihad or Egyptian Islamic Jihad.[14] Al-Zawahiri graduating from Cairo University in 1974 with gayyid giddan. Following that he served three years as a surgeon in the Egyptian Army after which he established a clinic near his parents.[14] In 1978, he also earned a master’s degree in surgery.[15]

He was obsessed with killing President Sadat (for making peace with Israel), and of course eventually helped facilitate the deed:

He eventually became one of Egyptian Islamic Jihad‘s leading organizers and recruiters. Zawahiri’s hope was to recruit military officers and accumulate weapons, waiting for the right moment to launch “a complete overthrow of the existing order.”[23] Chief strategist of Al-Jihad was Aboud al-Zumar, a colonel in the military intelligence whose plan was to kill the main leaders of the country, capture the headquarters of the army and State Security, the telephone exchange building, and of course the radio and television building, where news of the Islamic revolution would then be broadcast, unleashing – he expected – a popular uprising against secular authority all over the country.”[23]

The plan was derailed when authorities were alerted to Al-Jihad’s plan by the arrest of an operative carrying crucial information, in February 1981. President Anwar Sadat ordered the roundup of more than 1500 people, including many Al-Jihad members, but missed a cell in the military led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, who succeeded in assassinating Sadat during a military parade that October.[24]

[edit] Imprisonment and torture

Al-Zawahiri was one of hundreds arrested following Sadat’s assassination. Al-Zawahiri’s lawyer, Montasser el-Zayat, contends that Zawahiri was tortured in prison.[25]

In his book, Al-Zawahiri as I Knew Him, Al-Zayyat maintains that under torture of the Egyptian police, following his arrest in connection with the murder of Sadat in 1981, Al-Zawahiri revealed the hiding place of Essam al-Qamari, a key member of the Maadi cell of al-Jihad, which led to Al-Qamari’s “arrest and eventual execution.”[26]

Al-Zawahiri was convicted of dealing in weapons and received a three-year sentence, which he completed in 1984 shortly after his conviction.[27]

After that it was on to Saudi Arabia, and the formation of Al Qaeda.

If a “populist revolution” led to Zawahiri being welcomed back to Egypt, that would mean war. (Needless to say, the “hawks” would have to support the Commander in Chief.)

Thus, there are legitimate concerns (which I heard expressed yesterday) about whether “democracy” can be carried too far.

MORE: Speaking of democracy, Zawahiri’s name keeps cropping up in reports like this one today from CBS:

“The Islamic Brotherhood has assumed a role as the key representative of Egypt’s underdog. In a volatile situation as we have today, these people have the perfect opportunity to be heard as never before,” says a second Arab diplomat who until 2009 served at his country’s embassy in Cairo. Speaking to CBS News (also on condition of anonymity), the diplomat warned: “Once Hosni Mubarak is gone, there will be calls for a more representative democracy. It would then be impossible to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out (of power), especially if Egypt holds elections.”

For the U.S. and Israel, the political rise of the Islamic Brotherhood may translate into a hardening of Egypt’s policies towards the two countries.

Egypt has the distinction of being the first Arab country which restored diplomatic ties to Israel after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, in spite of opposition from Islamic groups across the Muslim world.

 

Meanwhile, security officials in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region also warn of an uncertain future tied to ongoing U.S.-backed efforts for confronting hard line groups, notably the Taliban and al Qaeda. On the one hand, an abrupt regime change in Egypt will likely work to inspire dissident groups in parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia to step up campaigns against their rulers.

On the other hand, there may be further uncertainty surrounding the future of an ongoing campaign by Egyptian security forces to target Islamic hardliners connected to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second highest ranking leader of al Qaeda.

 

The Egyptian doctor-turned-militant, who is the second-highest-ranking figure in his movement after Osama bin Laden, has been rumored to have quietly expanded the network of supporters in his native Egypt.

“I believe events in Egypt have a real chance of spilling over. This is a volcano with real lava waiting to spill over,” said a Pakistani security official who spoke to CBS News on condition that he would not be named as he is not authorized to speak to journalists.

History shows that irreversibly bad stuff can happen fast. I will never forget the way so many Americans applauded the downfall of the Shah of Iran.

MORE: Richard Fernandez looks at who might be involved in “The Race for the Keys“:

…it is quite likely that the Iranian secret service, the Syrians, and al-Qaeda are probably running as had as they can to get their hooks on the keys.  Those intelligence assets represent, depending on how you look at it, a record of brutality or incalculable value. Maybe they represent both. How hard will the administration fight to protect them, to snatch them up before the enemy does, is an interesting question. Or is that also beneath them?

You’d almost think this administration didn’t believe in basic loyalty.