Ever since the popular uprising rocked Egypt, European and North Americans have succumbed to a bout of hand-wringing. Why on earth did our governments prop up Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship for so long? Now, German politics professor and commentator Herfried Munkler offers a daring answer: because that was the wise policy. Munkler doesn’t have much time for “melancholy self-doubt.” “The pitfall with this kind of retrospective reflection,” he writes, is that it “creates the impression that there was a direct, clean and decent course of action, and that the only reason it was not taken is that the Europeans were paying too much attention to their own interests.” He disputes whether it would have made any sense to support alternatives to stable, autocratic regimes—unless and until those more democratic options looked ready to create credible new power structures. “It is politically unwise to bet on the development of a democratic order in places that lack the necessary structural preconditions, and where democracy is constantly in danger of turning into a civil war or an open military dictatorship. Politically speaking, the milder, patrimonial rule of an autocrat is preferable to either of those options.” That’s not the sort of viewpoint likely to meet with much approval in these heady days of hope for change in the Middle East. But it is a useful, thought-provoking counterbalance to the prevailing optimism.