U.S. military aid to Egypt totals over $1.3 billion annually. Your money, in other words, is keeping Mubarak in power. That government is now doing this to its people. Listen to the audio. It's hard to say just what's happening, given the media blackout, but clearly terrible things are happening in Egypt.

Many of the people now protesting in Egypt want what every American takes as his birthright: democracy, dignity, rule of law, civil rights.

Many of them, however--I would wager--do not.

Though the blackout makes it hard to understand exactly what's happening, it is highly improbable that anti-democratic forces would not try to exploit this unrest. This is a dream come true for Egypt's Islamists, obviously. Quite some number of those Islamists, for sure, wish you and your children dead. Even if nothing about these photos and images touches you in any way, I can promise you that total anarchy in Egypt, or an Islamist regime there, would end up touching you.

The fact that we are supporting the Mubarak regime may not be immediately obvious to most Americans, but it is the central fact about America to every Egyptian alive--to 83 million people in the heart of the Middle East.

The Mubarak government is basically friendly to the United States, but it is right now crushing its own people. If it succeeds, we will not be identified with the man who is protesting. We will be identified with the men who are acting on behalf of the government. In fact, we already are.

If it doesn't succeed, God knows what will happen. Maybe something good--maybe the blossoming, at last, of real democracy in this region.

Or maybe something so awful as to make Iran look like a bagatelle.

Certainly, this is a spontaneous, indigenous, authentic democracy movement. That's real. No doubt about it. Supposedly, this is what we wanted to happen in the Middle East when we went into Iraq. This was the desired outcome of the Bush Doctrine.

We are not powerless to influence the outcome of these events. Our Secretary of State could get on the phone and say, "Touch one more hair on the head of one more protester and we pull the plug."

Or she could get on the phone and say, "Crush it. We'll help. Do what needs to be done. Egypt isn't ready. Remember Iran."

We elect our governments: No one is beating us. We're responsible for what they do. Hillary Clinton is our employee. We've got a democracy already and we're free to speak about this without getting our heads cracked in. We're free to try to influence our government's policy.

They're not.

We owe it to them at least to try to understand what's happening.

Claire Berlinski is a journalist, academic, and freelance writer. You can follow her writing on Ricochet.com. She is the author of "Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's, Too" and "There is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters." She has also written two spy novels.