What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us

Egyptian protestors shout slogans and wave the national flag in front of Egyptian embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. Dozens of protestors gathered in front of Egyptian embassy to rally against Egypt's President Mubarak thus showing support for the protests currently taking place in cities throughout Egypt. (AP Photo / Amel Emric) AP Photo / Amel Emric

The title to former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld's new book, "Knowns and Unknowns," refers to something he once said about Iraq, and I am paraphrasing here: There are things we know we know, and things we don't know, but there are also things we don't know we don't know.

He was talking about Iraq, but he might very well have been discussing the current situation in Egypt.

We are a democracy, and we say democracy and freedom are the right of all people. But on this one, we are also forced to ask, do we really mean it?

Hosni Mubarak is a dictator who has denied freedom to his people. But he turned Egypt from the main threat to Israel to its best Arab ally.

For three decades he has been our partner in maintaining Israel's security and a certain level of stability in the region.

Some might put it more crudely - that we bought him off. But at the least, he stayed bought, and Israel is still there.

And that is why it is so difficult to chart a U.S. policy in all of this. Clearly Mubarak has to go, and if we are true to our own core values we must stand with those in the streets who demand freedom.

But what happens if he does go?

We can never be against democracy for any people. But we must balance that with patience, common sense and restraint.

The last thing needed here is harsh rhetoric from those trying to score political points.

On this one, Rumsfeld's words are apt: We are not even CLOSE to knowing what we don't know.
  • Bob Schieffer On Twitter»

    Bob Schieffer is CBS News' chief Washington correspondent and anchor of Face the Nation.

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