The wrong side of history

So what about Egypt, eh? Is there anything more amazing than the relatively spontaneous gathering of humanity to peacefully declare freedom for itself? This following Tunisia must bring up comparisons to Eastern Europe in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Unlike the “color revolutions” of the 00’s which looked like foreign policy set plays to elevate friendly leaders and haven’t amounted to much beyond the adoption of neo-liberal economics. As Kissinger said, the US doesn’t have friends, it has interests. Consequently, we have a long history of supporting “friendly” dictatorships and one-party states. The equipment used by the Egyptian military and police that proudly proclaims “Made in U.S.A” proves the point. Mubarak’s Egypt is a cruel police state, but that’s ok because he serves our interests. He’ll take our terror suspects who need to disappear. He’ll do what he can to enforce the blockade of Gaza. And he’ll keep his own people in line, quiet about any feelings the 40,000,000 of them might have about US behavior in their neighborhood. All while preaching ceaselessly about freedom and democracy.

We’re standing on the wrong side of history.

There should be no expectation that US leadership make bold, public declarations in support of the Egyptian people…though it had no issue making such statements when the color revolution playbook got opened for Iran. Such statements probably wouldn’t carry much weight with the people who matter set against thirty years of support for the dictator the protests are meant to oust, and it would be far more effective to force Mubarak out quietly.

There should be bold and united declarations in support of freedom and self-determination, especially when people are in the streets making those declarations in the face of state brutality. Mr. Obama’s statements of “more freedom” and “more hopeful” ring hollow, as do his admonishments about violence to protesters who have been incredibly civil and peaceful. We are past the point of politics and building bridges between differing points of view. There is no violent revolutionary behavior; no burning of Mr. Obama in effigy or his flag; and no calls for the establishment of an Islamic fundamentalist Egypt. We are at the point of principles. The question is whether Mr. Obama has them?

Does the United States of America, a nation founded on self-evident truths, stand for freedom and self-determination? Or are those truths a little less clear than they were in the late 18th Century?

Mr. Obama is taking Kissinger’s dictum to heart, and like Kissinger is more than willing to support a dictator in pursuit of our supposed interests. I expect that the best case scenario in the the basements of DC is a military takeover leading to a little more freedom on the surface and the status quo where it counts. And then we wonder why we don’t have any friends; it’s because we only have interests.

A free Egypt with real democracy is unlikely to serve our short term interests. The Muslim Brotherhood will be a part of any freely elected Egyptian government, given that the majority of Egyptians are Muslims any government is likely to be Islamic to at least the same degree as the United States is Christian. (So far, the lack of religious animosity is refreshing and we shouldn’t assume that Egypt is incapable of balancing its multiple faiths peacefully.) It is highly unlikely that Egypt would continue to starve Gaza or torture for us.

I’m afraid that the US establishment cannot see beyond that, indicating that it has lost touch with any concept of our long term interests…if we can be said to have them without confusing long-term interests with perpetual hegemony. Those are very much centered on ideas like freedom and self-determination. Theoretically, all of our cherished ideals about ourselves and how the world should work are predicated on the self-evident truths. Were we to stand for those, we might find that our interests are in fact well-served because they’re self-evident and shared by our friends.

7 replies »

  1. I go back and forth on this one. On one hand I realize that supporting these nasty regimes creates all sorts of bad problems both medium and long term. On the other, as we have found, there’s no guarantee that the regime that replaces a bad regime will be better than the one currently in power, e.g., Iran, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, etc. In many of these nations, there is no solid democratic tradition, and while the desire is there, the mechanisms to transform a desire for freedom into permanent democracy does not exist.

  2. Here in London we get lots of different news channels, courtesy of that nice Mr Murdoch and his Sky network. So we get some American news (CNN, of course, and Fox, which about 700 people watch), but we also get the English language news channels from France, India, Russia, and al Jazeera. And something called Press TV, which is from Iran. And boy, is their coverage interesting. For example, one of the things their talking heads (in headscarves, of course) pointed out is that what is really irritating everyone in the mideast is the coverage by the American television networks. And they’re absolutely right–if you go on CNN, which is what I assume everyone in the US goes on in this type of situation, what you get is non-stop coverage about the potential menace of the Muslim Brotherhood. And it is probably pissing everyone who doesn’t live in Israel off. I assume you get the same sort of thing on the major networks, and lord knows what you get when you turn on Fox.

    This was an interesting comment to make, and it comes after the NY Times ran a front page article about how all this unrest in the mideast was being stirred up by Al Jazeera. You know, those reporters and Al Jazeera workers who were arrested in Egypt a couple of days ago after the Egyptian government shut their offices and broadcasting down. I don’t imagine the Times had much on that story.

    We are not making friends here.

  3. I honestly don’t know what the networks are saying, but if my local newspaper is any indication, then yeah, it’s all Muslim Brotherhood this, Islamo-Marxist-Fascism that. I did watch a fair bit of Al Jazeera English as a stream…which probably makes me an Islamo-Marxist-Fascist. I hear that Glenn Beck has it all figured out: it is the insurrection of I-M-F (no pun intended) that will lead to the world being divided up into the Caliphate, China (which will take all of E. Asia and Australia/NZ), Russia (which will regain its former satellites and the Netherlands) and us…plus S. America. He’s suggesting we start storing food.

    So basically, a fair portion of the United States is going bat shit crazier and forgot that they’re freedom loving patriots. Time to root for the dictator.

    Sam, i can’t speak to Zimbabwe but in your other two examples, well…

    Let’s not forget that we helped overthrow a democratically elected government in order to put a stooge and a dictator on the thrown. The revolution there that we now bemoan was a reaction to our behavior. We also destabilized Afghanistan because we felt it was too close to the USSR…when in fact it was just playing two sides off against each other which has been the only reasonable strategy for maintaining an independent Afghanistan going back to the British Empire. It then slipped closer to the USSR, who were doing a lot of the things we claim to be doing now. They were doing it in a “Communist” manner and women’s rights are worthless if they come from Communism, so we destabilized the place again.

    Still, you have a fair point. My answer is that if we believe our own myths, then our role is to facilitate the process of instituting democracy. We’ve pretty much never done that, simply because we cannot then control the outcome. Maybe in Germany after WWII, but we let them do a lot on their own. Japan and Korea were both developed by the US into one-party states at best and military dictatorships at worst (Korea eventually transitioned from worst-case to best-case and didn’t have what we’d call democracy until c. 2000.)

    One thing’s for sure, places without democratic traditions will not learn them under a dictatorship.

  4. One thing’s for sure, places without democratic traditions will not learn them under a dictatorship.

    Pretty much sums it all up for me. We obviously don’t believe our own myths; or rather, we believe them only as they apply to us, in the safe and distant past. Desire for immediate control trumps myth and long-term strategy every time – and that way of thinking is not going to serve us much longer.

  5. How about the big, shrieking Jewsish elephant in the room? That is the interest. Time to cut the cord. All major players in mid-east conflicts are hoping for the second coming, 12th Imam, or a crack based recipe for bagels if for no other reason than to get out of weekly/ daily religous obligations. Short to long term, the actual feelings of real power in the mid east will take more money gladly, for now. In the end, Israel will have to take a good hard look at itself and our ability/ need/ want to protect them. Most Americans could “give a” if it makes amusing news coverage.