Friday, February 4, 2011

Quo Vadis?

I know this isn't a U.S. foreign policy site and I know I've been posting WAY too much about the current Egyptian situation, but...

I'm bird-mesmerized-by-snake fascinated by the dynamics of principle and power at play here.

Some time ago I thought that the end was clearly in view. The Egyptian Army had publicly refused to shoot down the opposition. This is typically The End for strongmen. It was when the Iranian Army stopped shooting the anti-Shah demonastrators that the Pahlevi "dynasty" was finished. When they knew that they couldn't trust their armed forces to protect them the Ben Ali forces were done in Tunisia just last month. So when Mubarak's Army stated that it would not shoot at "the Egyptian people" it seemed like a public endorsement of the end of Mubarakism.

Now things look less clear.

Mubarak has unleashed the "nuclear option" in the form of his own personal Basij. In this the Army has been at least complicit, and at worst supportive; soldiers around Tahrir Square have not stepped in to stop the counterattack, and while they have not shot at "the Egyptian people" they are clearly not interested in stopping others from doing so. So it now appears that the generals are hedging their bets to see if Mubarak's strongarm tactics will work.

The real loser here, regardless of what happens, is likely to be the U.S.

Given the position the U.S. has publicly taken there must now be some significant pain for the Mubarakites comensurate with their escalation of violence. This may be assumed to be the Obama Administration taking some harsh steps; cutting off all aid, or at least military aid, expelling Egyptian officers and troops from U.S. training courses, ending commercial and military ties.

Mark Lynch, who spends a good deal of time thinking about this area, says that the U.S. "...has no choice." but to do this:
"It must now make clear that an Egyptian regime headed by Hosni Mubarak is no longer one with which the United States can do business, and that a military which sanctions such internal violence is not one with which the United Staes can continue to partner. The Egyptian military must receive the message loudly, directly and clearly that the price of a continuing relationship with America is Mubarak's departure and a meaningful transition to a more democratic and inclusive political system. It must understand that if it doesn't do this, then the price will not just be words or public shaming but rather financial and political. If Mubarak remains in place, Egypt faces a future as an international pariah without an international patron and with no place in international organizations or forums."
I can see several ways that this will end badly;

1. Mubarak chooses, rather, to leave the U.S. orbit, and survives. We have a precedent here: Saddam post-1988. Not sure if we want a pissed-off despot with a chip on his shoulder alive and active in the eastern Levant.

2. Mubarak chooses to leave, and falls, but in such a way that his successor takes the credit rather than the U.S. Even worse, this successor may remember not the final dismissal but the years of U.S. support that preceded it.

3. Mubarak stays, acceeds to the U.S. demands, steps down, but is either succeeded by an Egyptian nationalist who chooses to focus on that U.S. support for his predecessor...or an outright radical...or no one - the national dissolves in chaos.

Over all I tend to agree with Lynch. If the U.S. fails to put the blocks to its client now it will forfeit any rights on the subject; we will be exposed as arrant liars and fools, we will look like the organ grinder made to dance as the monkey turns the handle, the slavemaster who bullies and threatens but cannot stop being defied and mocked by his own chattel.

But I think the lesson learned here is that any democracy that plots to make themselves "safer" by aiding in the oppression of others does, or should do, this with open eyes and the understanding that if you side with the slavers you should expect no mercy when Spartacus stands in your doorway with the sword red in his hand.


  1. FDChief: But I think the lesson learned here is that any democracy that plots to make themselves "safer" by aiding in the oppression of others does, or should do, this with open eyes and the understanding that if you side with the slavers you should expect no mercy when Spartacus stands in your doorway with the sword red in his hand.

    You are alluding to the same issue concerning the Fundies' support for the State of Israel. That is, they have no real concern for the people of Israel, but rather their own personal eschatological benefit.

    Has US policy towards Egypt (Iran, Nicaragua, etc) ever been truly and primarily for the well being of the bulk of the populace of those countries? Not saying it has to be, but one has to realize that if we have placed our money on the "state" versus "the people", we may be in an awkward position when "the people" rise up on their own behalf. If we don't care about "the people" in nations where we prop up a government, why should their feelings about the US be beneficent?

  2. Al: The claim, especially from the Right, has always been that the U.S. is different from the other Great Powers in history because of our incredibly Constitutional Freedomy Goodness. The reality has always been, of course, that outside our borders we have often acted like any Great Power, and the nations and peoples that we have used have suffered - or not - based on our needs and not on any sort of magical democratic American niceness.

    I think the problem is that for a lot of people it's hard to think about life in sophisticated terms; to accept that being a liberal democracy at home doesn't preclude acting a lot like any other imperialist Great Power abroad. So a lot of the U.S. has a problem with the notion that "those people" might not love us. Aren't we the Good Guys? Don't we always act for Rightness?

    I'm fairly pragmatic where foreign policy is concerned; the U.S. needs to do what is in its interests - this isn't always in the interests of peoples and nations overseas. But I would add that history seems to show that dealing with peoples in ways that further their interests is more profitable than taking short-term profits at the expense of generating a pantsload of ill-will.

  3. Israel, panic, tail, dog, wag, USA, Egypt.

  4. FDChief-

    the U.S. needs to do what is in its interests - this isn't always in the interests of peoples and nations overseas. But I would add that history seems to show that dealing with peoples in ways that further their interests is more profitable than taking short-term profits at the expense of generating a pantsload of ill-will.

    While this is a statement of the bloody obvious, I would offer that "Promotion of Values" and American Exceptionalism tend to lead all to many to ignore your second sentence.

  5. Al: No kidding.

    What has been frustrating as an American with an interest in both history and current events is watching my country take careful aim and shoot itself in the foot time and again. I'm divided between thinking it has something to do with the hubris you identify ("We're special so the rules don't apply to us") and simple ignorance; I'm met so many people who think that them furriners are both ignorant and pliable (so we can do whatever we want to them and they either won't notice or won't care) and at the same time greedy and indolent, just like Americans (so they want what We want, regardless of what we do in their part of the world, so in the end they'll want to like us and Be Like Us).

  6. Well, FDC, many of those furriners don't even speak good English! Living outside the US, and seeing some of the truly ignorant people that travel here and throughout Europe, I can only shudder. And, they will even take us into their confidence to make their ignorance even more obvious. After all, don't all us Merakins see the world the same way. One couple asked us where the "American neighborhood" was on the island. I said that there isn't one. "Where do you live?", was their astonished reply, followed by, "Who do you have to talk to?"


  7. I pondered this whole mess drinking coffee, watching the sun rise and smoking a cigar. Obviously, to get elected, candidates must offer some sort of foreign policy stance. Since the electorate generally harbors feelings of "American Exceptionalism", it would be difficult to run on a platform that recognizes the sovereignty and dignity of other nations. It's difficult for Americans not to think of our country as anything other than "The Greatest Country in the World", even though in many categories, we are way down the totem pole. Speak openly about it on the campaign trail, and you are labeled a "Surrender Monkey". We are getting the foreign policy that appeals to the public ego, and we are suffering for it.

  8. I guess the problem I have with that, Al, is that most Americans probably wouldn't CARE one way of th other. Gimme cheap gas and don't touch my junk; if that means playing one way instead of the other with a bunch of damn Ay-rabs, who in Peoria would give a rat's ass?

    I think it has as much or more to do with the priorities of the self-selected "leadership" caste that has been in a position to both make policy and make public opinions around policy. For whatever reasons, sentimentality, vanity, religious fervor, idealism, whatever, the Beltway Kool Kids Klub chose Israel over the Arab states in 1948. That choice, and the decision not to reconsider that choice, then drives Middle East policy in certain directions; it has to, given the predictable reactions of most people in the ME. You can argue 'til Doomsday whether those reactions are smart or not, whether their governments should be whipping them on, but it was both predictable and predicted at the time.

    But can you imagine, say, Jerry Ford, going on TV at the time the Egyptians were considering/being bought/being wooed to change alignments and telling the U.S. public;

    "Well, here's the thing. Egypt is a military dictatorship and to suck up to Egypt we are going to have to pay their government and their military and secret police to do some pretty fucked up things to their people. And if those people ever get the opportunity to break the chains we're helping their government lay on them they might not like what we're going to do.

    But if we don't, the Egyptian dictators are in a position to keep making trouble for us in this region. It's an ugly choice, and it may backfire on us in the long run, but it answers our needs today so that's why I'm doing it..."

    The entire chattering class, the Congress, and everyone who took an AIPAC dollar would have gone ballistic.

    So, yeah, we're pretty fucked...

  9. Chief,
    I for one do not care who sells the oil.
    It can be a fat ass Saudi or an Eyeranian, or even Chavez. Hell throw in some Stan despots and African cannibals. I don't give a flip.
    Does it matter? Or is long wars and warfare and bankrupting ourselves keeping the worlds oil routes open a better policy. Like the movie said - if you buy it , they will sell it. When you go to a whore house do you pay the price to do some deep drilling , EVEN IF THE HO IS A NASTY PERSON? I say this to keep your head in the proper frame of mind.
    We talk of strategy on milpub, so isn't what i'm saying a strategic thingee?
    I say again- democracy in the ME does not mean friendship to the US. Democracy can be a form of tyranny also. I posit the Sunni position in Eyerac.Throw in the Kurds for good measure.
    The greatest number does not equate to the greatest good.
    I think Iraq under Saddam was better for US strategy than the present critter.
    There is a problem saying that we are democratic and free when all our leaders do is to lie to us. This makes the concept a lie.

  10. jim: No question re: the whole "blood for oil" concept. Oil is fungible, and in general the oil producers will sell it it we are in the market to buy it.

    My question about the whole business would be - why are we in business to help arm and support the oil sheiks, mullahs, corrupt Nigrian generals or Indonesian robber-barons or Venezuelan populist dictators? Why the hell aren't we taking some of the dollars we're sinking into aircraft, ships, and troops and investing in a national Manhattan Project-level quest to invent the "next generation" internal combustion engine?

    I mean, that's the real crux of the biscuit, innit? We can generate our power from nukes, coal, natural gas, soylent green, whatev'. But the real motor, if you'll excuse the term, of our modern technological civilization is the gasoline engine and turbine. It alone is light enough and torque-y enough to move our aircraft, POVs and trucks and thus keep the whole business going.

    So I'd argue that the REAL strategy would be the ultimate indirect approach; completely bypass the oil producers and be the first one to a fossil-fuel-free civilization...

    That way we could basically ignore the Middle East; Iraqis, Kurds, Israelis, Tom, Dick, and Harry. Fuck 'em; let them sort out their own nasty business...

    As far as democracy goes, well...lying to the proles is part of a days work for politicians, regardless of the system. If We the People choose to reward them for their lying - and so far we have, by and large - then we have only ourselves to blame...

  11. Chief,
    I just can't flush this thought -we are all wrapped up tighter than hog turds in summer time over ME democracy and freedom...dadada! but we let China/Cambodia/VN and every place else that sells us cheap shit a FREE PASS.
    It's all very confusing to my simple mind.
    I wonder if that's because i don't really grasp the concept of strategy?

  12. Or irony: I love the fact that Obama told Suleiman to repeal his "Emergency Law" on teh same day he told the Congress to reauthorize the most sneakily egregious of the Patriot Act nonsense.

  13. Chief,
    We have our heads so far up our asses we now need glass belly buttons.