Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a definition of insanity. He might have been describing the foreign policy of the United States of America. In the past week we long suffering citizens have seen our government stand by the dictator in Egypt, then call on him to go, and most recently support his staying on while at the same time publicly demanding that some transition start immediately. All of which is not doing the same thing over and over except when one considers that the US Department of State and White House have followed precisely the same dysfunctional pattern when dealing with other client states throughout the Middle East and in Central Asia. Take one position based on faulty and incomplete information, then take a contrary position when it appears that the first position was rash, finally shifting into yet a third formulation when numbers one and two turn out to be fraught with unintended consequences.
What exactly is happening in Egypt and what is the United States interest in events there? Well, to put it simply, Egypt has been ruled for thirty years by a dictator who has not hesitated to kill or torture his own people. His military, which is his primary support, has received massive assistance from Washington, totaling more than $60 billion, as a bribe for Egypt’s betrayal of the Palestinians through its signing of a peace treaty with Israel that has enabled the latter to dismember the last vestiges of a possible Palestinian state. Apart from wanting to prop up a dubious arrangement whereby Israel’s most powerful neighbor is neutralized, the United States has no vital interest whatsoever in talking nice to Egypt. The claim that a hostile Egypt might close the Suez Canal is nonsensical as the country relies heavily on the income that it generates, whoever is in charge.
And what has been the result of Washington’s tolerance of Mubarak? The Egyptian authorities have been able to suppress any genuine popularly mandated government and have turned the country into a police state for its citizens, a side that is never seen by the tourists who visit the historic sites. The beneficiaries of the corruption-fueled largesse have been Mubarak’s family plus senior civil servants and military officers who are close to the regime, all of whom live extraordinarily well in a country mired in poverty. While all of this has been taking place, the United States has looked the other way, occasionally making noises about reform without any intention of rocking the boat.
Last week’s unleashing of government-paid and -organized thugs to beat on demonstrators demanding their fundamental rights as human beings (endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights is how America’s Founders put it), should be enough to convince anyone that Mubarak’s attempt to hang on to power in Egypt is flat out immoral. It should be condemned without any ifs ands or buts, but when Washington’s policymakers preach about American values they always prove to be singularly lacking in any of those virtues when they actually deal with foreigners. And American politics are so mired in weasel words that the usual mantras quickly emerge whenever actual change is discussed. Barack and Hillary support democratic transformation BUT WE have to control the transition process, WE have to keep Islamic parties out, WE have to make sure the peace treaty with Israel survives, WE have to insure minority rights, and WE have to micromanage every step along the way to make sure the result is acceptable TO US. It doesn’t leave much for the Egyptians to do except say "yes" when prompted to do so.
And there are bad guys hiding under every third world bush, or, in the case of Egypt, behind every sand dune. Sure, a lot of people in the developing world hate America. When the White House actually does discover people fatuously described as extremists emerging in these tortured lands it fails to comprehend how Washington’s own support of dictators and military governments has created the extremism. Didn’t the CIA operation against the Soviets in Afghanistan produce al-Qaeda, a group that Americans are now spending $1 trillion a year attempting to destroy?
How refreshing it would be to hear a Secretary of State or President say "We fully support the right of the Egyptian people to make their own decisions regarding their own lives and their destinies without any reservations or conditions on our part." And also say the same for the Tunisians, Iranians, Jordanians, Yemenis, Syrians, Lebanese, Afghans, Algerians, Moroccans, Libyans, Pakistanis, and Somalis. There are probably a few others that I am missing, but they are included too. The point is if you genuinely accept that human beings have basic dignity and rights you have to believe that all the way, not only when it is convenient or when it supports a narrowly construed and probably dishonest interest. And the United States should pledge that it absolutely will stop interfering to produce "correct" outcomes in all the countries that are now seeking to throw off their chains. Hillary Clinton should just stop talking. Or rather, she should recognize the reality of groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood and start treating them with the respect they deserve instead of making points with Wolf Blitzer on CNN.
Well, however one spins it, it is now clear that the United States policy of propping up "stable" regimes of any stripe throughout the Middle East and elsewhere is failing, while a series of ad hoc responses to the crisis have done little more than make the White House position incoherent. Time to go to Plan B, but don’t be surprised if Plan B is not acceptance of the fact that the basic premise of interventionism was wrong. Plan B as devised in the Clinton State Department will be more of the same old stuff only with different packaging in an attempt to fool the wogs. She will say we want democracy everywhere but it has to be carefully managed to make sure that other tyrants do not emerge from the process. For tyrant substitute any group that is opposed to either US or Israeli policy. And she will be extremely plausible as she makes her case over the airwaves, constantly citing what happened with the Shah of Iran to prove that nasty things can develop when emerging democrats are unguided by the benevolent hand of Washington. Of course, she will not mention that the United States has been like a wrecking ball in the Middle East for the past sixty years, including deliberately destabilizing Iran in 1953. Someone should point out to her that US policy to support dictators inevitably turns frustrated moderates into extremists. You reap what you sow, Hillary.