Uncle NED Comes Calling

It is difficult to conceive of how a nation that was founded to defend individual rights and liberties has moved so far from its moorings that it has now embraced exporting democracy and nation building worldwide as its principal raison d’etre.  Common sense and human decency together dictate that Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, having suffered so much, should be allowed to establish their own forms of government.  But if you had hoped that the United States would just let the Egyptians and others get on with the process and elect a representative parliament, you would be wrong. When President Barack Obama speaks of a transition in North Africa he really means a guided journey to a form of government that has all the politically correct safeguards that he esteems modeled on western democracy combined with little or no room for any party that has "Islamic" in its name.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was interviewed by Rachel Maddow several weeks ago and revealed that Washington has already begun meddling.  Albright denounced Egyptian ex-president Mubarak because "Beating people up is not the way to do it," and then confirmed that the National Endowment for Democracy was already hard at work in Egypt, even though Mubarak had not yet stepped down, building up infrastructure and supporting party development.  Recall for a moment that Albright believes that a heavy fist is an essential part of diplomacy and that US interests always trump whatever suffering local people have to endure.  She once said that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to sanctions were worth it, so she apparently is not completely removed from the "beat them up" school of thought as long as she doesn’t have to do it herself.

Those who are aware of the insidious activities of the National Endowment for Democracy or NED, an ostensibly private foundation that spreads "democracy" and is largely funded by the government, will not be surprised to learn that it is already active in North Africa because it is almost everywhere.  NED, which has a Democratic Party half in its National Democratic Institute, and a Republican Party half in its International Republican Institute, was the driving force behind the series of pastel revolutions that created turmoil in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism.  Remember when the Russians and others complained about the activities of NGOs interfering in their politics?  NED was what they were referring to.

Albright is in charge of the NED Dems while John McCain leads the NED GOP.  Which is not to say that there is much in the way of adult leadership as neither Albright nor McCain in any way supervises NED’s activities.  That is probably a good thing as neither has ever demonstrated anything like a gentle touch or a shred of compassion.  NED has its own budget and is free of any real government or media oversight because it was carefully designed to be half Republican and half Democratic, while spreading democracy and human rights would seem to be objectives that are more-or-less consensus issues for most congressmen and not subject to much scrutiny.

NED’s involvement in developing and emerging countries reads either like a roll of honor or an indictment, depending on just how you look at it.  The list includes every country in Eastern Europe, Spain, France, Portugal, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Haiti, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Tibet, and China.  NED operates with a large degree of autonomy, funding groups and projects that it believes are promoting democracy, whatever that means at any given time and in any given place.  It has been heavily engaged in "democracy development" in the Ukraine, Georgia, and in the Balkans, often by selecting the candidate deemed to be most pro-American and giving him money and cell phones to help him Twitter and organize.  A pro-American is often determined by whether or not he speaks good English even if he generally is indistinguishable from his predecessors in terms of corruption.  The long-term results of supporting the pastel revolution "good guys" have been generally bad. 

Neoconservative Ken Timmerman has identified the core NED activity overseas as "training political workers in modern communications and organizational techniques," surely a polite way to describe interfering directly in other countries’ politics. But even when NED seems to be doing something unobjectionable it is notoriously a loose cannon on deck, wasting taxpayer money and supporting hare-brained initiatives that the State Department would be afraid to touch. When it meets with opposition politicians and parties it has little concern for other possible sensitivities and often sends signals that it represents the United States, which it does not. It embraced the fashionable Twitter- and cell phone-driven revolutions that developed after the fall of communism.  It was a major player in the Georgia fiasco that led to war with Russian over two years ago.  Now it will be doing its thing in the Arab world.

Regarding Egypt, NED will directly staff a large mission in Cairo and Alexandria, but it also funds other initiatives that are either designed purely for the edification of the Washington audience or are tone deaf.  It funds the Project on Middle East Democracy, which recently spent $45,300 to explore the feasibility of establishing a Cairo-based policy center.  POMED’s seventeen-person board is heavy with Washington political and academic personalities but includes only one Egyptian, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, and only two Arabic speakers.  Many of the academics on the board are "experts" on — you guessed it! – "democracy." Curiously, one of POMED’s principles is that "The US must respect democratic outcomes. In the short term, free and fair elections may result in some governments that are less favorable to US interests. Regardless, America must respect democratic processes. The long-term benefits of improved credibility and democracy outweigh the short-term costs." It is a principle that the Bush and Obama administrations have had some difficulty in embracing and one has to wonder if the principle includes Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.  The POMED website does not say, nor does the NED site.

The driving principle of NED is that Americans have a duty to spread democracy worldwide.  Wrong.  First of all, the Founding Fathers would be shocked at the language itself as they created a republic instead of a democracy precisely because they feared that democracy leads to mob rule.  Observing the throngs that cheer for Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, they were certainly correct in that judgment.  Nor are Americans real good at introspection or at analogies, but what do you think the response of George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson might have been if foreign advisors had arrived en-masse in 1783 to tell the thirteen colonies how to construct their new government?  What would have happened if the intruders had then organized demonstrations in the streets of Philadelphia to support their point of view?  It would have been throw the bums out or hang them from the nearest lamppost, I suspect.  In this case, Obama will be unable to resist the urge to meddle.  NED has done more damage to America’s good name worldwide than any other factor, excluding only the Bush Doctrine.  With NED on the move expect a repeat of the Eastern Europe experience — twenty more years of turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.