As Egypt slips into chaos, Egyptian "President" Hosni Mubarak tells American journalist Christiane Amanpour that if he leaves the country will … slip into chaos. On Wednesday, the paid thugs of the regime went out onto the streets and showed what they are made of and what they stand for: they besieged the anti-Mubarak protesters in Tahrir Square with Molotov cocktails, knives, and high-powered rifles. The protesters won the ensuing battle, but at a heavy price: 13 killed and more than 600 wounded. The protesters have called for a massive demonstration on Friday, the deadline for Mubarak to leave, and the two sides are already squaring off for the battle to come.
The US response has been highly variable. In the beginning, we heard Vice President Joe Biden declare that Egypt is "stable," and Mubarak "is not a dictator." As the street protests escalated, however, the administration tried frantically to keep up, changing its position according to which way the wind was blowing, which means gradually inching away from Mubarak until it reached the point where the President was saying that change must happen "now," i.e. stopping just short of calling for Mubarak to resign.
This has been the key issue, at least as far as the pundits are concerned, with the more liberal types averring that Obama should come out and call for Mubarak to get out, while the neoconservative right dutifully echoes the line of the Israeli government, which is that Mubarak is a friend of Israel, ergo: he must stay, and the US has "betrayed" him. To be sure, only a relatively few take the latter position openly: the blogosphere is rife with "on the one hand, and on the other hand" chin-pullers who basically come out for "stability," or, in the case of Reason magazine’s Tim Cavanaugh, essentially taking an agnostic position (an odd position for a libertarian magazine to take when it comes to the question of whether a bloody dictator should stand or fall).
As usual, the one public figure with a rational take on the crisis is Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), the original Tea Partier, and the leader of a growing and well-organized libertarian faction of the GOP. And his rationality is getting some notice, on the left as well as the right, as John Nichols notes in The Nation:
"Most Republicans in Congress are supporting President Obama’s tepid and uneven response to the pro-democracy protests in Egypt. No surprise there; the mixed signals sent by the current administration’s have about them the familiar incoherence of the Bush-Cheney years.
"But not everyone is cheering on White House and State Department attempts to maintain US influence with an authoritarian regime while talking up democracy and freedom.
"Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who broke with Republicans (and many Democrats) to criticize Bush and Cheney, is now breaking with the Washington consensus to object to how Obama is responding. At the root of the maverick congressman and former presidential candidate’s criticism is a broader critique of US policy in the region.
"Noting Obama’s maneuvering, Paul complains that ‘the big fight now is for us to be in charge. If Mubarak survives, we want to be on his side. If they get a new guy, we want to be on [his] side. I just think that doesn’t work because eventually the people rebel. For a while it seemed to be stable, but it’s so artificial.’
"Instead of propping up the old dictator or hoping to buy influence with the next, Paul argues for cutting aid — particularly the massive military aid packages that pay for a 450,000-man army that ‘will probably be turned against the people.’"
The problem, as Rep. Paul has tirelessly pointed out, is our foreign policy of global intervention, which invariably gets us into trouble no matter how well-intentioned and/or "pragmatic" our initial goals may be. This is the essence of the Paulian critique, a position rejected by "mainstream" Republicans and Democrats alike. Paul’s views are being verified by the Egyptian events, as the US opportunistically tries to shape the crisis and maintain its control in the region, and anti-Americanism grows by leaps and bounds among the activists whose cultural and political orientation should have put them firmly in the pro-American camp.
While the elder Paul steps back and makes his broad critique of our crazy foreign policy, his son, Rand Paul, newly-elected Republican Senator from Kentucky, is going after the implementation of that policy. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Rand came out for cutting off all foreign "aid" – asked about Israel, he said that although he "respects" Israel as "a fountain of peace and democracy," the fact is that we’re funding both sides of an arms race." One may note that the "fountain of peace and democracy" in the Middle East may be going dry and still admire the bravery of his proposal: if his alternative budget, which cuts $500 billion from the federal budget – including a substantial cut in military appropriations – were enacted today, it would deal a body blow to the War Party and its friends in the military-industrial complex.
Paul’s proposal was too much for Israel’s amen corner in the Democratic party: six US Senators (Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island) sent a letter to the Republicans on the House Appropriations and Budget Committee specifically denouncing the idea that one penny of aid to Israel could possibly be cut. The text of their letter is typical Washingtonian boilerplate, not meant to convince anyone but merely a kind of pledge of allegiance to the notoriously vindictive and very well-funded Israel Lobby.
Rand’s remarks, say our Senate Democratic solons, "are alarming and aim to weaken the decades-long bipartisan consensus on U.S. support for Israel. Both Republicans and Democrats are committed to reining in the federal deficit, but assistance to Israel is not a matter of ‘pork barrel spending’ — rather U.S. foreign aid to Israel demonstrates America’s rock-solid commitment to ensuring Israel’s right to exist."
Israel’s right to exist is guaranteed by its matchless military machine, which we have built up into the hegemonic power in the region. It is also safeguarded by Israel’s nuclear arsenal. Israel’s right to exist is not in question, except in the minds of its Palestinian helots – and why, in any case, is it our responsibility to "ensure" it? The Senators would no doubt consider the mere raising of such a question "alarming," but in an era of huge deficits and popular agitation for a very substantial cut in government spending it has to be asked – and the Pauls, to their great credit, are asking and answering it.
Israel’s lobby in the US Senate argues that the Jewish state "is the only democratic nation in the Middle East and one of our most trusted allies." The irony here is that, in light of the Egyptian events – and the Israeli complaint that we have "betrayed" Mubarak – it is clear the Israelis intend to stay the only democracy in the region. "A stable and secure Israel is strongly in our national security interest," we are told, "and has been a cornerstone of our foreign policy for over half-a-century." The reality is that Israeli and American national security interests have been diverging since the end of the cold war. As for the longevity of the "special relationship," this is precisely why it needs to be abandoned, and pronto: after all, look where it got us – universally hated, bogged down in two and a half wars, and teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
I won’t bore you with any more of this Senatorial wisdom, except to note that these Democratic worthies vow to oppose Senator Paul "aggressively." One has no doubt their aggressiveness won’t be tempered by either reason, or the facts on the ground, but as the economic conditions that set the stage for the Egyptian drama are replicated, increasingly, here in the States, one can easily imagine the Gravy Train Seven will have other political problems that no amount of kowtowing to well-heeled lobbyists will solve. Senator Paul showed his political savvy by telling a glowering Wolf Blitzer that when you ask the average American if they want to ship their tax dollars overseas over 70 percent say no. Naturally, we have never had the opportunity to vote on this issue, since the much-noted "bipartisan consensus" the free-spending Senators are so eager to preserve negates that possibility. What’s encouraging is that the common sense message of the Pauls is being heard well beyond the limited confines of the libertarian movement and the already-convinced.
The Paulian proposal to end all foreign aid shows the way forward for the United States on the Egyptian question. There is no need for the President to call for Mubarak’s ouster – indeed, it would be counterproductive, as it would give the already emerging anti-foreigner line being put out by the Mubarak forces a certain amount of credibility. Obama is right that it’s up to the Egyptian people to decide their own course: but this is only half of the equation. What Obama and the Washington insiders leave out is that the US government has been sustaining the Mubarak tyranny for nearly thirty years. Ron Paul notes that we’ve given in excess of $60 billion to this regime – and what have we gotten for it in the end? Blowback — a wave of global anti-Americanism that threatens our safety at home and abroad.
I have seen the demonstrators on Al Jazeera and other venues holding up tear gas canisters with "Made in U.S.A." stamped on them, shoving them into the camera as if they’re shoving the evidence of our criminality in our collective face. And they are right to do so. Decades of US-backed –and-funded repression have embittered many in the region against the US government and its local sock puppets. This could be reversed in a moment if the President announced he was suspending US aid to Egypt by executive order. He has the power to do this: that he won’t is evidence there is something very wrong – and very twisted – in Washington. It isn’t just that Tony Podesta, a powerful lobbyist and Democratic party insider, is making millions off his contract with the Egyptian government. It’s an advanced state of sclerosis that permeates the foreign policy establishment, which is still stuck in the cold war era when Egypt was a major battleground.
First tilting toward the Soviet Union, and then lured away by the promise of dollars, Egypt today is tangential to American interests. The Suez canal is often cited as a reason why we must take an interest in Egyptian affairs, but this is an argument put forward by foreign policy wonks whose knowledge of economics is negligible. The Egyptians would themselves suffer just as much as the rest of us if the canal were blocked or otherwise inoperable: they desperately need the foreign exchange the canal brings, especially now that Egypt is approaching total financial insolvency – and this would be true even if the Muslim Brotherhood were to take power tomorrow.
Another reason for the alleged importance of Egypt to the US is the longstanding peace with Israel, which we are told is ensured by the Camp David accords. Yet Israel has violated the accords, which called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank as well as the Sinai peninsula. Furthermore, there is no reason to expect that a democratic Egypt will attack Israel, or otherwise threaten the peace – after all, wasn’t it renown Zionist Natan Sharansky and the pro-Israel neoconservatives here in the US who were telling us, not long ago, that democracies don’t launch wars of aggression? Well, then, I say let’s put it to the test.
The US has lost an "ally" in Mubarak, but there is a way for us to salvage our relationship with the Egyptian people: cut off aid to Egypt immediately and totally. Such a dramatic gesture would be worthy of the drama now unfolding on the streets of Egypt’s cities, and win us friends of the kind who can’t be bought – but can be counted on.