‘Egypt the Prize’

Imagine the following scenario: a wealthy foreign country decides that the United States is insufficiently democratic. They launch a program to “teach” us the ABCs of “democracy” via a plethora of organizations devoted to “human rights” and “election monitoring,” directly funded by themselves, shipping millions of taxpayer dollars to thousands of well-compensated “activists.” As election time draws near, this foreign money is poured into the coffers of “activist” groups whose main purpose is to instigate street protests that often end in violence, as well as finance political parties whose platforms are conducive to the foreign policy objectives of their generous patron.

How long would such an operation be allowed to exist? The answer is: not long.

The US has laws against foreign funding of political parties and other groups: such an operation would be shut down before it even had a chance to get off the ground.

Egypt – and virtually every other country on earth – has similar laws on the books. Which is why the manufactured “outrage” over the Egyptian government’s recent crackdown on foreign-funded “human rights” groups is so baffling. In a coordinated series of raids, Egyptian police accompanied by investigative judges entered the headquarters of several such groups throughout the country, seizing computers, sealing offices, and confiscating bundles of cash. According to the Associated Press, an Egyptian Interior Ministry official “said the military on Thursday found 70,000 Egyptian pounds ($11,600) in the office of one unidentified group, and seized half a million Egyptian pounds ($83,000) from the National Democratic Institute.”

The National Democratic Institute is the international arm of the US Democratic party: it receives its funding directly from Uncle Sam and a number of “private” contributors whose identities are kept under wraps. NDI chief honcho Kenneth Wollack is a former legislative director of the America-Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israel lobby in the US.

Given the historical enmity between Egypt and Israel, do you think the Egyptians might be justifiably wary of such a group spreading cash around? Yet Wollack pretends there is something highly unusual about the Egyptian government’s actions: “Cracking down on organizations whose sole purpose is to support the democratic process during Egypt’s historic transition sends a disturbing signal,” he said in a statement.”

Make no mistake about the “sole purpose” of US-funded groups: it is about serving the interests of those who pay their bills and their salaries.

Also raided: the International Republican Institute – the foreign arm of the GOPFreedom House – the historic home of right-wing Social Democrats and international busybodies – as well as the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (funded by the German government) and fourteen other foreign-funded groups.

Washington’s reaction to the raid was immediate and virulent: while an official US State Department spokeswoman gave out the usual we’re-“deeply-concerned” boilerplate, the New York Times reported:

Another senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that in private channels, the United States had sent an even stronger message: ‘This crosses a line.’”

The nature of that line was laid out in more detail by Charles Dunne, director of Middle East and North Africa Programs at Freedom House, who said:

“It is a major escalation in the Egyptian government’s crackdown on civil society organizations, and it is unprecedented in its attack on international organizations like Freedom House, which is funded in large part by the United States government. The military council is saying we are happy to take your $1.3 billion a year, but we are not happy when you do things like defending human rights and supporting democracy.”

None of these “civil society” groups denies getting their funding from foreign sources – sources which are actively promoting their own interests in post-Mubarak Egypt. Indeed, they openly proclaim it. Pursue this crackdown, they say, and Uncle Sam will stop the foreign aid gravy train.

Here is a particularly vivid example of what “foreign aid” is really all about. As Ron Paul points out, our foreign aid program takes money from poor people in the US and ladles it out to rich people overseas – all in the interests of directing the internal political life of foreign nations from behind the scenes.

Is it really so impossible to understand why Egyptians – or any foreign people – might resent this kind of open meddling? As the condescending saviors of US-funded “human rights” groups move in to dictate the terms of the “transition to democracy” in Egypt, is there a chance of a backlash – “blowback,” in CIA parlance? The question answers itself.

Just as the US government’s ability to pick economic winners on the home front – GM, Solyndra, etc. – is highly problematic, so their record is even worse when it comes to picking political winners in countries about which they know little and understand even less. This is a connection that American conservatives, who continue to support such meddling, have so far failed to make: and as for the liberals, “soft power” is their preferred approach to interventionism, and the weapon of choice of Hillary Clinton’s State Department. Rather than being a substitute for neocon-style military intervention, however, it is instead merely a prelude to it, as in Libya.

The Egyptians have long warned their American patrons they were investigating the foreign funding sources of Egyptian NGOs, so these professions of shock and surprise sound just a little bit hollow. In any event, no government anywhere allows such open interference in its internal politics by foreigners, and it is disingenuous, to say the least, to claim the crackdown was unexpected. As the Times reports:

“In a television interview last month, Maj. Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen suggested several times that the investigation into foreign financing of nongovernment organizations would shed light on the unnamed instigators who he said were behind the protests and clashes in the streets.

“’There are hidden hands playing in the country,’ he said. ‘We tell the Egyptian people, and the Egyptian people are smart, that there are people who are trying to demolish the country.’”

In Egypt, however, there is nothing “hidden” about the hand of Uncle Sam as he seeks to shape the post-Mubarak political order to this liking. Foreign patronage of the Egyptian “opposition” is relatively out in the open, while elsewhere the financial link between Washington and its overseas agents is more covert.

The new year is witnessing the ratcheting up of US efforts to hijack the “Arab Spring,” not only in Egypt – which will see the next round of parliamentary elections take place in a week – but in Syria as well. The last bastion of Ba’athist secular rule in the region has been rocked by anti-government riots, with groups of well-armed men taking on the Syrian military and hundreds killed and wounded in violent street demonstrations. What’s interesting is that we hear much about the latter in the Western media, while the former is downplayed or not reported at all.

As the intensity of the anti-Syrian propaganda war picks up in the “mainstream” media – which focuses on alleged atrocities committed by government forces while maintaining a soft focus on the violence of armed rebel groups – the news that the Obama administration is making plans to intervene comes as no surprise. Indeed, the Americans are already intervening behind the scenes: the question is, will they come out in the open and call for “regime change”?

The Libyan intervention marked a turning point in US policy in the region, one aimed at utilizing the “Arab Spring” to maintain control of our formerly subservient client states, such as Egypt. Yet the effort is bound to fail due to the history of US support for Hosni Mubarak, who ruled with an iron fist – and with Washington’s unambiguous support – for decades. Do the bureaucrats in Washington really think spreading around a few million to Egypt’s cosmopolitan elite is going to win over Egypt’s millions, who remember – and resent – our real record?

The much touted “soft power” option isn’t just a waste of money, it also leads to the exact opposite of its intended result. Instead of buying good will, it generates hostility toward Americans – which is then used by our enemies to advance genuinely anti-American objectives under the rubric of nationalism. It is the old problem of “the ugly American,” who goes into a country with bundles of cash and an excess of hubris, convinced he’s making friends when he’s just sowing a fresh crop of enemies.

The US government has no business determining Egypt’s political future, and its clumsy efforts to do so are ridiculous on their face. What’s more, there’s no way to make this “soft power” campaign less clumsy because the whole notion that liberal democracy can somehow be implanted by a foreign power is false – and any attempt to do so can only result in some pretty unpleasant “blowback.”

The US campaign to shape the Middle East underscores the principle of continuity in our foreign policy. The Bush administration undertook a project to “transform” the entire region, and utilized as its chief means the military option: sponsoring the Iraqi National Congress as the chief Iraqi “opposition” group, and then putting troops on the ground to achieve the final victory. The Obama administration is continuing this general strategy of “regime change,” albeit with a few minor tactical variations thrown into the mix: the deployment of “soft power” options, as in Egypt, as well as military aid to rebel groups (as in Libya and Syria).

In summing up the results of this Mideast campaign so far, I am reminded of nothing so much as the remarks of former LaRouche cultist-turned-neocon Laurent Murawiec, delivered to Bush’s Defense Policy Board in the summer of 2002. Among other seemingly fantastical propositions in his PowerPoint presentation, Murawiec projected the possibility of a US takeover of the Saudi oil fields, and – in a section devoted to “A Grandiose Strategy” – averred:

  • Iraq is the tactical pivot

  • Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot

  • Egypt the prize

The text of Murawiec’s 76-page speech wasn’t uncovered until recently, and the mystery about the exact meaning of “Egypt the prize” has been cleared up. Here is what Murawiec had to say about the future of Egypt:

“Mubarak’s ability to gyrate with the prevailing winds offers us the temptation of relying on his opportunism: why not let him crack down on the Islamists once we have terminated their power elsewhere, and benightedly allow him to stay in power without policies being changed—isn’t he our friend after all? That would be a sure recipe for disaster. The pivot of the Arab world is the most important one to transform in depth. Iraq may be described as the tactical pivot, the point of entry; Saudi Arabia as the strategic pivot; but Egypt, with its mass, its history, its prestige and its potential, is where the future of the Arab world will be decided. Egypt, then, in the new Middle Eastern environment created by our war, can start being reshaped.”

The neocons were way ahead of the Obamaites in 2002, but Hillary Clinton’s State Department is playing catch-up fast. The new year will see a renewed thrust of US power – “soft” and hard – into the most volatile region on earth, and the results are sure to be explosive.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].