Egypt’s Tiananmen

Sen. Rand Paul’s bill to cut off US aid to Egypt certainly was prescient, wasn’t it? The bill failed in the Senate, 86 to 13, on account of heavy lobbying by AIPAC, the pro-Israel advocacy group which packs a powerful punch on Capitol Hill. To those unlettered in the intricacies of American foreign policy, this may seem counterintuitive: after all, why would a pro-Israel group lobby on behalf of giving $1.5 billion a year to a regime that has been a fulcrum of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in the region, and whose major political actors – all of them – are profoundly opposed to Israel’s very existence?

The reason is simple: the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, in which the Egyptians agreed to recognize Israel, demilitarize the Sinai peninsula, and end their economic boycott of the Jewish state. Aside from providing Israel with a measure of basic security – having a nation of some 80 million potentially quite hostile people looming large on its border is an understandable cause for nervousness – the treaty also led to an informal regime of cooperation between the two countries, focused on keeping the Palestinians in check. Israel’s blockade of Gaza is mirrored by the Egyptian blockade, which keeps Gazans confined to their Israeli-made cage.

In short, the 1979 treaty is the diplomatic and military framework within which the Israelis can continue to pursue their expansionist and racist project of creating a "Greater Israel" at the Palestinians’ expense.

The pro-Israel media is busy whitewashing the worst massacre since Tiananmen Square. Michael Goldfarb’s "Washington Free Beacon" ran a piece by tired neocon hack Bill Gertz warning that if we refused to embrace Egypt’s murderous new rulers – who have killed hundreds in just a few days, and jailed many more – the Russians will be sending them military aid in our stead. Has anyone told "The Goldfarb," as he dubs himself on Twitter, that the Soviet Union is no more and the cold war is over? Guess not.

Murders? Jailings? Shooting a man carrying a wounded victim? The Goldfarb couldn’t care less – not when Israel’s interests are involved. Commentary, the Pravda of the pro-Israel crowd, editorialized that the elected government headed by President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown "by popular demand." The Foreign Policy Initiative, which replaced Bill Kristol’s Project for a New American Century as War Party Central, avers that, in the wake of the coup, "Egypt’s democratic experiment will take time to mature"!

What’s incredible to watch is the Obama administration taking its cues from this cavalcade of the morally blind, with newly-anointed Secretary of State John Kerry giving the bloody coup his blessings. In answer to a question about why Washington refused to call Morsi’s overthrow a coup, Kerry told a Pakistani television station:

"The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descendance [sic] into chaos, into violence. And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgement – so far. To run the country, there’s a civilian government. In effect, they were restoring democracy."

Yeah, "democracy" – as defined by the Obama administration, i.e. Bizarro-democracy, where freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, and a coup isn’t a coup, it’s a people’s revolution.

When it comes to the question of how to respond to the Egyptian events, the basic unity of the Washington crowd on the most basic foreign policy issues comes to the fore: neocons and Obamaites, rightists and leftists, in short all the Very Serious People Who Count in Washington are in agreement: we can’t cut off aid to Egypt because of the overriding concern of promoting "stability" in the region. This is code for ensuring Israel’s interests, and making sure those interests come first, over and above our own.

Make no mistake: the slaughter now taking place before the eyes of the world will blow back right in our faces, sooner rather than later. Footage coming out of the Egyptian bloodbath is a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda and its worldwide affiliates, a shot in the arm for a beleaguered and isolated organization that we were told was on the wane – at least, before it became politically convenient to portray them as a threat once again.

Egypt was the crucible in which the ideology of Al Qaeda, and its principal spokesmen, was formed: under the extreme repression practiced by Hosni Mubarak, the radicals split away from the more moderate elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, convinced the infidels would never let them take power peacefully. Now they can point to the massacres being carried out by the US-supported junta and crow that they were right.

In the internal deliberations of political Islam, Al Qaeda’s strategic argument has always been to point to the "far enemy," the United States, as the principal target, because it is the guarantor and protector of the "near enemy," i.e. the Saudis, the Egyptian Pinochet, and other US clients in the region. As fast as Kerry tried to walk back his "restore democracy" comments, the Muslim world needed very little convincing as to the sincerity of his original remarks. While Washington’s wonks speculate back and forth as to how much advance notice Washington had of the coup-that-isn’t-a-coup, the world’s Muslims know it couldn’t have happened without a green light from this administration – that is, if it wasn’t Washington’s idea in the first place.

Just how true this is will be the task of future historians to uncover, but in politics perception is everything, and so the truth of the matter is really quite irrelevant: millions of Muslims believe Washington is behind the coup, and that Kerry has confirmed this beyond the shadow of a doubt. (Leave it to the clueless Kerry to voice his opinion to a Pakistani media outlet, of all venues.)

The consequences of this perception are difficult to overstate: what it means is that the moderate Islamist project, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood’s bid to participate in free elections – which they won fair and square – is a failure. As a strategic perspective within political Islam, the peaceful road to power has been totally discredited – and the bin Ladenite strategy of aiming their main blow at the "far enemy" has been bolstered. Al Qaeda has only to point to Afghanistan, where the Taliban is in the process of defeating the mightiest military machine the world has ever known, for contrast.

In his insightful 2004 book, Imperial Hubris, former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer opened with these unforgettable lines:

"As I complete this book, U.S., British, and other coalition forces are trying to govern apparently ungovernable postwar states in Afghanistan and Iraq, while simultaneously fighting growing Islamist insurgencies in each – a state of affairs our leaders call victory. In conducting these activities, and the conventional military campaigns preceding them, US forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.”

When you look at the record in regard to Egypt, Scheuer’s startling contention is hard to argue with. First we stood with Mubarak against the people in the streets: Hillary Clinton, you’ll recall, extolled the old despot as a "friend of our family." When it became clear Mubarak was going to have to go, the US suddenly switched sides and threw Mubarak overboard. When Morsi won the election, Washington was all agog over the prospects for "democracy" in a country that has never experienced anything of the sort – and switched gears effortlessly when the military made its move.

In short, Washington has succeeded in making enemies of practically everyone in that beleaguered country: the secularists, the Islamists, the religious minorities, the democrats, etc. And yet we still pay tribute to the Egyptian government, a giveaway supported by the entire Washington Establishment, in order to preserve our "leverage." To what end this "leverage" is to be utilized no one seems to know – or want to say.

In part, US aid to Egypt is a pathetic attempt at "evenhandedness" in the region: it is meant to balance out the $3.5 billion-plus we hand over to the Israelis annually. The reality, however, is that the Egyptian aid should really be added to the Israeli total, since there would be no political imperative to support such aid absent pressure from the powerful Israel lobby, which actively campaigned against Sen. Rand Paul’s proposal to end it.

The horrific images of Egypt’s bloody crackdown are being seen all over the world, and to many they come with the following caption: Made in the USA.

This is what our foreign policy of global intervention has earned us: the hatred of millions, a few of whom are sure to show up on our shores with murder on their minds. Which is why we’re supposed to submit to a regime of universal surveillance, give up the Constitution, and trash the Bill of Rights – because our rulers won’t give up their delusions of global power.

This system is doomed: a bankrupt empire is a contradiction in terms. Yet imperial hubris doesn’t die easily: long after a declining power has reached the point of no return, its rulers insist on projecting the arrogant self-confidence of an earlier era. They have too much personally invested in this worldview to ever give it up: and it seems to be part of the local culture that the inhabitants of Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area have an inherent right to determine what goes on in the rest of the world.

The Washington conceit will die a hard death, but when it does go down it’s going to be quite a sight to see.

I can’t conclude this column without noting the big difference in the Western response to another massacre of equal scale to the Egyptian crackdown: in 1989, when Chinese troops moved against the protesters in Tiananmen Square, the Western media doted on the protesters for weeks, portraying them – in spite of much contrary evidence – as idealistic "pro-democracy" types who were mercilessly slaughtered at the hands of the Chicoms. Never mind that many carried banners glorifying the late Chairman Mao, and invoking the Maoist "Cultural Revolution" that plunged China into totalitarian darkness. The US government unequivocally denounced the attack on peaceful protesters, and US-China relations suffered a severe setback.

Yet Egypt’s Tiananmen has hardly evoked a similar display of moral preening on the part of the West: indeed, as our ridiculous Secretary of State revealed, we’re on the side of those who are doing the killing. Obama’s decision to cancel – really, postpone – scheduled joint US-Egyptian military exercises merely underscores the moral poverty of the American response. And where is the Western media, which swooned over the Tiananmen protesters, and yet finds it difficult to portray these "pro-democracy" protesters as anything other than religious sectarians intent on preserving their own power?


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You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, 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].