Cairo and the Impossibility of Intelligent Foreign Policy

Let’s see. We have a minor political dustup underway in London, in which some master diplomat on Top Gear, a British car show, said, “Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.” The Mexican ambassador was, like Queen Victoria, not amused.

Very well. I’ll take up cudgels in the battle of offensiveness. Two can play the game. How about, “England is a pathetic and usually wet has-been islet with delusions of significance, brandishing a bathtub navy like a moldering codpiece of shriveled content; its soldiers, sepoys of America; its government a puppet licking the boots of Washington like a decaying harem eunuch.”

So there, Top Gear. Nyah nyah nyah. Yer father’s mustache. Truth hurt?

Onward to grander themes. Egypt is in flames and I’m communing with a bottle of Padre Kino red while Long Dog Silver lies under my desk wondering whether I might eat something soon. She is the longest, lowest dog ever built. If she were any longer, she would need postal zones. I’m not sure what this has to do with Egypt, except that my wife and stepdaughter call her Africa.

Maybe I’m hallucinating. As we used to say, “Somebody musta put something in the drugs.” Huge crowds fill Cairo, said crowds speckled with tanks that aren’t killing the crowds. What’s this? In that part of the world, armies mostly exist to kill their own people. Soldiers are supposed to be uniformed assassins, murdering anyone they are told to murder: Afghans, Palestinians, Iraqis, Tibetans, East Timorese, Nanking-ese, and especially protesters. A military behaving decently? I’m confused.

By many things. Why does Egypt have tanks in the first place? She has nowhere to go with them. Tanks don’t float very well, and almost never fly, so you can use them only against countries with whom you have borders. Unless you have much more navy than Egypt does. So the choices are to fight Libya, Sudan, or Israel. The first two have no detectable military, and thus no need of being fought, and the third has too much. Actually, why does Egypt have an army at all?

The tanks come from Washington, which gives the Egyptian military, unneeded by Egypt, huge annual subsidies. (While people go hungry.) Why? Not to attack Libya and Sudan, which mostly just sit there, and certainly not to attack Israel, Congress being essentially a subcommittee of the Knesset. Anyway, it wouldn’t work.

So, obvious as zits on a prom queen, Washington is paying the Egyptian military to kill Egyptians to keep them in line. But something is wrong. The soldiers aren’t doing it. It’s weird.Even Long Dog Silver would see this, if she weren’t hoping to cadge potato chips.

I’m not sure that even in Mexico there is enough Padre Kino to make sense of Egypt. As always, the U.S. was caught flat-footed. Why do our wretchedly incompetent intelligence (sic) agencies never see anything coming? The NSA couldn’t predict sunrise if you gave it an almanac.

Isn’t the first duty of a spy agency to tell the president the likely consequences of a given policy, and to have some faint idea of what goes on in the world? (No, it’s to tell him what he wants to hear, but I’m pretending.)

Reflect that the spooks did not notice that the USSR (the central object of their study) was about to collapse, or that Vietnam might turn into a long, losing war (presumably not having noticed Dien Bien Phu), or that invading Muslim countries might prove vexatious (being unaware of Russia in Afghanistan or Israel in Palestine), or that Egypt was about to blow. What do these guys do all day? Doubtless we pay them for something. I’m just not sure what.

I suggest Long Dog Silver as director of Central Intelligence. She is bright, perky, and does no harm, other than occasionally chasing the cats. Maybe we should give Langley some cats.

Why, you might ask, do the intelligence agencies prove so bad at knowing things? Don’t spooks have high Boards and come from pricey universities?

Yes. But you have to understand that people are not born stupid. They have to work at it. When they come from similar backgrounds, and work in semi-isolated bureaucracies with distinct ideologies that don’t match how the world really works, you get bright, dedicated idiots. Have you ever actually met people from the State Department? They are the stiffest, whitest parsnips alive, often went to private schools with names like Crouton and Choake, OK for drinking wine with governmental officials but never spent time in Willy Bob’s not-so-safe pool hall or in back alleys in, say, Cairo. Where do you think most of the world lives? The protesters come from?

Similarly, generals can’t win wars because they live in an imaginary world of martial ardor and excessive order that doesn’t correlate with Quang Tri or Helmand.

Now, as Egypt unfolds, or -ravels, or whatever it is doing, Washington prattles of its love of democracy. We hear much of this from Hillary Clinton, whose qualifications as secretary of state are that she is a Democrat. Hillary, nice Wellesley girl, retired housewife, and former First Basilisk, says that Egypt must heed the people. She believes, or thinks she believes, or says that she thinks she believes, in the need for liberalization. The very mollusks of the earth must find this laughable, though it plays well in the heartland. What Washington wants most is a return to stable dictatorship.

It’s simple enough for garden ants and some intellectuals to get it: Most of the world hates us because we meddle where we shouldn’t, engender bloody revolutions, and impose every penny-ante Stalin we can scratch up. If you have democracy in countries where everyone hates you, you get governments that hate you. Thus you can’t want democracy. You have to want obedient brutal dictators with torture chambers. It’s what we always want, and usually get. This makes people hate us even more. Round and round we go.

The approach succeeds as long as you are strong enough to work opponents over with a length of pipe and keep them terrified. Them days is going the way of slide rules and woolly mammoths. Methinks the Pentagon had better come up with a ball bat, or hope Mubarak does, because if Washington can’t crush the Egyptian population one way or another, American influence in the Mideast, and by extension everywhere else, is going to wither fast. Getting run out of Afghanistan will complete bin Laden’s program in which Washington cooperates so effectively.

It doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Me and Long Dog Silver, we’re going for potato chips.