The Disaster That Is, Was, and Continues to be U.S. Policy Toward Egypt

To say the United States’ foreign policy moves concerning Egypt over the past three decades have been questionable is a colossal understatement.  A better description is that it was awful to begin and is now disastrous after the overthrow of former dictator Mubarak.  The entire situation is a mess and there seems to be little hope of it resolving in the near future.

In the lead-up to Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Egypt this weekend, a Washington Post article touched on many of the points from the American government’s point of view.  To start, a big problem in this relationship is the fact the U.S. supported Mubarak so heavily for so long and the Egyptian people did not take to kindly to that when given the chance to speak.  They don’t like it that so much aid was given to the Egyptian military under Mubarak by the U.S. and now wants America to change tactics.  Which it has rhetorically by doing the following: supporting the Egyptian military and denouncing the democratically elected leader.

“Egypt’s military is our friend,” (Senator James M.) Inhofe said in a statement explaining his bill. “Morsi is our enemy.”

As we all know, one of the best ways to conduct foreign policy is to call the leader of a country you are trying to deal with “our enemy”.  That way the leader then knows they will likely get nowhere in negotiating with you and will look to other countries for policy choices when needed.  This is a textbook example of how to calmly and coolly make friends around the world.  Or is it how to make the situation worse?  Yep, that’s it.

It continues:

“I would hate to see American weapons, sophisticated F-16s, being used against Israel,” (Rep. Juan) Vargas said in an interview. “We’ve seen historically, it could happen again, especially with the radicalization of Egypt.”

Yes, because American weapons falling into the hands of someone using it against Israel (also armed with American weapons) would be bad.  No reason for Egyptians to be upset there.  Unless they read a follow-up article on the Kerry visit:

U.S. officials said Kerry planned to stress the importance of upholding Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel, cracking down on weapons smuggling to extremists in the Gaza Strip.

In other words, it is acceptable and even normal policy for the U.S. to arm one side of the struggle between Israel and Palestine but no one is allowed to arm the other side.  Because who is interested in anything resembling a fair fight in which Israel might have to eventually negotiate on equal terms with Palestinians over statehood.  No hypocrisy here as long as the blatant hypocrisy is completely ignored.

But why would Egyptians be mad at the United States when both military and development aid have continued to flow in the post-Mubarak era.  The U.S. would want to continue to show its caring hand in the country by giving aid in both areas to the newly created democracy…right?  Nope.

Further complicating matters is Washington’s development aid package, which has been frozen for the better part of the post-revolutionary period, largely because Cairo has resisted efforts by the United States to get involved in democratic reform initiatives.

Do we even need to speculate as to why the Egyptians might be a little reluctant to have U.S. intervention in their political process?  Only the most dense would wonder about this position.

It is pretty obvious to the Egyptian people Washington is not helping Egypt to spread democracy or for humanitarian purposes.  Our interest is strategic and we will further that by supporting whoever will help us in that area, regardless of who the are.

Ensuring that Cairo continues to adhere to the terms of the deal, which is explosively unpopular on the Egyptian street, is the Obama administration’s leading incentive to continue the aid. But the United States has other interests, including continued naval access to the Suez Canal, which connects the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean.

Pretty simple.  Get the oil through and everything is okay.  I mean, if we cared about, say, human rights, would we have used Egypt for renditions of terror suspects so they could be tortured by Mubarak’s thugs?  Hard to argue otherwise.

All of these problems are occurring while protests continue in Egypt over the current powers-that-be, Morsi’s administration.  But the good news is we have declared Morsi “our enemy” and the protesters would be on our side for doing that.  And they have declared there happiness towards us by…not showing up for the Kerry visit, as stated in the article.  They also had some words and symbolic actions for us:

“It is clear that nothing has changed in Washington’s shallow way of dealing with Egypt,” he (an opposition leader, Ahmed Maher) said. “There are no deep conversations.”…Before the meeting, several hundred people protested against Kerry’s visit. They burned Kerry’s pictures and chanted that Washington was siding with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Again, this situation is a mess but it is apparent the United States is reaping what it sowed by supporting a ruthless dictator like Mubarak for three decades.  There is no simple solution to remedy this relationship and it will be no surprise if Egyptian angst toward the American government continues for the foreseeable future.

Obama’s Style and The Arab Spring

A good piece in the NYT on Obama’s character traits and how they have influenced his handling of the Arab Spring.

Read Here.

Interesting Release From the State Department

A short press release was issued by the State Department today regarding a very small amount of funding ($1.5 million) going toward the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for the countries of Jordan, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia.  The statement has some interesting tidbits but one short sentence in this statement was particularly fascinating:

Other donors will fund the OECD project in Egypt.

Hmm.  Looks like someone isn’t too interested in U.S. support anymore.  The reason for others donating to Egypt and not the U.S. was not given but I’m assuming the Egyptians have decided they have received enough ‘help’ from America over the past few decades and aren’t too keen on wanting much more.  In fact, this could be the big difference between Libya accepting these funds and Egypt wanting them to come from other countries.  The U.S. at least denounced Libya’s brutal dictator, Gaddafi, more profoundly (even while working with him) compared to America’s almost unending support for former Egyptian dictator, Mubarak.  The Egyptian people clearly have long memories when it comes to who helped keep the previous regime in power and do not want that same U.S. intervention in the new political era.

Another point of this release is worth noting:

(One aspect of the project will focus on) helping to increase women’s participation in policy making as well as reaching out to other underrepresented groups and potential change-makers.

Improving the standing of women is certainly a noble cause and worth commending.  Helping underrepresented groups…well that depends.  We’ve done that in the past in the interest of working with the group most likely to play ball with the U.S. regardless of how ferocious they might be.  Take Saddam Hussein.  His relationship with the U.S. prior to the Gulf War is no secret at this point and he was a minority in his country.  Obviously, he was not underrepresented once he was in power but this is about who we support when they are minorities in their homelands.  As a Sunni Muslim, Hussein was a part of roughly one-third of the Iraqi population while Shia Muslims make up most of the remaining majority.  We supported a minority group in Iraq and many people paid dearly for that, ourselves included in the end.  Let’s hope for better judgement on who we support in that respect.

One last irony in this statement is the State Department’s concern for making sure the governments in these countries are open and their actions are transparent to their people.  Really?!  So I guess the U.S. government really had no problem with those Wikileaks releases over the past few years because they are all for openness and transparency in governing.

Correction.  They are for ‘openness and transparency’ by the U.S. government’s definition and not by the actual definition of those words.

Whether it’s Egypt or America, Biased News is Bad for All

The opening line of this article from the CSM speaks for itself:

Last week, Egypt’s state-owned newspaper Al Ahram helped kick up an international storm with a bit of dodgy journalism: It ran an opinion piece by Amr Abdel Samea, a former loyalist of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, that stated that Mervat el-Tallawy, the head of Egypt’s National Council for Women, had complained that Egypt’s parliament was considering a piece of legislation sponsored by Islamists to allow men to have sex with their wives after their death.

We find out now there never was a piece of legislation suggesting this and the whole story was a hoax perpetrated by one media organization trying to publish stories harming the people they do not want to see in power as Egypt makes its way into a new democratic government.  The problem here is that the truth is too late and the damage has likely been done.

Will this be exceedingly devastating to Egypt in the long run?  Probably not and no reason to overstate its significance.  But the fact remains, propaganda works and the people who know this better than anyone would be the folks in the media.  They understand all that is needed is a seed to be planted among the public no matter how ridiculous the claims they are making seem to be.  Irrational people and conspiracy theorists will do the rest.

When the news organizations do not question the outrageous claims of authority figures thoroughly, society will typically suffer.  News organizations, in the interest of beating their competitors to the punch nowadays, do not investigate these claims as they should and sometimes report them as facts (i.e. the absurd notion of death panels in the U.S. health care reform).  When they later realize their mistake, they make a small note of it then move on in order to reduce the embarrassment, pending of course that they have enough respect for their audience to admit their mistakes in the first place.  But in the end they know propaganda still works.

America is no exception.  One of the most startling cases of this happened just a decade ago:

Polling data show that right after Sept. 11, 2001, when Americans were asked open-ended questions about who was behind the attacks, only 3 percent mentioned Iraq or Hussein. But by January of this year(2003), attitudes had been transformed. In a Knight Ridder poll, 44 percent of Americans reported that either “most” or “some” of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens. The answer is zero.

In short, at one point virtually everyone knew the truth.  Less than a year and a half later, nearly half of the country believed a lie.  We all know the reason for this so no reason to delve into the Bush administration’s actions at this time.

The ultimate point here is to just be skeptical.  If a claim is made or something is read that seems unbelievable, even if that claim is made by someone with a fancy sounding title, be skeptical first and believe it once you are sure it is true.  Or at least as sure as we can be…