By Stephen Gowans
Here’s New York Times reporter Mark Landler on Washington’s reaction to the popular uprising in Egypt against the anti-liberal democratic, human rights-abusing Hosni Mubarak, a “staunch ally.”
Washington is “proceeding gingerly, balancing the democratic aspirations of young Arabs with cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests.”
In other words, democracy and human rights are fine, but not when strategic and commercial interests are at stake.
Landler goes on to say that Washington’s cold-eyed commitment to realpolitik and profits “sometimes involves supporting autocratic and unpopular governments — which has turned many of those young people against the United States.”
Well, there’s nothing amiss in Landler’s observation except his downplaying of the frequency with which Washington supports autocratic and unpopular governments – often rather than sometimes.
In Landler’s account of strategic thinking in Washington, it’s all right to support an “upheaval in Tunisia, a peripheral player in the region,” but a “wave of upheaval could uproot valuable allies.” And profits and strategic position demand the possibility be blocked.
After all, the “Egyptian government is a crucial ally to Washington.” And so arrests without charge, including of nearly 500 bloggers, will continue, with Washington maintaining a principled non-interference in Egyptian affairs.
Washington will also continue to tolerate the repressive national emergency law, as it has done since 1981. The law provides the legal cover Washington’s “staunch ally” needs to “arrest people without charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, limit freedom of expression and assembly, and maintain a special security court.” Because this is done in the service of safeguarding US strategic and commercial interests, Mubarak gets US military aid, diplomatic support, and an easy ride in the US media.
Compare that to US treatment of Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe. Even if all the allegations against him were true – and they’re not — the government in Harare wouldn’t come close to matching Mubarak’s disdain for the democratic and human rights values Washington claims to hold dear.
And yet Zimbabwe is deemed by the US president to be a grave threat to US foreign policy, its president denounced as a strongman and dictator, and its people subjected to economic warfare in the form of financial sanctions, while Mubarak is hailed as a staunch ally who must be supported against the democratic aspirations of the Arab street.
The key to this duplicity is that Mubarak has sold out Egypt to US profit and strategic interests, while Mugabe has sought to rectify the historical iniquities of colonialism. Clearly, from Washington’s perspective, Mugabe is serving the wrong interests. Indigenous farmers don’t count. Western investors do.
One wonders where overthrow specialist Peter Ackerman and his stable of nonviolent warrior academic advisors come down on this — on the side of the democratic aspirations of young Arabs or reconciled to the cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests of US corporations and wealthy individuals?
The question, however, may be beside the point. What matters is not whether Ackerman’s janissary Lester Kurtz wants to spout Gandhian bromides to angry Egyptian youths, but whether there’s money to organize and boost the revolutionary energy of the street and how much is being poured into a repressive apparatus to shut it down.
Andrew Albertson and Stephen McInerney (Don’t give up on Egypt,” Foreignpolicy.com, June 2009) have the answer.
The Obama administration has drastically scaled back its financial support for Egyptian activists fighting for political reform. US democracy and governance funding was slashed by 60 percent. From 2004 to 2009, the US spent less than $250M on democracy programs, but $7.8 billion on aid to the Egyptian military.
But even this imbalance overstates the meager support Washington has offered pro-democracy forces. Given Mubarak’s status as a paladin of US commercial and strategic interests, much of Washington’s democracy program spending has probably been allocated to programs that act as a safety valve to divert anger and frustration into safe, non-threatening avenues. Money available to facilitate a real challenge to Mubarak is likely either meager or nonexistent.
With the US establishment vexed by cold-eyed concerns about the need to safeguard imperialist interests against pro-democratic uprisings, champion of nonviolent democracy activism Stephen Zunes can give up whatever dreams he may have had about helping to organize an Egyptian color revolution. When it comes to real democracy, and freedom that counts, the funding cupboard is bare. Color revolutions are for cold-eyed promoters of US strategic and commercial interests, not upheavals against US-backed compradors.
13 thoughts on “New York Times: Democracy is Bad for US Foreign Policy”
more evidence of Freedom Houses role in the ‘revolution’:
‘The most interesting part of 08CAIRO2371 is perhaps this section:
(SBU) The group included bloggers, journalists, activists from secular opposition parties such as El-Ghad and the Democratic Front Party and movements such as “Kifaya” and “April 6. A lawyer for the group confirmed that a French activist was among the detainees. Some of the detainees are participants in Freedom House’s “New Generation” program which provides training for young activists. One member of the group departed for Washington January 18 to participate in a Project on Middle East Democracy program. Contacts confirmed that activist and El-Ghad party member Israa Abdel Fattah was also part of the group. (Note: Abdel Fattah was the subject of headlines in April 2008 when she was arrested and detained for 17 days after her call for an April 6 general strike on Facebook attracted almost 70,000 members (ref B). Following her release, she renounced her activities in a television interview, and has remained out of public view until now. End note.)
The “New Generation” program is “supported by funds from the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).” It has provided Egyptian fellows the opportunity to work with Americans and “hone” skills so they can become “social and political reformers.”
The program is essentially a pro-democracy initiative, the kind of initiative that Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed was behind the “green revolution” which almost prevented him from staying in power after a possibly fraudulent election.
a reminder that Freedom House knows nothing about Freedom:
‘Venezuela is ranked Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2010 and Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties.’
in fact its almost totally free..free of US control.
‘David Kramer is the Executive Director of Freedom House. He said Shaimaa’s name does not appear in any training program for democracy promotion, and Freedom House training is on democracy promotion not overthrowing governments.’
whats the difference?
FREEDOM HOUSE described in Wired article as a ‘human rights organiastion; is on the prowl on facebook:
speaking of a facebook page:
‘“They were the main organizers on Facebook of the January 25 protests,” explains Sherif Mansour of the human-rights organization Freedom House, a constant visitor to the page. “They promoted the [initial] event widely and managed to get it to over one million people. They also were the central location for organization, instruction, sharing information and sharing materials could be printed out and distributed by hand.”
Is this the same Freedom House associated with Colour revolution specialist Peter Ackerman? and are the egyptian revolutionaries aware of this? what is his link to events in Egypt?
A couple of interesting analyses on the geopolitics behind the Egyptian revolts.
Whatever the USA is up to, it certainly cannot be politically trusted at any level.
Egypt’s Revolution: Creative Destruction for a ‘Greater Middle East’?
Click to access Creative%20Destruction%20Washington%20Style.pdf
Egypt Riots: US Playing Both Sides?
Stephen, you asked: “I didn’t quite grasp either what you meant when you wrote that “A few days ago they lobbied the Egyptian government to release Mohamud ElBaradi…” Release him — from where?” here is what I read: http://allafrica.com/stories/201101280853.html
you wrote: “You say the “White House needs to maintain a stance of plausible deniability just in case the revolt isn’t successful.” You mean that Washington engineered the revolt through a third party so that it could plausibly deny it had a role in the uprising? That then suggests that Washington wants Mubarak overthrown. Why? I could understand it wanting to see Mubarak replaced in an orderly fashion that preserves its influence in Egypt, but an uprising is hardly orderly and brings with it many uncertainties.” this is an idea I am considering, but I’m certainly not saying I’m right. if you think about it, the idea isn’t entirely implausible, either, to assume that the US would be so bold as to achieve a new political reality by destroying an old one. in this case the consequences would be devastating, a situation that begs to be thought out logically to see if it has merit. I am still moving the pieces around in my brain, trying to determine what makes the most sense.
which gets me to your paragraph here: “I’m also not so sure about what point you’re trying to make. Is it that Washington has engineered the uprising and has done so through a former Egyptian police officer who is pulling the strings from his low rent Virginia apartment relying on nothing more than internet and wireless connections and home-made Youtube videos?” actually my “point” was to merely give the information to you, let you figure it out in your own way. I had previously read your articles on Ackerman & Sharp, and figured that you could look at the information, see what to make of it, use it if you’d like. as for myself, I haven’t come to any immobile conclusions about Egypt. but I can say this: I try to never discount a piece of “evidence” or “political phenomena” (or however you want to label that article) just because it doesn’t agree with my thinking at any given moment. whether I should take it seriously; or how I interpret it; this is a matter yet to be determined.
lastly, you may be right when you write “If I had to guess I’d say the role of the ICNC, NED and other “democracy” promoters in Egypt is to establish a presence among the activist community with the aim of channeling its energies and any mass mobilization for change away from what ICNC academic advisor Stephen Zunes calls “terrorism and extremist politics” into pluralist democracy.” but that hypothesis assumes what may or may not be true, which is that the US foreign policy establishment wants stability in Egypt. it certainly appears the US (and Israel) want stability, which would probably rule out the notion of the US as a catalyst of revolt. along these lines, I think that, in most cases, this “democracy-promotion” stuff is aimed at using democratic reforms and free market policies to open up countries to massive amounts of looting by power brokers with tremendous advantages in capital, political and legal resources. if the US is, as you say, “channeling” the revolt, it would appear that this would be the direction the US would try and take it. within this framework, do you not think there could be advantages to replacing a well-entrenched bloated bureaucracy, with definite lines of political demarcation set between Mubarak and his foreign backers, an attempt to get a better deal? and if so, how would such a plan be achieved, replacing an ally of 30 years, head of an Islamic country, a keystone to the political balance of the entire region? I realize it seems crazy. much of the global political reality is.
I’m not so sure about my analysis either, but I suspect what I’m not sure about is not the same as what you’re not sure about.
I’m also not so sure about what point you’re trying to make. Is it that Washington has engineered the uprising and has done so through a former Egyptian police officer who is pulling the strings from his low rent Virginia apartment relying on nothing more than internet and wireless connections and home-made Youtube videos?
I didn’t quite grasp either what you meant when you wrote that “A few days ago they lobbied the Egyptian government to release Mohamud ElBaradi…” Release him — from where?
A final question. You say the “White House needs to maintain a stance of plausible deniability just in case the revolt isn’t successful.” You mean that Washington engineered the revolt through a third party so that it could plausibly deny it had a role in the uprising? That then suggests that Washington wants Mubarak overthrown. Why? I could understand it wanting to see Mubarak replaced in an orderly fashion that preserves its influence in Egypt, but an uprising is hardly orderly and brings with it many uncertainties.
If I had to guess I’d say the role of the ICNC, NED and other “democracy” promoters in Egypt is to establish a presence among the activist community with the aim of channeling its energies and any mass mobilization for change away from what ICNC academic advisor Stephen Zunes calls “terrorism and extremist politics” into pluralist democracy.
While pluralist democracy would provide some latitude for Egyptians to pursue their own interests at the expense of US commercial, banking and strategic interests, its weakness is that it gives those with the most money to spend on lobbying, the media and election campaigns an enormous influence over the process — from Washington’s perspective, not as good as a Mubarak dictatorship, but better than nationalists or socialists coming to power.
No, my surmise is that Washington’s attempt to influence the anti-Mubarak opposition with NED and other funding is defensive and not offensive. It wasn’t looking to make a revolution, only to guide it if one arose.
Stephen, I’m not so sure about your analysis of the Egyptian revolt against Mubarak, but, in any case, you should read the following article about the role of an exiled former Egyptian police officer now working with the National Endowment for Democracy. The article claims that this one man, exiled in Falls Church Virginia, successfully organized the first demonstration in Egypt last tuesday, and that he has been giving ongoing strategic advice to the protesters. This might help answer your question about where Peter Ackerman and his strategic change cronies stand.
Another point worth mentioning is the involvement of the so-called International Crisis Group, an organization with George Soros, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Stephen Solarz, Dougles Schoen and Joannne Leedom-Ackerman (in other words, Peter Ackerman) on the Board of Directors. A few days ago they lobbied the Egyptian government to release Mohamud ElBaradi, the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and obvious establishment choice to lead a post-Mubarak government toward a democratic election. By reading the Council on Foreign Relations website’s “recommended reading list” one could conclude that planning for this (regime-change) eventuality has been going on for some time.
Personally, what I am getting from the Western corporate media is overwhelming support for the overthrow of Mubarak, it’s just that strategically the White House needs to maintain a stance of plausible deniability just in case the revolt isn’t successful. In other words, this is a central reason why the foreign policy infrastructure has been “privatized,” taken over by the foundation complex and the NGOs. That way, the US administration can choose exactly when to (publicly) manifest what has been their desire all along. Privatization of the vast Egyptian bureaucracy all under the cover of democratic reform.
America rarely puts all its political eggs in one basket.
The USA will support many different political forces in its client states–including authoritarian rulers, the military-intelligence apparatus, and even certain “opposition” civil society groups that serve its interests.
And America will have no qualms about dumping a Washington-backed ruler, when he is no longer considered an asset.
Manuel Noriega, Ferdinand Marcos, and to an extent Saddam Hussein are all examples of America-sponsored strongmen who were summarily disposed of when they were no longer useful to US imperialism.
With respect to Egypt, the USA has backed Hosni Mubarak’s regime (and repression) for 30 some years. Now, however, the USA seems to increasingly consider Mubarak a political liability and has been working behind the scenes to position its puppets-in-waiting as the next ruler in case that Mubarak is no longer viable.
Possible USA-groomed successors include spy chief Omar Suleiman or Mohamed ElBaradei.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the political opposition in Egypt is not monolithic, as it most likely has many different factions at odds with each other. Some may be more Leftist or nationalist in nature, while others are Islamic-based, and others more pro-Western/American with even covert US sponsorship.
The American agenda ultimately is to manipulate, shape, and contain the protests in Egypt (and elsewhere) so as to continue the same basic geopolitical and economic policies there–but with a new political mask.
As such, the imperialist media will promote certain pro-USA political figures and groups as the “legitimate” opposition, while marginalizing or demonizing other groups who oppose the USA.
In short, it’s about advancing the same fundamental policies behind the illusion of change.
Meet the new boss.
Same as the old boss–or so Washington hopes.
Indeed, this gambit is evocative of another example of political change that wasn’t: Barack “Change That You Can Believe In” Obama.
The question is whether this political game will work, or will the Egyptian and Tunisian masses have a few political surprises for the USA.
Egypt. Rude Awakening! Revolution or Regime Change?
The CIA’s Role in Egypt’s Regime Change? Who Is Omar Suleiman?
The Protest Movement in Egypt: “Dictators” do not Dictate, They Obey Orders
Egypt protests: America’s secret backing for rebel leaders behind uprising
Washington’s Plan B: Why Obama Fears Democracy in Egypt
Things Have To Change In Order To Remain The Same
US pursues two-track policy to suppress protests in Egypt and Tunisia
WikiLeaks cable shows close US ties with new Egyptian vice president
Washington facing the ire of the Tunisian people
Your assessment on the leaked cable comes strictly from the bourgeois press. Who, I might add, have distorted known cable leaks before, such as the “Iran-NKorea missile swap” story. That was bogus. Just as the “China vs. NKorea” story was bogus as well.
Well, the “US funds Egypt opposition” story is somewhat bogus. Here’s the actual leaked cable:
Now, let’s look at the last paragraph:
“Comment: xxxxxxxxxxxx offered no roadmap of concrete steps toward April 6’s highly unrealistic goal of replacing the current regime with a parliamentary democracy prior to the 2011 presidential elections. Most opposition parties and independent NGOs work toward achieving tangible, incremental reform within the current political context, even if they may be pessimistic about their chances of success. xxxxxxxxxxxx wholesale rejection of such an approach places him outside this mainstream of opposition politicians and activists.”
So what does this tell us? If we are to point out keywords here; such as outside the mainstream, unrealistic, and incremental reform; we then realize that, despite contacts between the US and some Egyptian opposition groups during the April 6 movement, the US didn’t consider them, all-in-all, useful, nor worth in contact with.
what to make of this?
For the last three years, the US government secretly provided aid to the leaders behind this week’s social uprising in Egypt aimed to topple the government of President Hosni Mubarak, according to a leaked diplomatic cable.
One of the young Egyptian leaders who attended a summit for activists in New York with the help of the US embassy in Cairo was detained when he returned to Egypt, the memo released by Wikileaks said.
The Daily Telegraph reported Friday that it and the secrets outlet were both hiding the identity of this young Egyptian leader. He was arrested in connection with this week’s demonstrations.
The leaked document indicates that the US government was publicly supporting Mubarak’s government while privately backing opposition groups.
off topic but FYI:
the master races think they can do wha they like…in this case, we have zionists doing what the nazis did: stealing other peoples property…The jews got their property back….will the palestinians see their books returned?
‘Concurrently, U.S. experts (as well as Serbian and German) were detailed to Tunisia to channel the insurrection. Exploiting the collective emotional wave, they attempted to plant their slogans during the demonstrations. Attuned to the techniques of the so-called “coloured revolutions”, fashioned by the Albert Einstein Institution of Gene Sharp , they shone the spotlight on the dictator to forestall a debate on the country’s political future: “Ben Ali, out”