Sunday, February 6, 2011


As events in Egypt continue to unfold, the United States finds itself in the middle of a Catch 22 of its own making. On the one hand, we supported and encouraged dictators and despots throughout the Middle East in the name of "stability". At the same time, we justified starting wars and invading countries because we wanted to spread freedom and democracy throughout the region. At one time stability meant denying client states to the Soviet Union and later it meant preventing the rise of fundamentalist Islam and reduces threats to Israel. These authoritarian governments ruled with an iron hand and became increasingly corrupt. Political prisoners were common. Economically, most were not progressing and new generations were growing up in poverty and full of resentment with no political freedom to redress their grievances.

Within these closed societies resistance took many forms. One of the most common was led by religious leaders. In Poland, the Catholic Church was the source of political resistance to communism with Pope John Paul II recognizing the Solidarity movement and leading the breakup of Eastern Europe. In the Middle East, Islam has incubated nascent resistance movements. When the Shah of Iran was at the height of his power, the Ayatollah Khomeini was exiled to France, but continued to agitate for political change. In Egypt, Lebanon, Gaza and elsewhere, Islamic groups provided social services, addressing the needs of the poor in lieu of the government and continued to agitate for political reform. Leaders were imprisoned and tortured and exiled while the issues they addressed were ignored by corrupt leaders. In Tunisia, Egypt and Iran, for example, leaders, propped up by the US, got rich as their people struggled in abject poverty. In each case, the situation became unsustainable. In the era of the Internet and Facebook and Twitter, the dissatisfaction can spread quickly just waiting for a spark. Pressure mounts to drive the corrupt regime from power. The United States is forced to decide between continuing to support the dictator or support the people's desire for freedom.

In Iran, Tunisia and now Egypt, the United States outwardly welcomed democratic movements. Internally, however, the debate is furious. Regressives call for support for the dictator sighting the rise of extremist Islamic movements as an inevitable result of a power vacuum. Progressives want to support the people. However, whether it's Alexander Kerensky vs. Lenin or the democratic forces in Iran vs. the Ayatollah, we know who usually wins. The side that is most organized, most ruthless and has some popular support will win any election. Just look at what happened in Gaza and the victory of Hamas. (President Bush had called for free elections and then refused to recognize the results)

Catch 22 is alive and well. Because we have sacrificed the principles of freedom and democracy, because we are willing to look the other way as corruption and repression grow, because we didn't press the need for human rights reform, by the time the revolution comes, we have no leverage and no credibility and no way to influence events on the ground. If there are elections in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood will do very well. Why? Because they are the face of resistance, because they have provided social services, because they are organized and because they are vilified by the United States which means they must be doing something right in the eyes of the average Egyptian.

There are calls now on regressive talk radio, Hanbaugh and company, and regressive think tanks and even in Congress, for the US to directly negotiate with the Egyptian military. Promise to continue to provide them with money and spare parts in return for their agreement to keep the Muslim Brotherhood from any future elections. This would be a public relations disaster and would fail to marginalize the Brotherhood. The elections would be tainted and seen as rigged. The great bastion of democracy, the US, would be thwarting the will of the people. Hypocrite would be one of the milder terms used and the Muslim Brotherhood would increase its influence.

Ah Catch 22...if we support the ouster of Mubarak and free and fair elections, the possibility of a new government opposed to Israel and our own strategic needs is quite possible. If we support the military and set up rigged elections, our credibility in the Muslim world is damaged even worse than the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and eventually the people will rise up and install a government opposed to us even if it's not in their own best interests. The law of unintentional consequences is alive and well.

We can hope for a transition government perhaps led by Mohammed El Baradei, which will allow enough time for various political factions to organize and oppose the Brotherhood. One thing is clear. We have little to no influence over events unless we want to install another repressive government and there is no guarantee it would succeed. We lost that influence the day we sacrificed principle for short-term political gain. Do you think we will ever get tired of being bitten in the collective national ass because of morally bankrupt foreign policies that trade our principles for "stability"? What do you think?

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