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Eyeless in Gaza (And Elsewhere)
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I am having a great deal of difficulty in understanding what is wrong about what is occurring in Egypt. “Lost the Middle East,” hell, we lost it forty years ago when we starting adopting policies that were contrary to what most people in the region considered to be reasonable.

Egyptians are rising up because they want to be able to have leaders who represent them rather than foreign interests. Sounds good to me and there was a document back in 1776 that said pretty much the same thing and did not have a caveat about one’s having to be a Christian to aspire to such. Is an Egyptian peasant less a human being than I, “all men created equal?” Is an Egyptian some unthinking beast who, lacking an Ivy League education, cannot possibly understand the fine distinctions that I hear incessantly on television from the American “experts” who explain what is going on on the streets of Cairo?

Now what will happen if Mubarak goes (Inshallah!) and there are eventually elections in which the Muslim Brotherhood wins. By all accounts they are relatively moderate and are unlikely to declare war on any of their neighbors. They do not threaten the United States. They are unlikely to close the Suez Canal as they need the income. So? What are they going to do? They might hold the popular referendum they have promised that will reverse the peace agreement with Israel, but if they were to become belligerent Israel could squash them in short order. I have seen one pundit suggest that they could use their large army to seize Saudi Arabia’s oil fields, but does anyone really consider that a possibility? Any new Egyptian government will be confronted with the same problems confronting the old Egyptian government, namely feeding the people, though hopefully with less corruption that will make the feeding process more equitable. Most governments in the second and third world manage to muddle along without declaring war on all their neighbors, particularly when they don’t feel threatened by the sole remaining superpower. Get it? Leave them alone and they will leave us alone and will hopefully sort out their own problems. There is a persistent strain of punditry in the US that thinks that we know better than anyone else when it comes to the proper ordering of the universe, but it is clear we don’t. We have effed up repeatedly in the past fifty years. Every time I hear Hillary speak it is like the proverbial fingernails going across a blackboard and if I were an Egyptian I would wonder who the hell authorized you to tell me and my people what to do?

So praytell, if anyone on TAC can tell me why we should be talking about losing anything and why we should feel we have to get engaged to “moderate” Egypt’s development to produce a correct outcome, please enlighten me.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Egypt 
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  1. Fran says:

    I’m 100% with you on this one. I’ve never accepted the US’s “well he may be a dictator but at least he’s OUR dictator” support of horrible, violent and repressive regimes just because they are allies. I may be naive but this never sits well with me and it never works well in the long run (Pinochet came back to bite us in the butt). And the reverse vilification of a non-ally (Chavez comes to mind) who was elected but not US -friendly. It just seems so hypocritical and CS.

  2. Hillary Clinton is an embarrassment, our foreign policy is a disaster, and our willingness to fund and prop up dictators while harping about “democracy” is fooling no one.

    It’s time to eliminate all foreign aid and dismantle the empire. Bring the troops home and mind our own business. It would save a ton of money and we’d be stop pissing off a billion Muslims.

  3. Sheldon says:

    I don’t know that the Israeli army could crush the Egyptian army in “short order.” We have been building up Egypt’s forces for decades – it has about 500,000 active soldiers (many more than Israel, which requires reserves) and a sizable and substantially modernized tank force. In addition, Israel is faced with a substantial missile threat from Hezbollah in Lebanon – likely to be used in any conflict that arose in the area. It doesn’t mean your basic point isn’t valid, just that this particular point seems a little glib. The Israelis are quite worried about what a Mubarak departure would mean.

  4. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Where’s all the tears for the Palestinian people while Israel has a boot on their throats. Poor Israel, I am sure whatever happens they will expect America to “handle” it for them. We need to be Switzerland and remain neutral. And we could use all the money we throw around the world right here. Stop the foreign aid then we’ll see who our friends really are.

  5. TomB says:

    For what it’s worth the problem I see is at least the significant possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood takes over, and even if it is presently moderate it becomes otherwise. Even discounting the idea that Iran and other fundamentalist-forces in the ME would probably try helping that along, well, in chaotic or even just immature political systems the most zealous and organized forces have been known to be pretty successful. Just ask Lenin. Or Hitler.

    What then? Lebanon to Israel’s north seemingly falling ever more into Hizbullah’s grip, which already grips Lebanon’s south very tightly and has Iran apparently pumping training and weapons and missiles into same. And then there’s Syria, which at the very best is a wildcard. And then there’s Hamas, very possibly if not likely being helped/armed/whatever by the new Fundy Egypt. And then there is that new Fundy Egypt all along the west of Israel.

    So what of Israel, already in the grip of what can seem a paranoid zeitgeist, and certainly a believer in pre-emptive wars and acts of war? An Israel with nukes, thinking it had to take care of Egypt’s army perhaps? And thinking that it owed Iran a big thanks for helping all the forces arrayed against it?

    So … Israel does something dumb, and who believes that the U.S. just stands by then? Even *if* we did the arabs would know that whatever Israel did could only have been done with U.S. arms and money. And thus we’d lose no matter *what* the outcome: If Israel “won” and humiliated the arabs, once again we would be rightfully bitterly blamed at least for subsidizing same. And if Israel started to “lose,” well, who here believes that the U.S. political system would just stand by and let that happen, much as we here might want that? Who here believes that the U.S. would not get involved conventionally if Israel told the U.S.—as I believe it would in a heartbeat—that if we *didn’t* come in conventionally to save its bacon it would start nuking millions of arabs? And who here believes we wouldn’t get at least some of the blame even if we still said no and Israel *did* start nuking arabs?

    The damn thing is then that due to the political corruption that’s been effected here our heads seem to be in this running noose. Despite the fact that it has been Israel that has foolishly poured its energies into corrupting us here in support of stealing arab land instead of … realizing that it *was* surrounded by potentially hostile arabs and trying to reach an accommodation with them.

    This isn’t to say that we should oppose what’s going on in Egypt, because like Phil Giraldi one just knows that the only real hope for stability does not lie in the present situation under the U.S.’s meddling and under Mubarak. But it is to say that perhaps the absolute linchpin of the further idea that we should not be worried *after* Mubarak is reliance on the belief that the chances of Egypt going radical/fundamentalist or etc. are slim, and I’m not so sure of that assessment.

    Once again I think especially of the Bolsheviks: Their tinyness matched only by their zealotry and organization and ruthlessness, which, in the end, turned out to be all that was needed.

  6. Hillary Clinton speaks as though we have some mandate to manage outcomes in Egypt. It’s as though no one told her the cold war is over. I suspect that the problem is Tel Aviv’s fear of being outflanked by unfriendly governments. But this might be a good thing. With an increasingly sceptical American public, they might just have to get along with their neighbors.

    True statesmanship is knowing when to do nothing. Now if we can just find a statesman.

  7. Raashid says:

    Sheldon, Egypt’s past military ineptitude against Israel was down to more then just the Soviet junk equipment they were using. They simply do not have the culture of discipline, organisation, leadership, creativity or tactical nous to mount a successful combat operation against a Western nation. Add the fact that they are dependent on the US providing spare parts and ammunition for their expensive equipment and one can imagine the Egyptian Army being about as effective as Iraq’s.

  8. Raashid says:

    “I have seen one pundit suggest that they could use their large army to seize Saudi Arabia’s oil fields”

    This is a comical statement, please Phil, tell us who produced it so we can refer to them for more mirth. I bet the pundit responsible gets paid a hefty fee as well.

  9. I remember being told by the same “strain of punditry” back in 2003 that the invasion of Iraq would lead to a more stable middle east. While not a big fan of the secretary of state, I think she is following orders from the president: support the people of Egypt and the uprising without isolating Israel. I’m glad we have the president and state department we have now. I shudder to think what kind of bluster and fightin’ words we would be getting now from a president McCain and his gang of neocons.

  10. Raashid, I can’t find the comment about the oil fields. Read it somewhere three or four days ago, the assertion being that the large Egyptian army could just take the fields if it chooses to do so.

    My comment about Israel’s military superiority is valid in the event that Egypt were to attack. Egypt’s army is designed for defense and Israel has a huge advantage in the air, which would quickly negate the Egyptian superior numbers and armor. I do agree that Israel could face trouble on its northern front if a war were to break out, but it is by no means certain that Hizbullah would want to enter the fray.

  11. Well said…and now would be a good time for Americans to start considering the implications of the Arab revolt.

    Freedom for Gaza is the natural next step following freedom for Egypt, but in Gaza, where the whole population has been tortured by Israel’s inhumane collective punishment policy, people are not waiting for the victory of the Egyptian people.

    Under Mubarak, Egypt has cooperated closely with Israel in penning Gazans into their ghetto, but, as a result of the revolt in Egypt, Egyptian prison/border guards fled their posts, and it is now Hamas that is keeping Gazans from crossing into Egypt. Gaza’s busy tunnel import operation has also been disrupted, further strengthening Israel’s ability to cause pain with its collective punishment policy. Could Hamas, fearful of getting out in front of Egypt and perhaps even becoming worried about maintaining its own control, get caught on the wrong side of the sudden wave of Arab nationalism? Netanyahu and Lieberman must be laughing hysterically at the thought of Hamas doing Israel’s dirty work by guarding itself, but if Hamas is in control of the Gaza-Egypt border, that should send everyone a very clear message: Hamas is in control. Food for thought in Tel Aviv and Washington, still pretending that Hamas is the one guilty of terrorism.

    Cairo sent additional troops to guard the Gaza border, but with the political position of the Egyptian army now questionable, those troops could as easily be used to protect Hamas as to imprison it. Israel should not take too much comfort from their presence.

    A rational policy on the part of Washington, if not Tel Aviv, to deal with what is almost surely a new crisis in the making in Gaza would now be in order, but there is, so far, no sign of creative thinking on the part of officials who appear to be in shock and denial, rather than “shock and awe.”

    Imprisoning Gazans while freeing Egyptians is a contradiction that will surely become obvious to everyone if the Egyptian people indeed win their battle not just to fire Mubarak but to overthrow the repressive, pro-Israeli ruling elite now symbolized by the newly appointed vice president Suleiman. Yet Egypt is not the only link to marginalized and victimized Gaza, the ultimate symbol of Western oppression of Arabs.

    The other link is Jordan, whose population is now at least half politically marginalized Palestinians. A revolt in Jordan will be difficult to organize because the population is, conveniently for King Abdullah, split between Jordanians who hold political power and Palestinians who fled from their land when the European Jewish immigrants formed Israel through the barrels of British-supplied guns. But the Jordanian people succeeded over the weekend in getting their king to fire his whole cabinet and order his new prime minister to pursue a policy of “reform.”

    In Egypt, the people’s momentum continues to build. If we have not heard the last of the Arab revolt in Gaza, we have not heard the last of the Arab revolt in Jordan either. If Washington fails to understand this, other countries are perhaps more observant, as suggested by Russian President Medvedev’s January visit to the West Bank and Jordan—but not to Israel. The lack of initiative and creativity in Washington is opening the door for other countries to exert influence. Washington could save itself enormous difficulty by calling immediately and forcefully for removing Gaza from Israeli control and opening negotiations with Hamas. But no, it will not do so; rather, it will wait until forced by events, and then take steps both too little and too late.

  12. Ed says:

    Hamas was democratically elected in Gaza.

    You’ll get the same outcome from a “democratic” Egypt – a bunch of inept crooks with no concept of governance.

    I don’t claim to know why virtually every Arab state is a disaster zone, but the depth and scope of their problems clearly go beyond anything that could be blamed on US (or anyone’s) foreign policy.

  13. ‘a bunch of inept crooks with no concept of governance. ‘

    That’s precisely why Gazans elected Hamas in the first place: the corruption of Fatah.

    You described the wrong party, Ed.

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