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How Would a President McCain Have Responded to Egypt’s Uprising?

9:28 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen meets with Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan in Cairo on February 14, 2010. (photo: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Flickr)

Count me among those who constantly point out the dissonance between Democratic Primary Candidate Barack Obama’s progressive promises and the actions of President Barack Obama which tend to continue and even extend (as we see today on FISA) the Constitutional and international law abuses of George W. Bush. However, I am becoming more and more convinced that despite the accusations of fumbling and presenting multiple, conflicting public positions on the Egyptian uprising, a key strategic move by the Obama administration appears to have been communication to the Egyptian military that the US would move quickly to cut off financial aid to the military if it attacked peacefully demonstrating civilians. Would a President John McCain have taken this approach? I don’t think so, and we have his comments from last Saturday at the Munich Security Conference to support that idea.

On NPR this morning, host Scott Simon spoke with Professor Marc Lynch, who heads the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University. You can listen to the interview here. Note around the 2:30 mark, where Lynch highlighted the multiple levels of communication between the Obama administration and the Egyptian military where the consistent message was “Don’t be complicit in violence against the protesters”. Lynch then went on to point out that “Tienanmen in Tahrir was always a possibility” and the fact that that did not happen “is a testament to the Egyptian military”.

Now let’s go back exactly a week, to Senator John McCain’s appearance at the Munich Security Conference. Recall that violence, which was started by thugs from the Interior Ministry, had flared on Wednesday and Thursday of that week, so McCain was speaking just hours after a bit of calm had been restored. Although his speech had the proper flowery praise for the concept of democracy, in the end McCain just couldn’t give up on supporting Mubarak. It is especially important to note that he characterized the uprising as having radical roots, rather than representing the people as a whole. Of course, by describing the movement as “radical”, he is almost certainly referring to the involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood and is fanning the flames of fear and hatred against them.

Here are the key parts of his speech. First, the charge that this uprising is radical:

For even now, especially now, the lessons of Egypt appear clear: Three decades spent silencing moderate voices in order to fight extremist ones has had exactly the opposite effect: Radical groups are empowered, and responsible citizens are unorganized.

And now that he has identified the uprising as radical, he comes around to saying that we just can’t abandon our buddy Mubarak:

This is not to say that we should abandon partners of long-standing because of how they treat their people. We must remain partners, for many vital reasons, but the terms of our partnership need to change. We need to be more assisting, but also more insisting. Make no mistake, what is happening in Egypt is nothing short of a revolution, and it should put other undemocratic governments on notice that their presumed stability is a false stability. The choice they face is between a managed process of gradual reform that leads to political and economic openness – and a determined self-delusion that leads to revolutionary and potentially violent change. I wish the choice was not that stark, but recent events lead me to think otherwise.

It appears from McCain’s words here that he would have supported action by Mubarak to quash the “radical” uprising that was “potentially violent”, and McCain would have justified supporting such a move by saying that he was promoting Mubarak being in charge of “gradual reform”.

Such a stance is starkly different than the one chosen by Obama. Note this article in the New York Times published online late Thursday night for Friday’s print edition. It provides detail on the key move by the Egyptian military to inform the protesters that their demands would be met:

The protesters’ hopes soared Thursday afternoon, when the chief of staff of the armed forces, Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, visited Tahrir Square in Cairo and suggested that their demands would soon be met. He also presided along with the defense minister, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, over a meeting of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Paul J. Sullivan, an expert on the Egyptian military at the National Defense University, said it was only the third time in Egypt’s history that the council had met; the other meetings were during wars with Israel in 1967 and 1973.

Neither Mr. Mubarak nor Mr. Suleiman were at the meeting, and the resulting communiqué declared that the council had met “in affirmation of support for the legitimate demands of the people.” So it came as a shock when Mr. Mubarak said he was not stepping down.


His [Suleiman's] relationship with General Enan is unclear. General Enan, 63, is a generation younger than Mr. Mubarak. He has spent extended periods in the United States and is closer to American commanders than the oldest Egyptian military leaders, including Mr. Tantawi, 75, the defense minister, who were trained by the Soviet Union.

American officials said General Enan had offered them assurances that the armed forces would defend Egyptian institutions, not individuals, and that they would not open fire on civilians. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has commended the Egyptian military for what he called “exemplary” conduct amid the street protests and said it had “made a contribution to the evolution of democracy.”

Now look back at the photo at the top of this post. That is Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen meeting with General Enan almost exactly a year ago, on February 14 of last year. I find it highly doubtful that a President McCain would have cultivated a high-level relationship with General Enan that would have led to his historic meeting with the protesters to assure them that their demands would be met. Instead, I think McCain would have simply looked the other way while watching Mubarak stand down the military while the Interior Ministry turned Tahrir into Tienanmen II.

In this one matter, Obama has shown an ability to get a major issue right. Why can’t he do so on illegal wiretapping, indefinite detention without trial, extrajudicial executions, rendition, torture, state secrets and corporate bailouts at the expense of the working poor?

When the Morning Holds Only the Promise of an Empty Day

12:47 pm in Foreign Policy by Jim White

There are times when the music of the 1960′s and 1970′s seems to have anticipated the politics of today, with perhaps the most often noted case being the observations by The Who on the Constitution and leadership in their “Won’t Get Fooled Again” single. However, the closing number on Neil Diamond’s classic “Hot August Night” double album set seems to pick up a remarkable number of themes relevant to the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Many of us ran to that song when Omar Suleiman burst onto the scene as the new Vice President, because “Soolaimon” seems to be pronounced the same way by Westerners. But Diamond’s weaving of this exotic (to American ears, anyway) name with his part paean, part send-up of traveling evangelists in “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” in the end seems to have captured a bit of the spirit we have had on Tahrir Square when Egyptian Christians formed a protective ring around Muslims as they prayed, only for that protection to be reciprocated when the Christians held mass in the square.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Egyptian Uprising Again Proves “Powerful Moral Force” of Nonviolence

5:55 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Pro-democracy protester in Tahrir Square, February 3, 2011 returns from surviving an attack by pro-Mubarak thugs. (from a photo by Al Jazeera English on Flickr)

With Thursday’s news that the Egyptian military has said that it will support the anti-Mubarak protesters and the movement of the military to stand between the anti-Mubarak protesters and the pro-Mubarak thugs who attacked them on Wednesday, we see once again what the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. described as the “powerful moral force” of nonviolence in achieving social and political change, in direct contrast to the neocons’ blather that democracy could be imposed from outside a society at the end of a gun.

CNN describes the movement of the military to separate the pro-Mubarak thugs from the protesters:

Meanwhile, the military — which had largely remained still in the area of Tahrir Square during violent clashes between supporters and foes of President Hosni Mubarak — took position between the clashing groups Thursday. Rocks flew back and forth in an empty construction area in front of a metal barricade that anti-Mubarak protesters set up overnight.

The military has even gone so far as to announce that they now support the anti-Mubarak protesters, as reported by BBC:

The BBC’s Jon Leyne in Cairo cites a retired general who has been speaking to tank crews on the square as saying the army is losing patience, and if firing continues from pro-government supporters, it is willing to fire on them.

Those attacking them appear to be either police who have taken off their uniforms or plain-clothes “thugs”, our correspondent says.

But appended to the very top of that story is this snippet, which appears to be an update:

The BBC’s Jon Leyne: “The army is now willing to support the anti-Mubarak protesters”

In just a few days, massive nonviolent protests by Egyptian citizens have led to President Hosni Mubarak announcing that he will not stand for re-election in September. Further, with the strong condemnation heaped on Mubarak and his supporters for Wednesday’s violence unleashed on the anti-government protesters, we now have Mubarak asking his Prime Minister to investigate who is behind the attacks (from the CNN article cited above):

Egypt’s prime minister apologized Thursday for the violent attacks on protesters yesterday and said the country’s president has asked him to investigate the security chaos.

“This is a fatal error, and when investigations reveal who is behind this crime and who allowed it to happen, I promise they will be held accountable and will be punished for what they did,” Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq said on state-owned TV.

These huge advances by Egyptian citizens standing up peacefully to ask for basic freedoms provide confirmation of the moving words spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

After contemplation, I conclude that this award which I receive on behalf of that movement is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

The way in which the peaceful assembly in Tahrir Square has inspired love and brotherhood has been manifested in many unexpected ways. One of the most striking to me came in the coverage by Al Jazeera English on Wednesday. In the midst of the extensive coverage of events in the square as they happened, the calm, professional delivery of information was interrupted only rarely, but at one point, an anchor interrupted a reporter to note that each individual gunshot heard in the background was potentially fatal. Despite a responsibility to deliver news in a detached manner, the anchor clearly was experiencing the brotherhood which Dr. King was setting as a primary goal of civilization, and paused to reflect on the humanity of each potential victim.

What more refutation do we need for those who would achieve “democracy” at the end of a gun? Why distort Dr. King’s message in an obscene attempt to say he would approve of the atrocities the US has committed in Iraq? Why dishonor the nonviolent action of the Tahrir Square protesters by saying that it has anything at all to do with the neocons’ war-mongering lust for “democracy” through war in the Middle East?

Just as the peaceful fall of governments in the old Soviet bloc, also achieved through nonviolent actions by the citizens, was a refutation of the weapons-based Cold War mentality, the developing pan-Arab uprising will be achieved through nonviolent citizen action rather than outside intervention with weapons. The natural rights of citizens are stronger than any weapon. And that is why doctors among the anti-Mubarak protesters came to the aid of pro-Mubarak protesters. The caption Al Jazeera English provided in their Flickr upload of the photo below reads “A protester (R) who was working as a doctor inside the square attends to a pro-Mubarak prisoner who had fainted inside the makeshift Sadat metro prison.”

Mona Eltahawy on CNN: Egypt Revolution “Has Nothing to Do With America”

8:49 am in Foreign Policy, Government, Torture by Jim White

For the second evening in a row, Mona Eltahawy appeared on Wolf Blitzer’s show on CNN Sunday along with Fran Townsend. Eltahawy brushed aside the concerns of Blitzer and Townsend, who opened the segment by trying to build panic that Americans in Egypt face danger because the police and military both backed away from protesters Sunday. Eltahawy stated clearly that “American citizens in Egypt have absolutely nothing to worry about”. Here is more of that exchange from the transcript:

BLITZER: Anderson, right now, the U.S. government is walking a very, very fine diplomatic line with Egypt. Cairo certainly a long-time ally, but the fallout from unrest there could have a lasting impact on Washington’s relationship with Egypt and indeed the rest of the region.

Let’s bring in CNN’s national security contributor, Fran Townsend, and the columnist, Mona Eltahawy.

Fran, how worried should we be right now for the safety and the security of American citizens in Egypt?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, because the curfew is not being enforced by the Egyptian military, as you’ve seen in the clips provided by Nic Robertson and Anderson, there are large demonstrations, they are entirely sort of unmanaged from a security standpoint.

Normally, you would — you’d have officials out there at least making sure they were safe. And you don’t have any of that. And so, you know, you worry about a stampede, a rush, if there was a panic. There’s all sorts of things.

And so, the U.S. government is right to provide this. They’re a little slow to be getting to this now. You would have thought this would have happened earlier on the weekend after the president spoke on Friday. But they’re right to be doing it now.

And as Anderson points out, people will have to reimburse the U.S. government for this travel and then make their own way home from Europe.

BLITZER: Mona, I haven’t seen a whole lot of anti-American statements coming out of the protesters on the streets of Cairo or Alexandria. But there is fear that the longer this goes on, the more anti-American it could become. Is that a real fear?

MONA ELTAHAWY, COLUMNIST, ASHARQ AL-AWSAT: Wolf, I have to stress, this revolution in the making in Egypt has nothing to do with America, and American citizens in Egypt have absolutely nothing to worry about. The protesters in the streets of Cairo, the tens of thousands who are staging an uprising against Mubarak, our dictator of 30 years, have been peaceful. The only violence that we’ve been hearing from or hearing of has come from thugs that have been shown to belong to the Mubarak regime.

No foreign citizen in Egypt has been targeted in any way. I urge you to look at the positive aspect of what’s going on. Americans in Egypt will tell you what’s going on. Egypt is going through a historical moment.

If there are no troops or if there are no police forces out there on the street, that is solely the responsibility of the Mubarak regime. If anybody’s hurt, Egyptian or foreign, that is the responsibility of the Mubarak regime.

These are peaceful — this is a peaceful uprising that wants freedom and dignity for Egyptians and it does not target any country. It wants freedom for Egyptian. This is an internal Egyptian issue.

In dismissing the fears that Blitzer and Townsend try to drum up, Eltahawy puts the movement into perspective, making the dual, important points that the revolution (1) has nothing at all to do with the United States and (2) is entirely peaceful. She does a great job of pointing out the protesters’ demands are focused only on removing Mubarak from power and that there is no reason to target Americans or any other foreigners. . . . Read the rest of this entry →

Why US Foreign Policy Is Flummoxed by Egypt’s Uprising

7:35 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence via Wikimedia Commons

As the United States struggles to respond to rapidly changing conditions in Egypt, it is informative to look at the arc of US foreign policy over the past half century or so. Foggy Bottom is stuck in a fog precisely because the approach to foreign policy has not evolved sufficiently since the demise of the Cold War. US foreign policy today is just as dependent on supporting individual despotic leaders today as it was in the 1950′s and 1960′s.

Consider the “crowning achievement” of the neocons under George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda”. Because they were imposing freedom at the end of a gun, rather than through the actions of the people, Bush’s new governments in Afghanistan and Iraq have given us corrupt leaders in the form of Hamid Karzai and Nouri al Maliki, whose governments are, at best, only loosely engaged with their citizens. Laying aside for a moment the underlying agenda of the robber barons promoting the neocon agenda to enrich themselves, note just how disengaged these governments, formed under US leadership, are from their citizens. Karazai still operates as if he is a small time drug lord and is actively squirreling away assets and real estate in Dubai. Iraq was unable to form a government for over a year after elections, because there was no real mechanism built into the US-designed “democracy” for people to have a voice.

The US has long backed Hosni Mubarak, and as Marcy has noted, the new Vice President has been an essential cog in the US rendition-torture process, so he is a natural replacement for Mubarak as the typical thug repressing his people to promote US foreign policy. The US stumbles in considering Mohammed el Baradei, perhaps because he is not proposing to come in as a “strongman”, but is instead saying that all he wants is a voice for the people.

In 2009, the US was slow to support a popular uprising in Iran against a despot who is not in favor in Foggy Bottom. However, perhaps because we had not yet chosen a new “Shah”, the US did not provide enough signals to the people of Iran that we would support their moves to overthrow the suppressive regime.

I believe that our foreign policy is too stuck on the wrong passage from the Declaration of Inedpendence. Policy today is centered on this clause from the Declaration:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient cause

Perhaps Foggy Bottom should spend some time reading how that paragraph begins:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Clearly, Mubarak has lost (if he ever had it) the consent of those whom he governs. Likewise for Karzai and al Maliki. A new US foreign policy with the consent of the governed as the primary focus would go a long way toward having a proper response to popular uprisings like the one already completed in Tunisia, the one under way in Egypt, and those that might be beginning in Yemen, Jordan and Syria.

In fact, it is also the failure to take this approach that was the basis for the Bush administration’s utter failure when Hezbollah Hamas (corrected h/t Hannibal in comments) won the democratic elections in Palestine. By refusing to even acknowledge their win, the US emboldened Israel’s brutal stranglehold which continues today under Obama.

h/t: I have seen several people over the past few days make the observation of US foreign policy being mired in the Cold War era and felt the idea needed further fleshing out. I apologize for not remembering and being able to note just those who brought up the concept.