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Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

Neocons never seem to learn.  Even after the Somalia disaster and the dubious win against Serbia, their first recommended response to 9/11 was to attack Iraq.  Public opinion required them to delay things for a while–in spite of a vigorous debate–but after a short and ineffectual campaign in Afghanistan, they finally go their wish.  We’re still in Iraq, and we’re also plodding around Afghanistan, Iran is stronger, and this is all in the name of spreading democracy as the antidote to terrorism. None of these campaigns is a great showpiece of neoconservative strategic thinking.

So, this week, Charles Krauthammer, perhaps the most bellicose neocon, has suggested the US should be invading Libya and arming the rebels.  Similar sentiments were uttered by his fellow travelers regarding Egypt.  Worse, some Republicans mindlessly pile on Obama’s leadership deficit in this arena, even though his leadership problem is not his caution regarding a military response, but rather his rhetorical invitations for rebellions among strange and unpredictable peoples coupled with his estrangement of longterm and reliable partners.  Who are these rebels?  What do they stand for?  Can we do any good for them or ourselves?  If we intervene, how long will we be there? Do we really want democracy among people shouting Allah Akbar?  I don’t want Obama’s “leadership” here, especially if it means we’ll be putting our troops into harms way without a clear idea of what we’re trying to accomplish.

Qadaffi is a dirtbag, terrorist supporter, whom I haven’t heard much from since Reagan sorted him out in 1986.  But even a nutcase who keeps a lid on things is preferable to anarchy.  What I don’t understand, or rather what I understand and have great contempt for, is the continued call by neoconservatives for mindless, hubristic US interventions after what has gone down in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Worse still is the Pavlovian Obama-hatred among many conservatives that cannot see when, in spite of himself, he is doing something useful, in this case by not doing very much.  Conservatives have been easily manipulated into supporting wars that serve no American interest whatsoever; it is time conservatives woke up, returned to their nationalist roots, and rejected the Wilsonian “global cop” role once and for all.

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The complete explosion of craziness in the Mideast, and Obama’s inconsistency with longtime allies like Mubarak and the leaders of Bahrain (where the US has a large military presence), suggests he’s torn.  But he’s torn between two equally ineffective “idealistic” approaches to foreign policy.  On one hand, he is like George W. Bush and supports democracy, as if it did not matter what type of leaders or government such democracies may elect.  This is the old style FDR/Wilsonian liberalism that informs much of America’s 20th Century foreign policy.  And, on the other, he is the leftist anti-colonialist of his youth, and thus finds it unseemly to criticize Third World movements of national liberation.  So one minute he supports the protesters, but then he realizes this may appear like cultural imperialism, so he says they must move slowly.  He has no idea what he really wants, nor does he know what to expect from his provocative speeches.  His thinking is incoherent, and his policy incoherence is the natural result.

The last realist US president was George H.W. Bush.  But he too had problems, as he was a realist, but believed strongly in US interventionism and the ideal of “unipolarity.”  Nonetheless, at least such an approach has some natural limits, as it does not aim to create instability in places where we benefit a great deal from stability, such as Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Japan or South Korea.

America’s interests worldwide are narrow:  primarily, our people benefit from friendly and pacific regimes that do not aim to harm us, and secondarily we benefit from regimes that are liberal (if undemocratic) insofar as they support property rights, markets, the rule of law, and trade.  None of these goals are fostered by the two competing liberal idealisms that favor democracy alternately with Third World thugocracy, and nor too have these goals been well fostered by the do-gooder interventionism of the first Bush and Bill Clinton.

What is missing–what is always missing–from our national conversation is a sound policy of strategic disengagement.  A policy that asks seriously why we have 50,000 plus troops in Germany? A policy that asks why we care particularly how Egypt and Bahrain picks its leaders?  A policy that seriously questions if we are getting a good return on our enormous investment not in defense–though it is labeled as such–but rather military power projection and military presence worldwide?

Judging by Egypt’s unrest, the lackluster results in Iraq, and the relative lack of fallout from the departure of US troops from such varied locales as Iceland and the Philippines, it seems we can do without, and, indeed, would likely accomplish much more if we aimed for realistic, narrow, and achievable goals rather than messianic and idealistic policies such as “democratizing the Mideast” and “ensuring stability in Europe.”

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Is it 1848?

In 1848, Europe was rocked by a domino-like string of revolutions and revolutionary movements in France, Germany, the Austro Hungarian Empire, Italy, and elsewhere.  What came of it?  A few regime changes, but mostly failure and repression.  Not much that was terribly memorable, in truth.  Far more important were the nationalist upheavals of the latter part of the century, in Italy and Germany in particular, which really gave force to the nationalist idea in Europe and created a useful outlet for the frustrations and anomie of industrialism and urbanization. 

We see something like this today in the Arab World.  First Iran and Tunisia.  Then Egypt.  Today, Bahrain and possibly Saudi Arabia.  But what of it?  These revolutions, like those of Europe in 1848, have vague grievances and even vaguer proposals.  I’m astonished at how little that is clear and intelligent the would-be revolutionaries have to say about what’s wrong with the status quo, how they intend to fix things, and why their projects won’t implode.  It is much like 1848 in this respect.  By contrast, the French Revolution of 1789 and the American War of Independecne and the liberal and nationalist anti-Soviet revolts of 1989 were crystal clear in motive, aim, and technique.  Indeed, the clearly wrong ideals of France have much to do with its self-destruction and replacement by alternating depositims and half-stable republics until 1945, while the clear and basically sensible ideas of America and the pro-American regimes of the former Warsaw Pact have much to do with both regions’ relative stability and prosperity through the present.

Of course today, as in 1848, a certain type of romantic sensibility sees the barricades and simply wants to cheer and relive the faded and half-understood events of yesteryear.  As a conservative, I’m instinctually cautious.  While I have no particular love for Mubarak or anyone else in the Arab World, I cannot help but remember what is already forgotten:  this is a land of half-baked ideas (i.e., Ba’athism, Nasserism), corrupt and charismatic rulers, and a religion that extinguishes nearly every instinct needed for effective self-government.

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More on Egypt

Why do we assume these protesters represent a majority of Egyptians?  If several hundred thousand Americans called for Obama’s resignation–as they have at a great many public events–no one calls for the President’s ouster.   But here we do, even though we know these primitive tribal people can be whipped into a frenzy on the basis of rumors and the most blatant propaganda and, furthermore, we have no reason to have any confidence what percentage of the Egyptian people they represent.

Why is our President so tergiversatious.  One minute he’s for Mubarak. Then the protesters.  Then the process.  Doesn’t his own ideology of pro-Third World nationalism counsel him the best thing to do is shut up? Indeed, in this instance, his instinctually anti-imperialist views accord with my own ethnocentrically-based anti-imperisalist and anti-interventionist views.  But it appears, as is often the case in his contradictions, that his ego is the trump card.

The media has concluded “Mubarak must go!”  Why believe them?  Musharraf stepped down in Pakistan, and the place is still a mess.  Little people-power revolutions occurred with great fanfare in Lebanon and Iran with mixed effects.  The former led to Hezbollah’s greater political power, but Lebanon, for various cultural reasons, is still a halfway decent place to visit.  Iran, by contrast, shut them down, as Mubarak seems resolved to do, and there the silent (or easily cowed) majority has accepted the legitimacy of this turn of events.

The worst case scenario of this situation in Egypt to me is as follows. One, US military traffic in the Suez Canal is not permitted.  And, two, out of misguided “outreach” and “idealism,” a Muslim Brotherhood dominated regime continues to receive billions of US Aid each year as ransom for not attacking Israel (as opposed to being a quasi-ally, as it has been for the last 30 years).

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I’ve long thought the Republican obsession with free trade was not only bad politics but a bit of bad policy.  A recent Washington Post article asks the question whether trade–which had a lot to do with our lopsided economy, as US dollars overseas filtered back looking for a safe investment and found it in Mortgage-Backed-Securities–has been a net positive for the US economically:

A few months ago, Robert Cassidy found himself pondering whether trade actually benefited the American economy. “I couldn’t prove it,” he says. “Did it benefit U.S. multinational corporations? Yes. But I cannot prove that it benefits the economy.”

Such doubts would hardly be news if they came from an established critic of free trade. But Robert Cassidy was the chief U.S. negotiator on China’s 1999 market access agreement with the United States — the document that was the basis for Congress’s extension of permanent normalized trade relations to China, which in turn enabled China to join the World Trade Organization. During the 1990s, Cassidy was the assistant U.S. trade representative for the Asia-Pacific region, and before that he worked in the Treasury Department’s international affairs office.

Republicans did not always embrace free trade so uncritically.  In the 1980s, Reagan strong-armed the Japanese to open up their markets, for example.  In the late 1800s, the Republicans were famous for presiding over an industrial policy of protective tariffs. Conservatives have long recognized the value of the nation as an important community of interest, which follows a different logic and pursues other goods besides economic ones.

The free trade orthodoxy is so entrenched on today’s right and the  mainstream Democratic Party–in sharp contrast to the prevailing attitude even in the 1980s–that the least deviation is quickly swatted down, as if we must all become either Davos Man or Dick Gephardt with nothing in between.

I’m for a certain amount of free trade, but oppose trade that (a) hurts the American economy on net, particularly by hurting export industries without a net gain in jobs and productive capacity, (b) hurts our national defense, (c) strengthens illiberal dictatorships, or (d) does not include sufficient buffers between our economy and the various unfriendly regimes around the world whether China, Indonesia, or Iran.

I happen to like free trade with Mexico, but would have not traded a penny with the Chinese starting around 1990 or so when the Cold War ended, preferring instead to isolate them and strengthen the American manufacturing sector.  It’s good for our third world neighbor to do well, even partially at our expense. On China, though, it’s not good for a global competitor and future great power to succeed at our expense and for us to be too dependent on them.  Their cheap dollar subsidy, low cost manufacturing, and the smoke and mirrors of easy credit have distorted our economy and theirs and made us too mutually interdependent for our mutual independence and strength.

In the 1880s, Britain infamously put Egypt into receivership when it defaulted on its debts. While I don’t see anyone able to impose such a dreary condition on the US, we can soon expect foreign creditors to dictate their terms and our policies more freely.  This would not be good, needless to say, and the joys of cheap plasma televisions from China would hardly make up for our loss of independence.  We can live without cheap Chinese trinkets; we cannot live in any normal sense of that term under foreign control.  I should think an American politicians could be very popular in such a circumstance by promoting massive foreign debt repudiation, even though such a move would undeniably be very costly going forward.   We’d soon find out if Americans were more attached to their flag and their independence or, rather, easy credit and cheap trinkets imported from low wage foreign regimes.

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