Focal Points Blog

Before There Was a Curveball There Was “Saddam’s Bombmaker”

Saddam's Bombmaker(Pictured: Khidhir Hamza, “Saddam’s Bombmaker.”)

The Guardian reports: “Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, told the Guardian he fabricated tales of mobile bio-weapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995. [He said] “I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that .”

Of course, even without Curveball (aka, the albatross around Colin Powell’s neck), the Bush administration would have found other pretexts to attack Iraq. In fact, before al-Janabi, others, wittingly or not, greased the skids for an attack on Iraq and deposing Saddam. For instance, Richard Butler, head of UNSCOM, the United Nations arms-inspection team from 1992 and 1997, wrote The Greatest Threat: Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the Crisis of Global Security (Public Affairs, 2001).

Released just five months prior to 9/11, it chronicled the breadth and depth of the obstacles that Saddam Hussein placed in front of UNSCOM’s attempts to monitor Iraq’s presumed nuclear weapons program. Despite his difficulties, post 9/11, Butler, no hawk, continued to make the case for returning UN inspectors to Iraq.

Then there was the infamous Laurie Mylroie, president-day American Enterprise Institute fellow and one-time Neocon favorite, who reported — apparently with a straight face — that Saddam Hussein sponsored, among other things, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, not to mention 9/11 itself!

Nor can we forget Khidhir Hamza, the author of an autobiography, Saddam’s Bombmaker: The Daring Escape of the Man Who Built Iraq’s Secret Weapon (Simon and Schuster, 2001). Conservatives used his account, released a month after 9/11, of helping Iraq develop a nuclear bomb to build the case for war.

Returning to the Guardian story, Al-Janabi said “They were asking me about pumps for filtration, how to make detergent after the reaction,” he said. “Any engineer who studied in this field can explain or answer any question they asked.”

That might explain how Hamza deceived a major publisher. His story has been discredited by UNSCOM inspectors who failed to find his name in records of Iraq’s nuclear program.

Let’s all take a moment then to honor Curveball and his forerunners for paving the way to years of lawlessness, poverty, migration, and — on an epic scale — death for the Iraqi people.

A War Israel Is Ill Equipped to Fight

Hosni Dumpty sat on the wall
Hosni Dumpty took a great fall
$70 billion in U.S. military aid
and all of that Israeli advice
Couldn’t put Hosni Dumpty together again

1. How to Win Friends and Influence People

In late 1980, not long after the Camp David Accords were signed between Israel and Egypt, I was invited to give a talk to large gathering – perhaps 500-600 people – at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. Asked to comment upon the Accords, which were, in those days, immensely popular throughout the United States, I did so.

In my usual inelegant style, I criticized the agreements as little more than a military alliance that would not decrease but increase Middle Eastern regional instability. It would all cost U.S. taxpayers a pretty penny. I suggested that the agreement would lead to a tightening of the Israeli hold on the Occupied Territories and that with Camp David consummated, the likelihood of a negotiated agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would vanish for some time in the future.

I wondered out loud as to the fate of the two-state solution. There were other consequences – the puncturing of Arab secular nationalism, strengthening U.S. control over Middle East energy resources, etc.

The speech had a number of minor repercussions.

  • First, my remarks, which I thought quite reasonable, were met by angry cat calls, boos, a fair number of those in attendance walking out. That was new.
  • Then, my relations with the mainstream Colorado Jewish Community, already fragile, were permanently shattered. Unkind telephone calls, death threats followed – the usual histrionics that accompanied criticisms of Israel and U.S. support of it at the time – as did several visits to my employers by delegations of the ‘committee of the faithful’ organized by what was then called the Colorado Zionist Federation.

2. Flash Forward to Today

Flash forward to today: the Middle East is changing with much of the world

Tunisians embracing a poster with the picture of Mohammed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian from Sidi Bouzid whose immolation and death on December 17 started the Tunisian democracy protest movement, cheering on the democratic movement everywhere it raises its head throughout the region. Not so much in Israel.

For decades, Israeli leaders – and their often more vociferous U.S. supporters – have pointed to the democratic deficits in Arab countries as a fundamental rationale for their need for U.S. aid and their country’s militarist policies.

The political constellation of forces that has long dominated the region is revealed as the crisis deepens. This is the case, even if it remains unclear how the emerging alternative political framework might affect (both US and) Israeli relations with its Arab neighbors.

An underlying theme emerges: Despite denials, Israel, like the United States, prefers the old status quo relationships with its strategic allies in the region the likes of Mubarak, King Hussein of Jordan, the Saudi royals to the newly emerging and still largely unknown democratic alternatives.

Uncertainty and anticipation are driving Israeli (and U.S.) angst. Democratic change in the Arab world is unsettling for Israel. For starters big questions about the fate of the Gaza blockade, enforced by both Israel and Egypt, are in the air. Would a new government continue or ease the blockade from the Egyptian side? How could/would that shift the Israeli-Palestinian political chemistry (or lack thereof)?

Then there are broader issues, among them, the long term viability of the Camp David Accords. The initial concern is that Camp David, along with Israel’s long cultivated relationships with Middle East geriatric billionaire kleptomaniacs, could slowly but surely, come unglued.

It is highly unlikely that anything will happen in the short term. But how long is that and what then? How far will the Egyptian Revolution go? What will the changes mean to the U.S.-Israel-Egyptian relationship?

3. Israelis Are Saying, ‘Apres Mubarak, le Deluge’

The nervousness Israelis expressed as Zine Ben Ali was forced to make his hasty exit from Tunisia grew exponentially as the Egyptian protest demonstrations intensified, reaching something approaching panic dimensions in recent days. According to the New York Times, ‘The Israelis are saying, apres Mubarak, le deluge’. Would Netanyahu have done whatever possible behind the scenes to keep Mubarak in power?

Israel held a four day security conference in Herzliya to address the current developments. Among those in attendance or scheduled to attend were NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen; UK Defense Secretary Liam Fox; Israeli President Shimon Peres; Israeli Chief-of-Staff Gabi Asheknazi; and opposition leader and former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Certainly on the agenda was how the changes in Egypt might affect the 1979 Camp David Accords.

Signed in 1979, the Camp David Accords set the course of U.S.-Israeli-Egyptian relations until now. It essentially neutralized serious Arab military challenges to Israel by eliminating the largest and most advanced military in the Arab world from the military equation. Neither Egypt nor Israel was especially interested in signing the Accords and an already somewhat weakened United States was unable to crack enough heads to pull the adversaries together until big money was put on the table.

An offer of $3.0 billion in military and economic aid for Israel along with secret side security agreements (not so secret as they were published in the Washington Post) softened Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s resistance. A slightly smaller piece of financial bait – about $2 billion in U.S. military and economic aid was offered to Egypt which likewise came around and accepted the deal. Iran might have departed from the U.S. orbit in 1979, but for $2 billion annually, Egypt jumped in to fill the void.

4. Camp David Accords: A Second Balfour Declaration

For Israel, Camp David was as much of a diplomatic coup as the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and United Nations vote to recognize Israel as a member of the international community in 1948. ‘In principle’ it was supposed to be the first of several steps of Middle East peacemaking to include Israeli negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians.

Instead, two short years after signing the Accords, in 1981, Israel annexed the Golan Heights. The next year, 1982, in an orgy of destruction, Israeli forces stormed into Lebanon killing 20,000, dislodging the Palestine Liberation Organization from its headquarters there and turning a blind eye as Lebanese fascist Phalange forces butchered thousands of Palestinians in two Beirut camps, Sabra and Chatilla. In the Palestinian Territories seized in 1967, the occupation tightened considerably.

Israel ‘in the midst of this turbulence’ – Tzipi Livni

There are indications that Israeli angst concerning the future viability of Camp David is just the proverbial ‘tip of the iceberg':

  • The ‘democratic wave’ which has now reached far beyond Tunisia and Egypt to essentially every other Middle Eastern Arab country is creating a major political and identity crisis in Israel. Wherever it looks in the region, its allies – overt and covert – are reeling.
  • The royal family in Jordan is finding itself in tighter and tighter straits.
  • In Saudi Arabia, an unprecedented event: a Wahhabist imam, Grand Mufti Shaikh Abd al-Aziz al-Shaikh, who issued a ‘fatwa’ against the Egyptian demonstrations on the grounds that they violate Islamic law, was openly challenged by other scholars, including several members of the (increasingly nervous) royal family. After Egypt, Saudi Arabia?
  • Now there are ‘Tunisia-like’ calls for a massive demonstration in Morocco on February 20.
  • In Yemen, Libya, Algeria and in the Gulf tensions remain high with the possibility of demonstrations erupting in these places.

Throughout the Middle East, from Morocco to the Gulf, Israel is watching as one Arab ally after another begins death spasms, the rumblings are beginning to get louder as well. Some, like Zine Ben Ali, will be swept from power more quickly than others, but regardless, the political alliances that Israel has carefully cultivated since Camp David are collapsing one after another, with this, something far more serious: Israel’s legitimacy as a state. Israeli authorities have known that these undercurrents have existed throughout entire region, in countries like Egypt and Morocco where they had support.

The 31 years of relative Israeli security since Camp David seems to be coming to a close. Israel’s regional allies are on shaky ground and so is Israel. Tzipi Livni spoke of the events as leading to a point where Israeli legitimacy is being questioned, where the Israeli presence “in the midst of this turbulence” is coming under scrutiny. Ironically there is something far more threatening to Israel than an Arab military threat: its likely growing isolation in the region.

Israeli Options: Join NATO? Negotiations with Syria?…or the road not taken: resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and make peace with its neighbors?

There is no present danger of some kind of coordinated Arab attack against Israel. Far from it. Any suggestions of such a military threat are the workings of paranoid minds. The Arab countries, regardless of how things play out, will need a long time to put their economic and social affairs in order. None of them, Egypt included, are in any position to launch offensive military actions against Israel.

Israel is not confronting Arab armies or guerrilla movements here, but an explosion of Arab democracy, and it seems ill prepared, caught off guard by the recent flow of events.

If anything, the opposite is the case. There hasn’t been a strategic military threat to Israel for decades. As result of this Arab democratic upsurge, the prospect of any military challenge has been reduced that much further. Arab leaders will be too riveted on domestic considerations (maintaining power, offering concessions, restructuring economies, etc.) to give much time or energy to Israeli concerns (or U.S.) – isolating Iran, ‘defending’ the Gaza blockade.

The problem is thus not of a military nature. Then what is it? It is the insecurity of not knowing how the regional balance of power will shift. It is the unknown Israel fears, not so much U.S.-made Egyptian and Saudi F-16s and Israel’s growing regional isolation.

In the coming period Israel will find itself alone even more alone than it has been until now. Nothing in Israel’s substantial military arsenal with its nuclear weapons, German submarines, cluster and phosphorus bombs, US-made F-16 and F-22 jet fighters, has prepared it for this kind of situation, transitions to democracy led largely by pacifists who seem to reject Islamic fundamentalism as much as do Washington and Tel Aviv.

Will Israel’s bunker mentality continue? There are now Israeli calls to formally join NATO (although informally it has close strategic cooperation with it already) as if strengthening its military alliances (how much more can it go?) would solve its problem.

This is ‘a war’ that Israel is ill equipped to fight. It is nervous, on edge, arguing with its main benefactor (the U.S.) and now from within, serious internal splits are emerging. Israel knows how to fight wars, now it is going to have to develop quite different skills. The idea that its security ultimately rests with the other option, the road not taken, to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and make peace with its neighbors, is apparently still not seriously considered.

“I’m Taking You Out With a Drone to Save You From Torture”

In Newsweek, Tara Mckelvey interviews John A. Rizzo, the CIA’s one-time acting general counsel in charge of authorizing drone strikes. Individuals designated for targeting were supposedly the subject of a thorough investigation beforehand. Such strikes in both Afghanistan and Pakistan have seen a marked increase under the Obama administration. Even though precautions have reduced “collateral damage,” why would President Obama not only sign off on, but outdo the Bush administration in a practice emblematic of the latter’s brutality? Mckelvey writes:

Some counterterrorism experts say that President Obama and his advisers favor a more aggressive approach because it seems more practical—that administration officials prefer to eliminate terrorism suspects rather than detain them. “Since the U.S. political and legal situation has made aggressive interrogation a questionable activity anyway, there is less reason to seek to capture rather than kill,” wrote American University’s Kenneth Anderson, author of an essay on the subject that was read widely by Obama White House officials.

Killing suspects rather than arresting them to avoid taking heat for “enhanced interrogation”? (“I’m killing you to keep them from torturing you.”) Pretty specious reasoning for a lawyer such as Obama.

Is Egypt’s New Military Leadership Just Coup d’Etat Light?

Cairo slumsHosni Mubarak is out and the military is in charge of Egypt. Is this a soft coup d’état or a true transition to democracy stewarded by the military? On the surface, the pro-democracy movement appears to have succeeded without violence. Could the infant revolution succeed in bringing democracy and free and fair elections? This is an important question since the military is still in charge and the revolution is in its infancy.

The Egyptian regime has been kept in power for decades with an estimated one million Egyptians working for security services in the military as well as in the police. The security services have blood on their hands. With orders from the regime, these forces arbitrarily arrested, kidnapped, tortured, raped, and murdered its citizens who would dare to oppose the 30-year regime. In contrast, the Egyptian military has little or no blood on their hands directly, but they have used their influence and might to keep the regime in power. The role of the military became very clear in the removal of Mubarak (February 11) and anointing the military in charge.

The regime, in addition to their massive abuse of the people, has pillaged the country’s wealth for their use. They have robbed billions of dollars from the treasury and used their power to grab corporate dollars in ill-gotten deals. In the same period, the people have suffered extreme poverty and diseases. Thirty million Egyptians live on less than two dollars a day. According to a UN–HABITAT 2010-2011 report, out of the population of eighty-five million, fifteen million Egyptians live in slums.

Since the beginning of the Egyptians’ pro-democracy revolution on January 25, the demonstrators sacrificed over three hundred deaths and several thousand wounded. The demonstrators, amazingly, continued to call for peaceful demonstrations all across Egypt. What is next for the pro-democracy movement if the military reign of power subverts the revolution?

Before answering the question, first and foremost, the pro-democracy movement must choose their leaders along with a clear and unambiguous platform for democracy, party participation, and fair and just elections. The platform should declare that no country should interfere in the progress of their revolution. This will be difficult in an arena that has depended on Egypt for its cold peace with Israel. Immediately after the announcement of Mubarak’s departure, Israeli media reported that Israeli analysts were happy to have Egypt’s military in charge. They added that the 1.5 billion US dollars annually given to Egypt is the leverage to keep Egypt in check for the peace treaty with Israel. Let us hope that a sovereign democratic state of Egypt is the best guarantor of peace.

Ultimately, the next steps for the pro-democracy movement will be to lay the moral framework for their movement. The world was rocked by watching this peaceful revolution in real time. To remain faithful to the principles of democracy, the people must remain firm in their commitment to peaceful means, valuing each individual human life, and treating all of Egypt’s citizens as having equal worth. The pro-democracy movement must remain vigilant, increasing pressure peacefully while demanding the dismantling the organs of oppression.

The events in Egypt are still fluid. We all hope this peaceful revolution will be able to become rooted in an Egyptian republic. If democracy holds in Egypt, peace activists across the globe will be ecstatic that two peaceful revolutions – in Tunisia and Egypt- have come to pass. The world waits as the cultural heart of the Arab world begins its march to democracy.

Egypt Has Already Experienced Islamic Rule — and Found It Wanting

At Jadaliyya, Paul Amar, one of the most informed voices on Egypt, reinforces just how far the Egyptian protests were from a Muslim revolution.

In the past ten years [a] particular wing of the [Muslim Brotherhood] has been partially coopted by Mubarak’s government from two angles. First, Brothers were allowed to enter parliament as independent candidates and have been allowed to participate in the recent economic boom. . . . Second, the government wholly appropriated the Brothers’ moral discourse. For the last ten or fifteen years Mubarak’s police-state has stirred moral panics and waved the banner of Islam, attacking single working women, homosexuals, devil-worshipping internet users, trash-recycling pig farmers, rent-control squatters, as well as Baha’i, Christian and Shi’i minorities. In its morality crusades, the Mubarak government burned books, harassed women, and excommunicated college professors. Thus, we can say that Egypt has already experienced rule by an extremely narrow Islamist state – Mubarak’s! . . .

In recent years . . . people have grown disgusted by Mubarak’s politicization of Islam. Egyptians began to reclaim Islam as a project of personal self-governance, ethical piety, and social solidarity. This trend explicitly rejects the political orientation of Islam and explicitly separates itself both from Brothers’ activities and Mubarak’s morality crusades.

In other words:

Egyptians tried out that kind of regime. And they hated it.

Egyptian Protesters Dared to Stand on the “Edge of Chaos”

Clinton Mubarak(Pictured: Secretary of State Clinton and former Egyptian President Mubarak.)

The new science of Chaos and Complexity has a laboratory experiment unfolding with breathtaking clarity before our eyes in Tahrir Square. This science, and its interface with peace-building and diplomacy, carries an explanation for a way of thinking about the events in Egypt that are likely to spread to the wider Arab world.

What if inside the White House Situation Room, with President Obama and the State Department facing a hyper-speed revolution in Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s advisors had sat together examining fractal structures, nonlinear dynamical systems, and models of self-organization and self-organized criticality? “WHAT”? you say.

What we have been watching on our television and computer screens is an emerging condition of self-organization by the protesters in Tahrir Square. The new conditions are unstable and fragile, complexity science tells us, because they are at “the edge of chaos,” and if diplomacy is not skillful in the coming days and weeks, all may yet be lost in the abyss of violence. When the Egyptian revolutionaries needed our unconditional support, the Administration played an old diplomatic game of deliberate ambiguity, missing an opportunity to make us look morally decisive to the Arab world. After Mubarak’s resignation, Obama sent a carefully crafted message that signaled diplomacy as usual underneath the soaring language.

Complexity science is often called the science of Emergence. Anderson Cooper and CNN and Aljazeera and Facebook and Twitter got it right, because both the old media and the new social media went with the flow of events and became strategic participants as well as heroes, publicly thanked by the leaders in Liberation Square. The administration sat on its hands, out-scripted by the pace of events they couldn’t predict or control.

The administration’s response to a 21st century event of profound importance to our national security is being met with 20th century diplomatic thinking. That thinking includes vigorous attempts to predict and control the outcome of events that are what mathematicians call “non-linear”—they don’t move in a straight line, they ebb and flow like water in a stream, or roll back and forth like clouds in a storm. Weather is a non-linear system—and we all know how hard it is to predict the weather even a day or two in advance.

So how on earth can we predict and control a revolution, one that ebbs and flows from one day to the next? Twentieth-century diplomacy was predicated on events that moved in a straight line, progressing from one stage to another. The world is much more complex today and demands a 21st century response to “non-linear” events like the Egyptian revolution.

Imagine the revolutionaries as kids building a tower made out of plastic chips, starting their tower and carefully adding more chips to the pile. The tower is stable for a while and growing taller, but as more chips are added (and no one is telling them what to do or how to do it — they’re figuring it out as they go along) the pile becomes unbalanced and seemingly on the verge of collapse. The tower is now a complex system at a critical juncture, because it has become larger and more variable, and the kids cannot know with certainty when and how the chips may fall.

If the foreign policy advisors were schooled in the latest thinking, they would have anticipated the revolution sooner, instead of being surprised. This wasn’t a “Black Swan,” the total surprise that Nicholas Taleb writes about in his terrific complexity book. Complexity thinking might have forged an appropriate response well ahead of time, because it opens minds to patterns that are emerging, not based on what has happened before in history, forcing analysts to use their imaginations as a tool for policymaking. Einstein encouraged this in his famous quote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

If we apply complexity thinking to diplomatic strategy, we open our minds to a variety of scenarios, to new insights into emergent leadership and democratic structures. We include stories of possible, even probable futures previously unimaginable. We embrace the uncertainty of a spontaneous revolution, rather than trying to predict or control it. We can’t know how the chips will fall. Developing creative and imaginative scenarios about an unknowable future, we can anticipate those moments of “self-organized criticality” when our diplomatic interventions can contribute to the emergence of a transition to democratic governance and the women who will lead it.

There is no “road ahead,” as the President stated today. There is instead a shifting landscape of possibility, and if the administration is as smart as Anderson Cooper, they will take the time to explore it.

Merle Lefkoff is President of Ars Publica in Santa Fe, New Mexico, applying the science of complexity to the art of peace building and diplomacy.

What Does It Feel Like to Break Bread With a Murderer Slash Torturer?

Wisner(Pictured: Frank Wisner.)

At Britain’s Open Democracy, Craig Scott raises that question.

“I see in my mind’s eye the genteel spectacle of Chile’s former President, Augusto Pinochet, taking tea with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. This was apparently a ritual for the two leaders after their respective retirements as heads of government, whenever the General would visit London. But the image specifically dates to the Thatcher-Pinochet tea tryst only days before Pinochet’s arrest in London in 1999 on an extradition warrant from Spain for his role in various brutalities in Chile, including overseeing its torture system. . . .

“That image popped up again twice in the last year, as I observe Hillary Rodham Clinton careening about in response to events in Sri Lanka and now Egypt – bouncing from (realpolitik) wall to (humanitarian) wall to (pragmatism) wall, in a kind of foreign policy funhouse of mirrors.”

After he catches up Mrs. Clinton once making the statement that “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family,” Scott writes:

The image of Lady Thatcher and the General-President demurely sipping their Earl Grey dissolves into an image of the Clintons and the Mubaraks knocking back a latte or two in the Clintons’ Washington digs, for old times’ sake.

Scott’s next piece for Open Democracy, a British site well worth frequenting if you’re unfamiliar with it, is even more troubling. He analyzes the Frank Wisner debacle. It turns out that Wisner, supposedly sent to Egypt because he served as an ambassador there, currently works for a public relations firm that counts Egypt as a client. Scott asks:

Did President Obama send Wisner as his envoy in full knowledge of Wisner’s employment at Patton Boggs, or was that fact elided by Clinton when recommending Wisner to the President? Was Wisner briefed . . . the President or from Secretary of State Clinton? Did Wisner deliver the message President Obama charged him with conveying to Mubarak, or not, and what was that message, exactly? Was Wisner recalled from Cairo because of leaks of his role or because President Obama, or perhaps Secretary of State Clinton, learned of or suspected he had been off-message? Has Hillary Clinton been pursuing her own direct back channel with Mubarak or Suleiman, and with what messages? Did the idea of appointing Suleiman Vice-President and transitioner-in-chief emerge from discussions involving Wisner and/or Clinton with Mubarak?

In fact,

How is it that someone (Wisner) so versed in foreign relations and just coming off the most crucial of missions for the President could publicly state a position diametrically opposed to what the White House claims to be its own position? Did Clinton know in advance what Wisner was going to say or even actively encourage Wisner’s remarks?

Based on what we know now, by recommending Frank Wisner to be the President’s envoy to Cairo, Clinton could not have snookered Obama better if she had tried. The bigger question is whether this is in fact exactly what she tried – and also whether she has, in the result, succeeded given how the US seems to have lined up behind the Suleiman Transition as ‘solution.’

For the latest, see the Sunday New York Times report, In U.S. Signals to Egypt, Obama Straddled a Rift.

It’s Not Our Values They Hate, It’s Our . . .

At the Christian Science Monitor, Graham Fuller gets off a good “gotcha.”

. . . we have been through this debate endlessly since 9/11. Why is there so much anti-American sentiment? No, it’s not because “they hate our values.”

Wait for it (as they say) . . .

It’s our lack of values in foreign policy they don’t like.

Good one, Graham. Expanding on that, he writes that it’s “our hypocritical lack of commitment to democracy, except when it meets our immediate needs.”

The entire essay, US can blame itself for anger in the Middle East, and start making peace, is as eloquent as anything you’ll read on the subject by an American. As he brings the piece to a close, Fuller writes, “We favor democracy — but only when it produces the leaders and policies that suit our interests, not theirs.” Okay, we know that, but then he waxes epigrammatic again:

Democratization is always a punishment we deliver upon enemies, never a gift bestowed upon friends.

In fact, we’re as biased in our choice of states to which we grant democracy as we are with nuclear weapons.

Ordinary Egyptians Have Little to Show for U.S. Military Aid to Egypt

Obama MubarakIt was fairly clear that the military would act after Mubarak’s and Suleiman’s ineptly provocative speeches. The motives for forcing him out were almost certainly multi-faceted – and indeed confused. Certainly the gnomic communiques from the Supreme Army Council could have been drafted by the Sphinx for their lack of content.

On the side of pragmatic self-interest, the senior commanders of the military have had a good deal out of the regime, with profits and jobs in all the military-related and controlled industries, not to mention the prestige and other perquisites of power. The senior commanders seem to have calculated that their only chance of keeping their position and privileges was to go with the flow and tell Mubarak to leave.

If they had ordered the army against the protestors they faced a real problem. Would the conscripts and junior officers follow orders and move against their fellow citizens? Mubarak’s announcement of his departure by September and his other concessions profoundly reduced the chances of the military personnel risking their lives, not to mention their honor, for a self-admitted lost cause.

So now the issue is one for delicate compromises. The opposition leaders and the military have to negotiate the proportions of power sharing. The high command will be trying to maintain its power, but their position is weakened: if they are too greedy, then they have to think of the tens of millions who took to the streets and are now confirmed in their potential power. In addition, much of the military does indeed share the sentiments of the protestors, and so their commanders are playing with a weak hand.

The transition will be difficult. Washington has seen it in terms of a move from one amenable strong leader to another more acceptable but equally amenable one. The EU and US preference for Omar Suleiman, a secret policeman in cahoots with what most Egyptians regard as inimical powers, demonstrates how out of touch they are. They have looked at opposition leaders such as Mohammed El-Baradei as potential strongmen and found them wanting.

But that is precisely their attraction. El-Baradei, or retiring Arab League ambassador Amr ElMousa, should be considered as conveners, whose absence from domestic politics and wrangling could make them impartial and consensual spokesmen. El-Baradei showed his integrity under pressure from the UN and others and gained stature, which is perhaps why some of the chattering classes in Washington, who have never forgiven him for that, have been so eager to suggest his unpopularity.

The last thing Egypt wants is a presidential system concentrating power in one person. To replace decades of autocracy will take a parliamentary consensual system that reflects the views of the disparate masses and interests who rallied to overthrow the President — and as they showed the last two days — the regime.

Anyone who knows Egyptians knows their deep interest in politics and international affairs and the evidence of the last weeks certainly indicates they will not revert to becoming passive subjects again.

What are the international repercussions? Washington and the West will now have to take account of the wishes of the Egyptian people rather than rely upon a bribed autocracy. That certainly should reduce the perennial tendency to see the region through Israeli eyes.

It is unlikely that anyone wants to rip up the peace treaty with Israel. There will be no military assault on Israel. But a government in Cairo looking over its shoulder at a newly enfranchised and staunchly patriotic people is unlikely to enforce the blockade against Gaza, or to help Western efforts to frustrate Hamas/Fateh reconciliation. That degree of security cooperation is almost certainly over and the unpopular sales of Egyptian natural gas to Israel will likely be called into question.

But even the US-Egyptian alliance will need much more work and attention than sending a large annual check to the army. Ordinary Egyptians have seen little practical benefit from alleged American friendship, which has taken the form of supporting their oppressors and to some extent impinging on their patriotism by enforcing cooperation with Israel.

In a situation of diminished American power, Washington’s best bet is to sit on the sidelines and applaud, unless it makes it clear that the money to the military stops immediately if it does not reflect the legitimacy established by the street.

One significant and practical gesture would be cooperation in tracking down and returning to the new government the money that Mubarak and his colleagues have looted over the decades.

For the future, Obama needs some more public diplomacy. In the long term, the military aid has to be diverted to civilian uses, and even expanded. But an Obama who does not stand up to Netanyahu over settlements is unlikely to have much standing in front of the Arab street — as will be reinforced in the other autocratic dominoes that might topple.

Any suggestion that the US will only welcome a democratically elected regime if it hews to American preconceptions about Israel, or that its welcome will be tempered if Islamic parties are represented in the new government, is guaranteed to be counterproductive.

Emphasis on Social Networks Does a Disservice to Egyptian Protesters

In a recent post titled You Can’t Tell Egypt’s Players Without a Scorecard we excerpted an essential piece on Egypt by Paul Amar, Associate Professor of Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, at Jadaliyya. He explains that, Egypt (as, we observe, in Iran with Ayatollah Khameini) isn’t ruled by a single supreme leader, but by a tangle of governmental and security departments with competing agendas.

Meanwhile, many are celebrating the spontaneity of the protests and how they seemed to arise from the Egyptian masses energized by the electrical current of social media. But that does a deep disservice to the social consciences, years of hard work, and heritage of many in Egypt. Or as Amar explains, “. . . behind the scenes of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Facebook-driven protest waves, there are huge structural and economic forces and institutional realignments at work.”

To wit:

With the burgeoning youth population now becoming well organized, these social and internet-coordinated movements. . . . can be grouped into three trends. One [group is] organized by and around international norms and organizations, and so may tend toward a secular, globalizing set of perspectives and discourses. A second group is organized through the very active and assertive legal culture and independent judicial institutions in Egypt. . . . A third . . . represents the intersection of internationalist NGOs, judicial-rights groups and the new leftist, feminist, rural and worker social movements.


. . . there has been a return of very powerful and vastly organized labor movements, principally among youth. 2009 and 2010 were marked by mass national strikes, nation-wide sit-ins, and visible labor protests often in the same locations that spawned this 2011 uprising. . . . Then just on 30 January 2011 clusters of unions from most major industrial towns gathered to form an Independent Trade Union Federation.


. . . the critical, and often overlooked role that Egypt has played in United Nations and humanitarian organizations. . . . Muhammad ElBaradei. . . . bravely led the IAEA and was credited with confirming that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and that Iran was not developing a nuclear weapons program. . . . For much of the week, standing at his side at the protests has been Egyptian actor Khaled Abou Naga who has appeared in several Egyptian and US films and who serves as Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF.


This may be much more a UN-humanitarian led revolution than a Muslim Brotherhood uprising. This is a very twenty-first century regime change – utterly local and international simultaneously.

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