Another perplexing dilemma has invaded my brain. This time it concerns the turmoil in Egypt.
Haven’t we seen this scenario many times before? The United States supports a repressive, corrupt regime to avoid an anti-Western faction from taking over. We supported the Shah of Iran, financially, militarily and ideologically, to prevent the Communists from moving into Iran. Never you mind that the people of Iran were living an existence that resembled death more than life. The booty that the Shah collected from other countries was funneled directly into his own coffers, not to the people. The end result, the uprising that caused the Shah to exit Iran forever, was not only the logical next step, but also allowed for more extremist, religious groups to take over ruling the country. This was exactly what Western governments feared, yet they never forced the Shah to deal with these deep, underlying problems. So the outcome was predictably worse than the initial problem.
The same sequence of events occurred in Panama, with their American-supported dictator, Noriega. Things there also turned against the American-backed forces and lo and behold, Noriega now sits in an American jail. America supported the horrible tenure of Hussein In Iraq and look what happened there. What appears like a more beneficial and sympathetic (to America’s interests) situation often turns out to be, in reality, even more destructive to the foreign nationals and the cause of world peace.
Today, in Egypt, the Mubarak government is about to fall. Yes, we have had a “peace” (albeit a very tenuous, hypocritical truce) with Mubarak for the last thirty years. Certainly, our American diplomats believed that the Mubarak regime was a far sight better than a Communist takeover and crucial to equilibrium in the Mideast. Equilibrium for whom? The party in power? The wealthy? The United States and their distorted, biased vision of the balance of power? Certainly no equilibrium existed for the Egyptian people. They were starving, they had no freedom of speech nor freedoms at all. The wealthy upper class had all of that. The 1 1/2 billions of dollars that the U.S. gave to Egypt annually went for weapons and other life enhancements of the ruling party to protect themselves from the bubbling anger of the proletariat. This frustration and discontent has reached the boiling point this week. The tear gas canisters that the government forces hurled at the protesters this week were marked “Made in the U.S.A.”
Mubarak, per his own request, has accepted the resignation of his cabinet. What good is that when the poison at the top of his organization, Mubarak himself, refuses to step down? Symbolism just does not cut it here. He will wind up, down and out, on his elite, dictatorial ass. Notice the true markings of a genuine dictator: Mubarak has shipped his sons off to safety in London. First priority: protect the lineage of power. Thus, Mubarak’s refusal to step down is more easily understood —- and his overriding priority, the preservation of his throne, becomes painfully obvious. Democracy NOT!
I do not live in a fantasy world. I am well-aware of the benefits of maintaining relationships with our foreign allies for a more stable political climate. Surely, during his reign that scanned five American presidencies, Mubarak has kept his hands off of Israel for decades, has aided us in trying to rectify the Iranian nuclear situation, kept the oil tankers free-flowing through the Suez Canal to our shores and been somewhat helpful in the pursuit of extremists. I am aware that we need allies across the globe, even if they are not our perfect ideological twin. My major complaint though, is that these foreign allies always seem to place the liberty of their people as the last item on the agenda when citing such sweeping goals as political stabilization, economic opportunity, social reform and world peace. The United States tacitly, more often than not, accepts this relegation of the masses to the supposed “higher” principles.
The correct response from President Obama and other world leaders is not strictly black and white. Rather, the response is going to have to be well-thought out, cautious, flexible and quite complicated due to the nuances of the situation. Developing events, such as Mubarak, for the first time in his tenure as President, appointing a Vice-President and a Prime Minister, will alter our day-to-day, if not hour-to-hour, rejoinder. Shall we continue to prop up the powers that be, hoping that the prevailing government will institute reforms, or shall we withdraw our support and deal with an entirely new power structure, hoping for the best but unsure if our current standing with the Mubarak government will continue to be acknowledged? This explosive situation in Egypt is in a constant state of flux and the outcome is anybody’s guess. All I know is that the deservedly defiant Egyptians should not be punished and murdered for their pursuit of justice. Their battle should not automatically take last place over the desire to maintain control. This is a real tightrope of a dilemma and I surely do not envy the decisions facing Mr. Obama.
Why do you think that al Qaeda and other extremist religious factions have risen to such power in the world? The former, prevailing governments were so corrupt and abusive to their own citizens, that once a crack in the system developed, the extremists were welcomed with open arms. The Communists were never a threat, as their power base crumbled twenty years ago under the pressure of keeping up their appearances and military might. Is this lack of enlightenment obvious only to me?
Twenty years ago in Eastern Europe, after the fall of Communism, Russia could not hold back the wave of formerly communistic nations seeking their independence. The process was uplifting, yet the resulting governments are no less corrupt than the one they broke away from. In Iran about a year ago, the Green Revolution sputtered under the quashing of their rebellion by the religious party in power, a party that came into being after they overran the Shah. I do not know which path Egypt will follow; if they will succeed in establishing a semi-democracy or if they will replace one counterfeit ruler with another. Moreover, who is to say that the successor government in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt will not bring their own particular brand of baggage to the table? I certainly do not believe that a new government necessarily means a new level of reform and care for the people.
Once the freedom train has left the station, sometimes it succeeds at reaching its destination, and sometimes it does not.
The United States has made this error in judgment over and over again. We supported repressive regimes to ensure our own economic and ideological policies. Just a couple of weeks ago, we repeated this morally empty, self-serving stance when President Hu visited from China. Human rights were not a major item on the agenda of talks, at least not publicly. The lack of any human rights extended to the Chinese people who criticize their government is a given and is not open for international discussion. Furthermore, China’s intention of culturally dismantling Tibet is an ongoing process. They imported millions of native Chinese to the region and outlawed any language except Chinese. This process is erasing the culture that existed in Tibet. The Chinese believe that a clean slate will forever wipe away any remnants of Tibetan culture and thus, all of their objections to being absorbed into China. Wrong. The Chinese need only to look at the histories of Iran, Iraq, India, Panama and Egypt. Additionally, isn’t this cultural extinction exactly what we perpetrated against our own native Americans so long ago?
America insists that they are on the side of angels, but their policies, both national and international, do not point to such high and admirable principles. We talk a good line, and then send aid and support to exactly those forces that are clearly detrimental to the existence of the greater good. Perhaps the underlying problem is that there are no angels. Facing up to that reality might also be warranted at this point.
However, based on history, the replacement government might turn out to be even more repressive, a la the religious oligarchy that replaced the Shah in Iran. Like I said, there probably are no angels, especially when money and power dominate the mix.
So my “perplexing dilemma” is no such thing at all. The injustice, corruption and substitution of one repressive regime for another is simply the order of the day, all across the globe. Where trouble is fomenting, whether it be economic or political, there is always the next dictator to step in and save the country. Oh yes: he will protect that nation from itself —- for himself.