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New York Times: "Democracy is Bad for US Foreign Policy"

by Stephen Gowans

Heres New York Times reporter Mark Landler on Washingtons reaction to the popular uprising in Egypt against the anti-liberal democratic, human rights-abusing Hosni Mubarak, a staunch ally.

Washington is proceeding gingerly, balancing the democratic aspirations of young Arabs with cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests.

In other words, democracy and human rights are fine, but not when strategic and commercial interests are at stake.

Landler goes on to say that Washingtons cold-eyed commitment to realpolitik and profits sometimes involves supporting autocratic and unpopular governments which has turned many of those young people against the United States.

Well, theres nothing amiss in Landlers observation except his downplaying of the frequency with which Washington supports autocratic and unpopular governments often rather than sometimes.

In Landlers account of strategic thinking in Washington, its all right to support an upheaval in Tunisia, a peripheral player in the region, but a wave of upheaval could uproot valuable allies. And profits and strategic position demand the possibility be blocked.

After all, the Egyptian government is a crucial ally to Washington. And so arrests without charge, including of nearly 500 bloggers, will continue, with Washington maintaining a principled non-interference in Egyptian affairs.

Washington will also continue to tolerate the repressive national emergency law, as it has done since 1981. The law provides the legal cover Washingtons staunch ally needs to arrest people without charge, detain prisoners indefinitely, limit freedom of expression and assembly, and maintain a special security court. Because this is done in the service of safeguarding US strategic and commercial interests, Mubarak gets US military aid, diplomatic support, and an easy ride in the US media.

Compare that to US treatment of Zimbabwes president Robert Mugabe. Even if all the allegations against him were true and theyre not the government in Harare wouldnt come close to matching Mubaraks disdain for the democratic and human rights values Washington claims to hold dear.

And yet Zimbabwe is deemed by the US president to be a grave threat to US foreign policy, its president denounced as a strongman and dictator, and its people subjected to economic warfare in the form of financial sanctions, while Mubarak is hailed as a staunch ally who must be supported against the democratic aspirations of the Arab street.

The key to this duplicity is that Mubarak has sold out Egypt to US profit and strategic interests, while Mugabe has sought to rectify the historical iniquities of colonialism. Clearly, from Washingtons perspective, Mugabe is serving the wrong interests. Indigenous farmers dont count. Western investors do.

One wonders where overthrow specialist Peter Ackerman and his stable of nonviolent warrior academic advisors come down on this on the side of the democratic aspirations of young Arabs or reconciled to the cold-eyed strategic and commercial interests of US corporations and wealthy individuals?

The question, however, may be beside the point. What matters is not whether Ackermans janissary Lester Kurtz wants to spout Gandhian bromides to angry Egyptian youths, but whether theres money to organize and boost the revolutionary energy of the street and how much is being poured into a repressive apparatus to shut it down.
Andrew Albertson and Stephen McInerney (Dont give up on Egypt, Foreignpolicy.com, June 2009) have the answer.

The Obama administration has drastically scaled back its financial support for Egyptian activists fighting for political reform. US democracy and governance funding was slashed by 60 percent. From 2004 to 2009, the US spent less than $250M on democracy programs, but $7.8 billion on aid to the Egyptian military.

But even this imbalance overstates the meager support Washington has offered pro-democracy forces. Given Mubaraks status as a paladin of US commercial and strategic interests, much of Washingtons democracy program spending has probably been allocated to programs that act as a safety valve to divert anger and frustration into safe, non-threatening avenues. Money available to facilitate a real challenge to Mubarak is likely either meager or nonexistent.

With the US establishment vexed by cold-eyed concerns about the need to safeguard imperialist interests against pro-democratic uprisings, champion of nonviolent democracy activism Stephen Zunes can give up whatever dreams he may have had about helping to organize an Egyptian color revolution. When it comes to real democracy, and freedom that counts, the funding cupboard is bare. Color revolutions are for cold-eyed promoters of US strategic and commercial interests, not upheavals against US-backed compradors.

View the original article at Global Research

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2 Responses

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  1. Tom Paine says

    Stephen Gowans is fully entitled to criticize the contradictions in U.S. foreign policy. But since he’s also attacked the legitimacy of nonviolent movements against authoritarian regimes in places like Iran and Zimbabwe for over five years now, it’s curious that he would suddenly be sympathetic to the largely nonviolent movement against Egypt’s authoritarian regime. Obviously he likes some dictators but not others. Nevertheless, his apparent cynicism about Peter Ackerman and Stephen Zunes supporting a democratic revolution in Egypt because it’s been a U.S. ally is as unfounded as his past attacks on those two scholars. It’s public knowledge that Zunes and Ackerman were among the speakers at a seminar on nonviolent struggle hosted by the Ibn Khaldun Center in Cairo four years ago, which included labor organizers, human rights activists, students, Islamists and others. Moreover, I’m told that the nonviolent conflict institute at Tufts where Zunes and Ackerman speak has had young Egyptian dissidents as participants, and Ackerman’s center has done workshops for Palestinians. So they’ve answered Gowans’ question already and repeatedly: they’re on the side of “the aspirations of young Arabs.”

  2. Tom Hastings says

    Various reports have Egyptian casualties at 108 and upwards from there. This largely nonviolent mass resistance, effectively a general strike, is winning, though it will be weakened by any violence coming from the resisters, many of whom know that well. Indeed, those of us who study, practice and teach strategic nonviolence have worked with many Arab resisters from many countries, including US clients and US adversaries, because what we find is that the people simply want freedom and strategic nonviolence offers them the best chance at that. If Gowans is so interested in freedom and justice for the oppressed, why does he defend Ahmadinijad and Mugabe? Isn’t it obvious? His Maoist approach sends him joining the opponents of the US and supporting the enemies of the US. Those of us on the nonviolent side support all freedom struggles, whether they oppose royalists, imperialists, communists or any oppressor whatsoever. That is not acceptable to an ideologue like Gowans, sad to say. Some of us who oppose US imperialism and who teach and write about it have come to understand that the aspirations of oppressed people anywhere are far more important than some ideology. So, unfortunately, Gowans is reduced to repeating his fatuous charges against us ad nauseam. Too bad some believe him.



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