Column by Tim Hartnett.
Exclusive to STR
Quiz: The phrase “one step forward and two steps back” is?
a. The title of a book by Vladimir Lenin.
b. A generous assessment of 20th Century American diplomacy.
c. A rate of progress that gets “experts” promoted and keeps “think-tanks” well-funded.
d. All of the above.
When Morsi was toppled by a military coup in Egypt the other day, somebody on the network news proclaimed that “once again the U.S. finds itself on the wrong side of history.” It never occurs to anyone in the high-society establishment that elected itself to rule the world from the northeast United States that second guessing history works as well as doubling down on losses at a crooked casino. Why the desperate need for a self-help foundation known as Foreign Relations Anonymous remains unmet is not much of mystery. Gamblers and winos are not as prized by the bankocracy as bloodthirsty humanitarians. The 12 step program probably wouldn’t work, but at least addicts would have a place to own up to a problem.
It might have been a clue that engineering stability in the East Mediterranean from Washington was a bad plan when Anwar Sadat was killed in a massacre that took 11 other people with him October 6, 1981. Sadat had accepted a pot of money from the United States in a widely unpopular deal to make nice with Israel. The vice-president, Hosni Mubarak, then took over and used the assassination to expand on a crackdown begun by his predecessor. American support gave the draconian despot a good run for 30 years. The latest reports have it he remains undead in a military hospital.
Content with martial law funded by American taxpayers along the Nile, the White House turned its attention to Israel’s northern border. A civil war had been raging there for six years in 1982, so the DC-Tel Aviv brain trust threw in its support for the minority Phalangist party’s candidate Bashir Gemayel. The presidential non-contender, who ran unopposed during a war involving more than 20 other factions, somehow got blown up three weeks later. Over the next two years, two U.S. embassies and a Marine barracks met the same fate.
The lesson learned from that venture, apparently, was the necessity of hedging bets. Next we got in on both sides of the Iran-Iraq conflict. Now we were wheeling and dealing in TOW missiles, hostages, top secret info and the fate of Kurds. This led to escorting oil tankers, dodging missiles and sea mines and downing a civilian airliner. Things worked out so well we returned to Iraq twice in the following quarter century, which also provided new opportunities to ditch those precious Kurds. Our international harvesters have been about convincing administrations that Iran is ripe fruit ever since.
The American think-tanking expert is surely the most resilient animal known to the zoologists studying fauna that roams free range within the bounds of 495. No catastrophe that results from heeding their in-errantly errant advice can impact that armor-plated self-esteem. No display of ineptitude or stupidity on the primetime small screen ever places them in the unemployment line. No number of innocent dead appears to induce even a moment of humility from this proud beast that finds itself indispensable.
John McCain has abruptly decided that we now must stop backing a coup against popular volition 6,500 miles east of the U.S. Capitol. Somehow the 30 years of that situation that preceded present events never got his attention. If not for developments like the Internet, Bradley Manning and others, another decade of that status quo that prevailed pre-2011 cannot be ruled out. The supposed experts still find themselves relevant after decades of oblivion to suppression of the masses in that country.
It was a classic example of U.S., and world, hypocrisy when Boutros Boutros Ghali served as secretary-general of the UN from 1992 through 1996. His sanctimonious pronouncements were frequently front-paged by journalists, who apparently took him quite seriously. We never saw any reference in mainstream media to the fact that he’d arrived in Turtle Bay as the representative of a strong-arm junta. The US State Department eventually turned on him and prevented a second term by veto for reasons still clouded in the intrigues of Foggy Bottom.
There didn’t appear to be any rift between Ghali’s boss man, Hosni Mubarak, and the Bubba dream team at State. That they were still keen on him is evinced by this photo of the then-president for life celebrating "freedom to the Balkans" with Madeleine Albright in 1999. Madame Albright might have chosen that moment to bring up the subject of freedom elsewhere in the land of the minaret. The largest Arab country in the world might have made for a good start. The Secretary must have found that suggestion less than diplomatic if it occurred to her at all.
Whatever happens in the near future in Egypt, one thing is crystal clear: The US establishment, including media, bureaucracy, politicians and especially those esteemed “fellows” who preach down to us from think tanks, can take no credit if things ever improve over there. We have no evidence that any “US interest,” “vital” or otherwise, has been served by a near half century of skullduggery in Pyramid land. Anyone making the opposite case has the onus of defining “interest,” demonstrating its worth to people beyond narrow circles and describing in detail what exactly has been accomplished. This we will never see in the ocean of letters poured onto foreign policy analysis. It is a cinch that most of the literature in this field is paid for by people who profit from what is being advocated.
Anyone that was against giving money to Hosni Mubarak during his long reign was likely dubbed an isolationist if he reached a broad audience. Keeping Wall Street and its minions in Washington out of other people’s internal political prerogatives is conventionally viewed a wild eyed, radical and dangerous plot against that vague, lofty ideal known as “U.S. interest.” Whatever that enigmatic panacea turns out to be, Egyptians, and lots of other foreigners, are coming around to the opinion that they are not interested.