February 5, 2011

Egypt: What would Carter do?

You have to wonder if President Obama is reading the Jimmy Carter playbook on Iran in dealing with Egypt. Some eerie similarities exist and if President Obama isn't running the Carter playbook then he apparently is one of those condemned to repeat history.  On the other hand, it's quite possible that the Obama administration actually has helped foster the unrest and is seeking to reap what it has sewn.

First there are some similarities both pre-uprising and during the upheaval period that should be noted. President Obama and President Carter have followed the same path on an Arab ally in a significant way.


Jimmy Carter - (from The American Thinker, in 2007)
During the 1970's Iran's Shah propelled Iran into becoming a dynamic middle-east regional power. The Shah implemented broad economic and social reforms, including enhanced rights for women, and religious and ethnic minorities. Economic and educational reforms were adopted, initiatives to cleanse politics of social upheaval were systematized, and the civil service system was reformed. When sectors of society rioted to demand even greater freedom, the Shah promised constitutional reform to favor democracy. In the face of Soviet and fundamentalist Islamic pressures, constitutional reform remained on the back burner, as the Shah built what on paper was the world's fifth or sixth largest armed force. In 1976, it had an estimated 3,000 tanks, 890 helicopter gunships, over 200 advanced fighter aircraft, the largest fleet of hovercraft in any country and 9,000 anti-tank missiles.

The Shah used Iran's military might to address regional crises consistent with foreign relations goals of the United States. The Nixon and Ford administrations endorsed these efforts and allowed the Shah to acquire virtually unlimited quantities of any non-nuclear weapons in the American arsenal.

In accord with the pleasant US-Iran relations then-existing, President Carter spent New Year's Eve in 1977 with the Shah and toasted Iran as "an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world". Nonetheless, between 1975 and 1978, the Shah's popularity fell due to the Carter administration's misguided implementation of human rights policies.
President Obama (From Huffington Post, 2011)

While there are some similarities as evidenced in President Obama's Cairo speech in 2009, exhorting the institutions in Egypt such as the Cairo University, there are some interesting behind the scenes actions that belie the President's words;
In its first year, the Obama administration cut funding for democracy and governance programming in Egypt by more than half, from $50 million in 2008 to $20 million in 2009 (Congress later appropriated another $5 million). The level of funding for civil society programs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was cut disproportionately, from $32 million to only $7 million. Though funding levels for 2010 are not yet available, they are expected to show an increase to $14 million, says Stephen McInerny, the director of advocacy at the Project on Middle East Democracy. He notes that the Bush administration slashed economic aid to Egypt in the 2009 budget but kept the funding for democracy and governance programs constant, while Obama cut funding to those programs in an effort to make the cuts more proportional and under pressure from the American embassy in Cairo.
During the Upheaval

Jimmy Carter - (from Newsmax in 2002)
Remember Carter's human rights program, where he demanded the Shah of Iran step down and turn over power to the Ayatollah Khomeini?

No matter that Khomeini was a madman. Carter had the U.S. Pentagon tell the Shah's top military commanders – about 150 of them – to acquiesce to the Ayatollah and not fight him.

The Shah's military listened to Carter. All of them were murdered in one of the Ayatollah's first acts.

By allowing the Shah to fall, Carter created one of the most militant anti-American dictatorships ever.
Barack Obama - (From National Journal on Feb 1/2011)
A few minutes later, Mubarak was on the phone. “The president told him that he was going to speak to the American people and would be clear about what he expected out of Egypt, but he was also clear that the U.S. government was not in the business of regime change and that Egypt was our ally,” was how another administration official who was privy to the details of the call put it. 
As he had in private discussions, Obama said the U.S. would publicly call for four discrete changes: One, an end to the emergency law. Two, free and fair elections. Three, constitutional changes to allow for more freedom of expression. Four, a real dialog with the opposition. Without giving Mubarak an ultimatum, Obama made it clear that the status quo was no longer operative. Obama made sure that Mubarak understood how much the U.S. valued its relationship with Egypt, and pointedly “noted that the U.S. was resisting political pressure to call for Mubarak to resign,” an aide said. He implied that U.S. patience was not infinite but it was tactical: the U.S. calculated that the protests would dim if Egyptians really believed that change was on the way. But that was as far as the U.S. policy of non-interference would go. Every action taken by Egypt from then on would be watched.
But those positions evolved into one of managing the 'transition'.
The watchword by Sunday was “orderly transition.” Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated it to his counterpart, the Egyptian military’s chief of staff, Gen. Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, that morning. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the phrase on all five Sunday shows. When Obama’s press team sent reporters a “read out” about his calls to the region’s leaders, it also included the phrase. “The military is very much aware of what we expect and everything they’ve said to us privately tracks with what they’ve done in public,” the first administration official said.
This is where it starts to seem a bit sinister. The Telegraph reports that while Obama has been publicly praising Mubarak, they have been complicit in the plotting of his downfall.
The US government has previously been a supporter of Mr Mubarak’s regime. But the leaked documents show the extent to which America was offering support to pro-democracy activists in Egypt while publicly praising Mr Mubarak as an important ally in the Middle East. 
In a secret diplomatic dispatch, sent on December 30 2008, Margaret Scobey, the US Ambassador to Cairo, recorded that opposition groups had allegedly drawn up secret plans for “regime change” to take place before elections, scheduled for September this year.

The memo, which Ambassador Scobey sent to the US Secretary of State in Washington DC, was marked “confidential” and headed: “April 6 activist on his US visit and regime change in Egypt.”
But that support, as sinister as it may be, is likely to result in as a bad a result for U.S. interests as the Carter actions achieved in the Iran crisis.  That's because the people protesting in Egypt are not all interested in democracy.  Some, such as the Muslim Brotherhood want a Muslim-based government, and others still are interested in a communist regime.

That doesn't mean someone with more potential for moderation like Ayman Nour couldn't win, but even moderates in Egypt do not work in isolation:
The anti-succession coalition, initiated by former presidential candidate and founder of El Ghad party, Ayman Nour, gained momentum in a conference held Wednesday among representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Movement for Change (Kefaya), the Democratic Front, the Egyptian Communist party, and the Justice and Development party.
So "what would Carter do" is less relevant than what outcome would Carter foster.  Whether nefarious or naive, President Obama is using human rights as a bludgeon in Egypt much in the same way Carter did in Iran. The potential outcome is just as bad as the outcome was in Iran. Obama = Carter  rears it's ugly head once again.

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