Tag Archives: egypt

Voting for Democracy, Often with Lip Service

Is democracy the official U.S. goal in the Middle East and around the world? Not necessarily. Not always, certainly not now. U.S presidents may talk about democratic

King Abdullah II and President Obama meeting in Washington

aspirations everywhere – but the record is a matter of relativity. (Remember the Shah of Iran, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and the South African minority apartheid regime, to name a few cases.)

The U.S. conundrum, no matter how thoughtful and sincere the president of the moment, could hardly be worse than in the case of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. (Saudi Arabia is a more complicated, different order of magnitude) What would the United States prefer: King Abdullah II and his pro-American constancy or the shaky possibilities of the ballot box? About one third of Jordan’s 6.5 million people are Palestinian refugees and most of them are Jordanian citizens. Open elections might move in an unscripted direction.

Historically, U.S. officials fear Palestinian voters going to the polls. In 2006, when Hamas won a majority in Palestinian parliamentary elections, it would have been hard to deny this was the people’s legitimate choice. Yet the Bush administration reacted with anger and halted financial aid to the Palestinian government – so did the European community. So much for democratic elections.

The United States has taken a couple of quick turns of policy in the recent popular uprisings around the Levant – Mubarak gone to seed, Yemen sinking fast, Libya bombing runs. But U.S. officials would be stuck if things turned very bad in Jordan. So far protests for political reform in Jordan have been rather mild.

King Abdullah has his American side. He is a graduate of the Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. More than once, an attentive shopper might have bumped elbows with him on a on Saturday morning when Abdullah—jean-clad and unnoticed–browsed the bookshelves at Barnes and Noble in Georgetown.

The king is likely staying home for a while. He’s engaged in what he calls a “national dialogue,” which in some ways is more open, more prosperous than Arab neighbors.

The king, quoted by the Jordan information bureau, said this week that “We are moving ahead with the reform endeavor to build upon achievements, bring about development and realize Jordanians’ aspirations for a better future.”

Abdullah even insinuates he’s thinking about bigger changes. The Information Bureau also said this: “During a meeting with representatives of the professional associations, the King called for supporting all forms of constructive dialogue and standing firm against non-democratic moves that threaten the country’s national unity.”

The king would be a democrat, lower and probably upper case, if he took out U.S. citizenship. But in Jordan, it is likely that he will hold the prerogatives of the throne as long as he can–with steadfast support from the United States.

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Condoleezza Rice–The Egypt Story Writ Wrong

The Washington Post Opinion page, in its latest attempt to rehabilitate and give ink to the Bush 43 presidency, gave empty space to Condoleezza Rice to opine on Egypt. Rice goes so far as to suggest that in 2005, she presaged democratic rule in Egypt in a Cairo speech.

She writes: “Following in the vein of President George W. Bush’s second inaugural address, I said that the United States would stand with people who seek freedom. This was an admission that the United States had, in the Middle East more than any other region, sought stability at the expense of democracy, and had achieved neither. It was an affirmation of our belief that the desire for liberty is universal – not Western, but human – and that only fulfillment of that desire leads to true stability.”

She is wrong, of course, about the United States–it sought neither stability nor democracy in Iraq, rather a chimeric vision of imposed American order, and failed.

Rice’s opinion piece comes several weeks after a similar foray by Elliott Abrams, a former Middle East point man at the National Security Council in the George W. Bush administration. These are part of an effort to recast the Bush administration and its disastrous Middle East policy as a prescient system that only now is bearing fruit.

In fact, Rice and Abrams and their team perverted U.S. values in the Middle East when they invaded Iraq– creating the concept of and precedent for preemptive war–war that can be waged whenever the United States so pleases. My colleague Knut Royce and I wrote a book, The Italian Letter, which debunks a central claim of the former members of the Bush administration on the U.S. invasion of Iraq — that they were acting “on the best intelligence available at the time.” The book shows that statement to be a lie, even though a majority of Americans probably think the statement is right. Propaganda, in the hands of skilled apparatchiks, such as Karl Rove and Michael Gerson — the latter another denizen of the Wash Post opinion pages — is hard to beat back.

Empty words are empty however they are coated; Rice’s article is a poorly threaded garment draped over the truth.

Rice, under orders from the White House PR squad in 2002 that created the image of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, warned the world with tremulous voice that we should fear mushroom clouds on the horizon. So doing, along with Colin Powell, Dick Cheney and the rest, she helped wreck the image of the United States in the world. Not to mention the war itself, which cost countless lives and billions upon billions of dollars.

At least, in the present Washington Post article, Rice comes close to reality in one disjointed phrasing–“The fall of communism unleashed patriots who had long regarded the United States as a “beacon of freedom.” Our history with the peoples of the Middle East is very different.”

Other than that, Rice’s splattering of words on the page adds up to a tone-deaf rendering of Chopsticks, a two-fingered song on the piano, little better than empty space and silence.

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