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June 29, 2006

Scrowcroft’s Ghost Continues to Haunt the Hallways of the State Department
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I remember the last time I was in Cairo in May 2005. There was, then, a sense that things were finally moving forward. Hope – that most rare of luxuries – was making a comeback (albeit a modest one). Today, the level of repression is getting pretty bad, as I wrote on Tuesday. And, of course, the State Department can be counted on for making things even worse.

No one in the press seemed to care much about the congressional debate on US aid to Egypt which took place earlier this month, so, for posterity’s sake, let me bring to your attention a few things which capture, quite convincingly I think, the veritable death of the Bush administration’s efforts to democratize the Middle East. If you really care about democracy, I suggest you take a deep breath before you read how our venerable officials at the State Department - perhaps under the spell of the Scrowcroftian spirit which continues to haunt the writhing hallways of the Harry S. Truman Building (and especially the 7th floor) – made a mockery of our country's founding ideals. What the heck is Condoleezza doing?

On June 9th, Congress debated Egypt’s aid package. Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), an amendment which would have reduced US aid to Egypt by $100 million was defeated in a close 225-198 vote. Well, I'm sure you're wondering where the Bush administration stood? This, according to a rather interesting article in al-Ahram Weekly, before congress voted: “The Bush administration has called on Congress to keep annual aid to Egypt of nearly $2 billion dollars intact for the next fiscal year, arguing that America's strategic interests will be harmed if aid to the Egyptian government is cut.”

Then you had one mess of a May 17th congressional hearing on the question of US aid to Egypt. Here, the position of the State Department representatives couldn't have been more clear. You had stalwart realists like Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, who never for one second cared about Bush’s “vision” for “ending tyranny,” insisting, impassionedly it seems from the transcript, for the maintenance of the status quo:

Our strategic partnership with Egypt is a cornerstone of US policy in the region. We share a vision of a Middle East that is at peace and free of terror.

Who cares about ideals when you’ve got interests? (I guess he forgot that nothing causes terrorism like tyranny). Then, Michael Coulter, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, pointed out that military aid to the Egyptian regime helps guarantee “a defense force capable of supporting US security.” I guess Coulter forgot to mention that Egypt also plays a valuable role in torturing the terrorism suspects that we ship over to them, as part of our extraordinary renditions program. Well, priorities are priorities.


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I saw the name David Welch and my interest was peaked; wasn't he the US consul in Cairo until very recently? I didn't realize he'd gotten a title bump.

Aside from the torture, democracy itself has failed to take off in Egypt; Ayman Nour is still in jail and that's scared anyone else interested in opposition politics off into the bushes. This was a good post.

No one has yet explained to me why making Egyptian elections slightly less fraudulent or letting some Muslim Brotherhood types out of jail was the most important thing we had to discuss with a government that has for three years led the Arab League in opposing any effectual steps to end the genocide being conducted under the auspices of its fellow Arab government in Khartoum.

It never fails; when liberals crticize the Bush administration on things like this it's never for being impractical or unrealistic, and absolutely never for failing to recognize that there are some things on this earth worse than a lack of democracy. It always for being insincere and not idealistic enough.

Who cares about ideals when you’ve got interests?

Oh my God! Imagine...a country like the US pursuing its interests. What depravity is next? What would the founders think?!

Shadi, I've said it before, I'll say it again. Interests are to politics what location is to real estate. I can hardly wait until Egypt is a beacon of democracy able to project its will on neighboring countries. The best thing the Middle East can do for its governance is mirror the UAE model of independent, loosely confederated city states... يعني دول الدويلات.

However, no resources means no food, no production, and no independence from foreign influence. If the Arab states really want to pull out of the intellectual/political dark ages one of these countries needs to produce something other than jihadis and bootleg cds which it can then trade for, anything really.

Countries like Iran and Syria are able to stay independent of American influence because they are self-sufficient. Food first, ideals later.

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