I have been avidly following the events in Egypt since the protests began in late January, partly because this reminds me of what took place in Kenya in mid 1997. For the Egyptians’ sake, I hope that their gains are so much greater than ours because we’re still fighting for true democracy in Kenya.
I haven’t had much time to scour the internet for varied sources of news, so I’ve been relying on National Public Radio’s (NPR) broadcasts for updates on my commutes to and from work. NPR is the closest thing to balanced U.S. reporting on international issues.
On February 11th, to my immense surprise, I listened to this broadcast, an excerpt of which I post below. But first, a little background. Earlier that day, the airwaves had been rife with speculation that President Hosni Mubarak was going to resign. As Media Houses are wont to do, they had interviewed American “experts” who virtually confirmed this would happen. When Mubarak’s defiant speech revealed his refusal to relinquish the presidency, other American “experts” were rustled up to give commentary on this new and unexpected development. So here an excerpt from the broadcast that I took issue with:
…as Woodrow Wilson Center scholar Aaron David Miller points out, the U.S. is in a tight spot.
“We find ourselves in the worst of all possible worlds,” he says, “with grand expectations and supporting very important values, but without the capacity and leverage to implement a preferred American outcome or even an outcome in Egypt that we can control.”
Miller says this is part of a long trend for the U.S.; America’s credibility, he argues, has been sinking to new lows.
“We are neither admired, respected or feared to the degree that we need to be in order to protect our interests, and the reality is — and this is just another demonstration of it — everybody in this region says no to America without cost or consequences,” he says. “[Afghanistan’s] Hamid Karzai says no, [Iraq’s] Maliki on occasion says no, [Iran’s] Khamenei says no, [Israel’s] Netanyahu says no. Mubarak says no repeatedly.”
U.S. credibility fell over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, analysts say, and again last year when Israel rejected U.S. calls for a building freeze in the occupied West Bank. Egypt is one place where the U.S. can stop this decline, says Amjad Atallah of the New America Foundation.
But, he says, the administration needs to get its act together first and stop giving Egypt mixed messages… And the longer this plays out, particularly in public, the weaker the U.S. looks to everyone, Atallah says… If there was ever a moment to play the aid card, Atallah says, this is it.
Please read the article in its entirety for context, so you can follow along with my argument. This broadcast irked me no end because the interviewees were concerned for America’s reputation, rather than for the demands of the Egyptian people who took to the streets. Consider the italicized phrases for a moment:
“…without the capacity and leverage to implement a preferred American outcome or even an outcome in Egypt that we can control.”
I perfectly understand that America considers itself the champion of democracy in the world; however, where does it get off wanting “to implement a preferred American outcome?” What about the outcome desired and preferred by Egyptians? Did America start this revolution? Did America protest on the streets of Egypt? Where do they get off wanting to control what happens in Egypt? Clearly, a game is in progress and Egypt is merely a dispensable pawn.
“”We are neither admired, respected or feared to the degree that we need to be in order to protect our interests…”
The U.S. has lost credibility in the eyes of the rest of the world, and rightly so. Progressively, the blinders are falling of from the eyes of the rest of the world. I submit that it has lost credibility because it is now evident that the U.S. is a big bully that uses its power to threaten others and get what it wants. While it is only natural for a country to want to protect its interests, doing so at another country’s expense will come back to bite you. What if Egypt is the world power at some point in the future and the U.S. is indebted to her? Ah, but that will never happen, will it?
“If there was ever a moment to play the aid card, Atallah says, this is it.”
Well, the U.S. certainly has some leverage with the aid it offers. But should it leverage that aid to implement an American-controlled outcome that rubbishes the efforts of the Egyptians who took to the streets and of those who gave their lives in this revolution? One could argue that aid is largely blackmail, which is why all countries that receive aid should be working towards extricating themselves from receiving it. What if the leverage didn’t work because Egyptians chose to give up aid in order to realize the gains that they have been fighting for? Ah, but that could never happen, could it?
These sorts of comments from people who are not on the ground fighting the battle–“experts” who have sat in plush Western offices and read books and papers on Egypt (some of whom have likely never even set foot in Egypt); people who haven’t lived under a repressive regime and experienced the troubles that led to this revolution–these kinds of comments irk me because the “experts” don’t seem to realize that beyond their theories of leverage and protection of U.S. interests are real people with real needs that may actually be more important than using an entire nation to bolster the reputation of the U.S.
I sincerely hope that America and other Western nations realize that the world is no longer what it used to be. Developing nations are coming into their own and deserve to be treated with the same dignity and courtesy that are extended to developed nations. Honor should be the prevailing tone in international relationships because, as history reveals, tables do turn.