By David Michael Green
COURAGE is standing in the streets demanding the end of a thirty year despotic dictatorship, in a country with no tradition of democracy or the protection human rights.
Cowardice is talking about how other people should have human rights delivered to them by foreign militaries.
Cowardice is talking about democracy for others while actually undermining it when you don’t like the results.
Courage is walking like an Egyptian.
Cowardice is talking like a neocon.
It’s impossible not to admire the courage of the Egyptian people, walking daily into the maws of a repressive regime and its violent goon squads, willing to sacrifice everything in order to end decades of American-backed autocracy in their country.
And it’s impossible not to be embarrassed by the silence of the American right, who bloviate endlessly about bringing democracy to the Middle East, but have gone somehow all quiet lately. These folks couldn’t have been more excited two years ago when the Iranian public was doing exactly what the Egyptians are doing now, but for some reason they aren’t out there cheering this time. Hmm. I wonder, what could be the difference?
Actually, it’s just most of them that are silent. We should be so lucky where the others are concerned. Glenn Beck is completely out of his tree, although that’s about as surprising as stink on a turd, and about as pleasant. He has decided that the democracy movement in Egypt is the beginning of the much-predicted and much-feared rise of the Muslim caliphate. Um, even though it is being led by young people with a secular agenda, and the Muslim Brotherhood has been on the sidelines. He has declared that this is part of some great big ol’ conspiracy that involves jihadists and socialists and lesbians and Barack Obama. Um, even though, those aren’t crowds who normally have lots to do with one another. Oh well, if his (thankfully diminishing, not to mention diminished) audience can buy the fantasy that the secularist Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11 and thus belly up for a ten-year war on that basis, why not see Obamacare-death-panel-commie-pinko-fag conspiracies on the streets of Cairo as well? It makes about as much sense. It’s about as contradictory as Jesus supporting capitalism, a notion which any good regressive will be happy to argue today. Logic never before stopped that locomotive from going off the rails at a hundred miles per hour, and it isn’t now.
Okay, well, Beck is sorta sui generis (or so it’s a bit comforting to think). What’s happening on the ‘sane’ right, where politics is only sometimes based on wild conspiracy theories? The answer that they don’t know what the hell to do with themselves. Egypt has exposed them as liars, hypocrites and autocrats, and it ain’t exactly a comfortable place to be in.
Take the exquisitely appropriately named Charles Krauthammer (please) as an example (LEFT). You won’t need to devote a whole lot of processing cycles from the CPU between your ears to figure out what he’s up to once you see the title of his latest piece: “Egypt’s Dangerous Road Ahead: The Muslim Brotherhood’s A Force, ElBaradei’s A Useful Idiot”. Just the same, he starts off the piece by asking “Who doesn’t love a democratic revolution? Who is not moved by the renunciation of fear and the reclamation of dignity in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria?”
Great question, but guess who, after all, it turns out doesn’t seem to love a democratic revolution so very much?!?! Instead of waxing joyous about the redemptive delivery of democracy to the Middle East – you know, like he did when Iran’s public was rising up, or like when he was justifying the Iraq invasion – Herr Blitzkrieg is instead all full of warnings, danger signs and bogeymen. ‘Cause, you know, we all remember how the French Revolution went awry: “The romance could be forgiven if this were Paris 1789. But it is not. In the intervening 222 years, we have learned how these things can end.”
Wait, didn’t the Americans once have a revolution too? Would Krauthammer have warned against that one? You bet. As a matter of fact, just about the only thing that allows regressives to continue to exist at all is the severe historical amnesia of the American public. The plain truth is that the right opposes every progressive movement in its time – just as they oppose gay rights today, and women’s rights yesterday, and racial civil rights just before that – and then pretends to celebrate it a generation or two later. Of course they would have opposed the American Revolution. We know that because: They did! They were called tories, and they in fact sided with the monarchical, repressive Brits. No doubt Hamiltonians would have been seen as the surreptitious Muslim Brotherhood equivalents of the time, threatening the freedom that monarchy provides, with George Washington playing the role of their useful idiot. He’d be even more ‘idiotic’ if, like ElBaradei, he also happened as head of the IAEA to have committed the cardinal sin of making the WMD-chanting neocon lunatics who demanded the Iraq adventure look like, well, idiots.
The right gives themselves away when they are confronted with the possible outcome they claim to desire in the public interest, but which turns out to be nothing more than marketing blabber. Why, for example, do their tax cuts for the wealthy always seem to be paramount, even when they result in a massive increase to the national debt that regressives are so fond of ranting against? Why must Cuba be strangled, but China traded with? And why does Krauthammer write, concerning Egypt, that “We are told by sage Western analysts not to worry about the Brotherhood because it probably commands only about 30% of the vote. This is reassurance? In a country where the secular democratic opposition is weak and fractured after decades of persecution, any Islamist party commanding a third of the vote rules the country.”
The bloody truth is that these regresso-monsters couldn’t possibly care less about democracy, except to be sure to block it wherever it interferes with their real agenda. In the case of Egypt, the exposure of their hypocrisy could not be more complete if we had video from a neocon nude beach party. Wait, never mind. Dick Cheney and Peggy Noonan in the buff? Euw. Some metaphors are too horrible to contemplate, despite their illuminating power.
On and on went the likes of Wolfowitz and Rice and Krauthammer about the need to bring democracy to the Middle East, even if that meant launching a war in Iraq which was disastrous in every way imaginable. But, of course, democracy was neither the goal nor outcome in that country, which today has three far more likely scenarios in front of it: either a reversion to Saddam-like dictatorship, civil war, and/or centrifugal explosion into at least three countries instead of one.
Similarly, the Bush administration went on and on about the need for the Palestinians to embrace democracy, until they actually did it. Lo and behold, when elections were held and Hamas won a crushing defeat, the US immediately began undermining the new government’s legitimacy. But that’s hardly news. American efforts to undermine democracy in the Middle East date back to at least 1953, with the toppling of the democratically elected Iranian government, whose great crime was to piss-off British Petroleum by asserting the ludicrous notion that Iranian oil should belong to Iranians. What cheeky little brown bastards, eh?!
But killing Iraqis to set them free was always logically absurd, anyhow, for anyone who doesn’t take their politics as a religion (literally and figuratively), and is willing to examine with even the slightest scintilla of scrutiny the right’s daily dose of dogma for dummies. Iraq was supposed to be a model in the region, which other states would then follow. But that concept was always idiotic from the get-go because the model was already there – indeed, had been there, more or less, for a century – right next door. Turkey was and is a majority Islamic state that is nevertheless pretty solidly democratic and mostly secular, often quite adamantly so. Why did perhaps a million people have to die in order to have a democratic model in the Middle East when there already was one, right there?
Even more ludicrous was the continuing close relationship between the United States – especially Republicans, and especially especially the House of Bush – with the autocracies of the Middle East we’re supposedly meant to be democratizing. I mean, really, if the US government wanted to democratize the Middle East, why not just pull a Saudi prince or two aside for a chat at the next family barbeque? Why not pick up the phone, call Mubarak and tell him to quit screwin’ around with his whole secret police thing? And, if he didn’t get the message, why not just stop sending him gobs of money? Or stop training those very secret police? You know, why not apply a little of that much-vaunted conservative tough love?
The reason is the same explanation for why no one on the right is embracing real democracy as it is occurring right before our eyes in Egypt, right now. It isn’t democracy that is desired by these chickenhawk cowards, who all seemed to have been quite preoccupied with studying Machiavelli or business administration when the US was ‘bringing democracy’ to Vietnam during their era, and thus, goshdarnit, unfortunately had to miss the war. Despite the breathtaking bravery of the Egyptian public seeking to overthrow their American stooge-tyrant and his violent squads of mercenary goons, regressives don’t seem quite moved, other than to cynicism. And as for Nobel Peace Prize winners who are out on the streets risking life and limb, and who might be the perfect match for the moment, they are “useful idiots”. Instead, says Krauthammer, let’s have a military dictatorship to replace the political one, and give us what we really want: “The overriding objective is a period of stability during which secularists and other democratic elements of civil society can organize themselves for the coming elections and prevail. ElBaradei is a menace. Mubarak will be gone one way or the other. The key is the military. The U.S. should say very little in public and do everything behind the scenes to help the military midwife – and then guarantee – what is still something of a long shot: Egyptian democracy.”
The military? Does Krauthammer mean the same military that has been propping up the Mubarak regime for thirty years? The one with deep ties to the US and even Israel? The one that seems to be doing little of use during the current crisis? Gosh, I’m confused. Maybe he’s thinking of a different Egyptian army.
Did I mention Israel? That is, of course, one of the main – if not the top – reason that neocons hate the idea of democracy in region, and undermine it everywhere they can, except in places like Iran. What is happening in Egypt is brilliant and inspirational for any number of reasons, but one of them is that it will effectively knock the stool out from underneath the arrogant, repressive and petulant foreign policy of the Israelis. Their ongoing unwillingness to forsake a transparent colonialism project in exchange for peace in the region will now likely be far less sustainable. As long as Israel no longer had to worry about neighbors like Egypt and Jordan reacting to their land-grabs and wholesale human rights violations, they could act with impunity. For years, everyone has been waiting for an American government to clip Israel’s wings, as seemingly the only solution to the protracted crisis, but it never happened. No one ever thought about the other fundamental assumptions on which Israeli policy is predicated. Now they are.
Which is, also, no doubt why Barack Obama is once again playing the role of historical bystander he seems to find so comforting. Mr. Incremental. Mr. Behind-The-Scenes. Mr. Change-You-Believe-In-As-Long-As-You-Do-It-For-Yourself. It’s disgusting. Look, you’re either the bat or you’re the ball, and Obama’s got plenty of stitches to show emphatically which side of the equation he’s on, despite the awesome powers of the American presidency that he possesses, something none of the rest of us have at our disposal. Including every one of those kids on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez getting their heads cracked open. They know a thing or two about the effect of baseball bats. And they know which side America has always been on, and which side it is on now. Is this supposed to be prudent, realist, foreign policy? Just exactly how do they think a new regime is going to treat America after decades of US sponsored repression and then hostility to a liberating revolutionary movement at the moment when crunch time hits? Gee, I dunno. Can you say ‘Iran’? Why does ‘Mubarak’ all of a sudden improbably rhyme so well with ‘Pahlavi’?
The train of liberation has left the station, and may traverse across much of the Middle East before all is said and done. The question is not whether the train will roll, but only whether each of us will be on board, on the platform, or digging up the rails.
Bottom line, ladies and gentlemen, these are our moral choices:
Walk like an Egyptian.
Talk like a Neocon.
Gawk like an Obama.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m with the kids on the streets of Cairo.
As for the United States and its leadership of old men dressed in young people’s clothing, the world is passing us by.
It should. We’re dinosaurs.
On a good day.
DAVID MICHAEL GREEN teaches pol sci at Hosftra University, New York.