Media coverage of the Arab Spring somehow depicted the U.S. as sympathetic to and supportive of the democratic protesters notwithstanding the nation's decades-long financial and military support for most of the targeted despots. That's because a central staple of American domestic propaganda about its foreign policy is that the nation is "pro-democracy" -- that's the banner under which Americans wars are typically prettified -- even though "democracy" in this regard really means "a government which serves American interests regardless of how their power is acquired," while "despot" means "a government which defies American orders even if they're democratically elected."
It's always preferable when pretenses of this sort are dropped -- the ugly truth is better than pretty lies -- and the events in the Arab world have forced the explicit relinquishment of this pro-democracy conceit. That's because one of the prime aims of America's support for Arab dictators has been to ensure that the actual views and beliefs of those nations' populations remain suppressed, because those views are often so antithetical to the perceived national interests of the U.S. government. The last thing the U.S. government has wanted (or wants now) is actual democracy in the Arab world, in large part because democracy will enable the populations' beliefs -- driven by high levels of anti-American sentiment and opposition to Israeli actions -- to be empowered rather than ignored.
So acute is this contradiction -- between professed support for Arab democracy and the fear of what it will produce -- that America's Foreign Policy Community is now dropping the pro-freedom charade and talking openly (albeit euphemistically) about the need to oppose Arab democracy. Here is Jon Alterman, the director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a very typical member of the National Security priesthood, writing on Friday in The New York Times about Egyptian elections (via As'ad AbuKhali):
Many in Israel and America, and even some in Egypt, fear that the elections will produce an Islamist-led government that will tear up the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, turn hostile to the United States, openly support Hamas and transform Egypt into a theocracy that oppresses women, Christians and secular Muslims. They see little prospect for more liberal voices to prevail, and view military dictatorship as a preferable outcome.- Advertisement -
American interests, however, call for a different outcome, one that finds a balance -- however uneasy -- between the military authorities and Egypt's new politicians. We do not want any one side to vanquish or silence the other. And with lopsided early election results, it is especially important that the outcome not drive away Egypt's educated liberal elite, whose economic connections and know-how will be vital for attracting investment and creating jobs.
Our instinct is to search for the clarity we saw in last winter's televised celebrations. However, what Egyptians, and Americans, need issomething murkier -- not a victory, but an accommodation.
I love this passage both for its candor and for what it lamely attempts to obfuscate. Why should "American interests" determine the type of government Egypt has? That it should is simply embedded as an implicit, unstated assumption in Alterman's advocacy. That's because the right of the U.S. to dictate how other nations are governed is one of the central, unchallenged precepts of the American Foreign Policy Community's dogma and it thus needs no defense or even explicit acknowledgment. It simply is. It's an inherent imperial right.
But Alterman here is expressly admitting the reality that most media accounts ignore: that the U.S. does not, in fact, want democracy in Egypt. It fears it. That's because public opinion polls show overwhelming opposition among the Egyptian populace to the policies which the U.S. (for better or worse) wants to foist on that country: animus toward Iran, preservation of the peace agreement with Israel, ongoing indifference to the plight of the Palestinians, and subservience to U.S. goals. Indeed, according to the 2011 Pew finding, "nearly eight-in-ten Egyptians have an unfavorable opinion of the U.S." That tracks opinion in the Arab world generally, where the two nations perceived as the biggest threat are -- by far -- the U.S. and Israel (not Iran), and the three most admired foreign leaders are Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, followed by Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinijad.
But even more significant is Egyptian public opinion specifically on the issue of greatest concern for American (and Israeli) foreign policy officials: a nuclear Iran. A 2010 Brookings/University of Maryland/Zogby poll foundvast, overwhelming Egyptian support for the view that Iran has the right to have a nuclear weapon, and for the view that a nuclear Iran would be a net positive for the region. That, too, tracks general public opinion in the Arab world, which supports Iran's right to have nuclear weapons. In light of these facts, does anyone believe that the U.S. government and its pool of experts that exist to justify what it does -- the Foreign Policy Community -- have even a slight interest in actual democracy in Egypt specifically or the Arab world generally?
Of course not. As Noam Chomsky put it recently: "The U.S. and its Western allies are sure to do whatever they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world" because "if public opinion were to influence policy, the U.S. not only would not control the region, but would be expelled from it." That's why Alterman is urging what he delicately calls "a balance -- however uneasy -- between the military authorities and Egypt's new politicians" -- meaning: ensuring the ability of the Egyptian military to prevent the country's democratically elected leaders ("Egypt's new politicians") from implementing the will of the citizenry. The fear of (and desire to stop) Arab democracy has been openly expressed for some time by many American neocons and even Benjamin Netanyahu; that it is now spilling over into America's mainstream Foreign Policy experts is telling indeed.