My justification - despite the US government's absurd claims for "all sides" to refrain from violence - was that we can only intervene so far. Should we go all Rumsfeld on Egypt? Should we have launched a couple of cruise missiles into Cairo only to apologize after laying waste to an orphanage? In all likelihood - because Dubya is no longer in power and because John "Bomb Iran" McCain wasn't elected - demonstrators have taken to the streets throughout the Middle East and Iran, and can voice their grievances knowing that they wont be inviting an American invasion from a trigger happy cowboy. So its their moment and there's only so much we can do. And that Egypt was bereft of total carnage throughout last week was a sight to behold, which spoke well for the White House's policy for the time being. Mubarak agreed to not run again - although an inadequate gesture, it was a positive development - and was showing restraint considering his reputation for indulging in repressive acts. In my eyes, it appeared that the Obama Administration's policy was panning out quite well.
The stories that were being reported in less than 140 characters on Twitter were stomach-turning, and the images being broadcast by Al-Jazeera were horrifying. Bodies lying in Tahrir Square. Humans rights activists and journalists being dragged from the streets by Mubarak's storm troopers. Even camel charges, for crying out loud. The relatively calm but stirring movement was shattered by a ragtag gang that a leak from the Ministry of the Interior described as "a group of thugs" employed and rewarded "to create chaos" (if you don't believe me, translate the preceding link online). What may come next could possibly make Tiananmen Square look more like Kent State - you know that something terrible is coming when foreign journalists are being rounded up. Until now, pundits have been saying that this Egyptian Revolution could spark the Middle East's Berlin Wall moment. Right now, its sadly looking like it could metastasize into Cairo's Prague Spring.
And that's when it hit me. The White House's current (and past) policy towards Egypt is and has been an absolute disgrace.
Our Egypt policy has been designed to trick suckers like me into thinking that the Obama Administration is carefully planning its next move and playing the part of the benevolent but cautious observer. But how can that be when we're bankrolling the Mubarak regime? For the White House and the State Department to try and portray itself as either not taking sides or taking the side of the movement is nothing short of insulting. I'm just woefully embarrassed that it took the commencement of a brutal crackdown for me to see the hypocritical and deceitful nature of the White House's policy. For an American, this is far more difficult to watch than any Soviet crackdown ever was (I imagine, anyway, as the USSR existed largely before my time). Not only are we giving the demonstrators the false impression that we have their backs with meek utterances in support of a democratic process (as we did during the Hungarian Revolution), but we're supplying the oppressive forces with financing for their security apparatus; its impossible to maintain impartiality while simultaneously bankrolling a murderous faction. Whose side of this Berlin Wall are we on, anyway? If anyone still thinks we're on the better half of it, then I have some oceanfront property in Nebraska that you may be interested in purchasing.
Even beyond the unabashed clingers-on to the wings of hawks, not all are convinced that our support for the Egyptian government amounts to support for Mubarak's more detestable authoritarian streaks. While defenders of the US government's policy may point to the fact that most of our aid to Egypt goes to fund the popular military and not the despised Security Forces, in reality, this amounts to a rationalization of our destructive policy; what the United States is to Hosni Mubarak, an enabler is to an alcoholic. If you gave an alcoholic loved one a credit card but told him that he could only use it to buy groceries, at the end of the day his Olde English budget is enhanced; economists call this the income effect. The same concept applies to our military aid to Egypt, especially due to its law-and-order nature. We may be lining Mubarak's left pocket, which pays for bullets that aren't being turned on his own peaceful citizens, but if we withdrew that support then he would have less in his right pocket - his goon brigade bullet fund. Furthermore, that the military is allowing Mubarak's hit squad and his dromedary Praetorian guard to run amok in Tahrir Square is a clear indication that he hasn't lost the support of the military.
Despite the intensity of the situation, the shameful response by the White House and my own blushes for having initially believed that the Obama Administration was doing the right thing (as, I believe, they had done in Iran a few years ago), there is a silver lining; its not too late. While the revolution may be in its 11th hour (and you can tell its a proper revolution - supported by everyone but the regime's inner circle - when it hasn't been color coded "orange, rose, green, saffron etc" by the mainstream media) the good guys haven't lost yet. The Obama Administration still can save face by withdrawing defense aid from Egypt and pledging to withhold it until Mubarak leaves his homeland lock, stock and barrel. As he has proven by this vicious crackdown, neither he nor his loyalists should be trusted with overseeing any sort of transition to a democratic system. Hosni has said that he wishes to die on Egyptian soil, but hopefully, that won't happen; considering the sadistic atrocities he has committed throughout his illustrious career he would be lucky if he isn't fitted with a pair of cement shoes and cast into the Nile (does a riverbed count as soil?) Alternatively, Mubarak could run out the clock in Saudi Arabia - its like Florida for murderous despots - thus sparing his family the Caucescu treatment. But even if he gets it - not the ideal scenario - I doubt few will weep beyond the elite circle of loyalists he has cultivated. All the Obama Administration has to do avoid such a gruesome scenario is announce that its funding for the Egyptian military is being suspended and that it is ready to purchase one-way tickets for Mubarak and his motley crew - especially Intelligence Services Head and Mubarak's groomed successor, Omar Suleiman. If the defense aid is cut off, surely even someone as stubborn as Mubarak will realize that his days are numbered and that one of his generals may fulfill his deathwish if he does not check out on time. But for his family's sake, Mubarak might realize that his chest-thumping about dying on Egyptian soil may have not been the most well-thought-out statement after all. As violence tends to beget violence, it would be ideal if this isn't the path traversed.
That is what hypocrisy looks like
In an indication that its impossible to put the blame for this foreign policy debacle squarely on the shoulders of President Obama, there are those in the US government (read: republicans) who argue that any more than superficial "support" of the Egyptian democracy movement could undermine our alliances with other Middle East dictators. So what? Would it be so terrible to practice what we preach for once? Democracy in Iraq, after all is, just an illusion - our support of Maliki's secret police is reportedly what drove alleged Wikileaker Bradley Manning to spill the beans - and continuing to lavish unconditional support upon the likes of the Saudi Royal family and other friendly despots actually seems to undermine our security by giving ideological ammunition to fundamentalists (in addition to all the material support they receive from elements within the Saudi regime, anyway).
And speaking of fundamentalists, most of the aforementioned empire-obsessed right wingers are of the opinion that the Egyptian Revolution must be quashed because democracy there will eventually lead to an extremist regime. What nonsense. An extremist regime, however, will take hold there if we back Egyptian civil society into a corner. While there are Islamist elements within the extremely broad democracy movement, what, exactly, is wrong with that? Turkey's ruling party is somewhat Islamist, but the country is still quite democratic (just don't criticize Ataturk or "insult Turkishness"; two oppressive regulations supported by secular forces). Yet by continuing to prop up Mubarak and "Enhanced Interrogation" enthusiast Omar Suleiman, we are pretty much laying out a red carpet for fundamentalists to try and seize power. Because the demise of the current regime seems inevitable considering the toxic feelings it has sewn amongst the populace the probability of extremists overthrowing the government - Ã la Iran 1979 - will increase exponentially if this peaceful revolution is quashed.
But perhaps democracy is the last thing we want in the Middle East, after all, considering our pathetic response to the Revolution and our track record of conveniently ignoring democratic movements when it suits us. Egypt has proven to be quite the dumping ground for a handful of extraordinarily rendered prisoners. Maybe there are those within the US government who harbor torture fantasies about sending Bradley Manning and Julian Assange to face the wrath of Suleiman himself; that probably wouldn't happen in a democratic Egypt. Moreover, without an endless war to fight in the Middle East (as the collapse of autocratic regimes would cause extremist groups to lose their appeal), the DoD's ever-expanding budget would be Pent-a-gone'r (on a not totally unrelated side note: do all the Think Tank analysts and Defense Advisers and generals have to declare a conflict of interest when offering their expertise to the White House?) Just what are our objectives anyway? Its all so confusing. Who knows whats actually being discussed? Maybe the White House is actually saying all the right things behind the scenes. As Wikileaks has demonstrated, the public discourse can differ wildly from what is said in private. But if we were actually pressuring Egypt to enact serious democratic reforms, one would think that the Pentagon wouldn't be so cocksure that military aid to the Egyptian government won't be abated in the near future. And word on the street would not be that the rise of Suleiman to the head of a "transitional" government is imminent.