Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt and US' Faustian Bargains

Al Jazeera Photo

Faustian Bargains in Egypt and Elsewhere
By: Peterr Saturday February 12, 2011 9:00 am

Posted on FireDogLake

photo: Al Jazeera

First Tunisia, then Egypt, and next comes . . .?

The media reporters, pundits, and pontificators were filling the airwaves yesterday with breathless conversations and speculations about the possibility of other countries following the path of Tunisia and Egypt. What about Algeria? Jordan? Saudi Arabia? Iran? Libya? What about central Africa?

Behind the scenes, the same conversations are being held at the State Department headquarters in DC and in US embassies around the world. “What is the reaction to Egypt in your country?” the folks at Foggy Bottom ask their embassies. “Is there any likelihood of your country being next?”

Diplomats love the orderly transitions of power found in stable democracies. When it comes to foreign elections, the party in power in DC might prefer one political party to come out on top (US Republicans might root for Germany’s Christian Democrats over the Social Democrats, for example), but the US takes a neutral stance in these election so as to be able to work with whoever wins. Generally speaking, the same holds true in reverse, and everyone releases statements of congratulations to the winners and praises the work of peaceful democratic institutions in action.

There’s also a certain amount of ease at Foggy Bottom when dealing with acknowledged enemies. Both Kennedy and Reagan used speeches in Berlin to contrast the freedom found in the west with the oppression found in the east. “We’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys, and we support freedom in those countries instead of oppression.” It’s not only easy to criticize these countries, but expected. In these situations, the diplomatic world is black and white, more or less, so if something unusual takes place, the diplomats from the Secretary of State on down to the lowest intern know which way to jump. Nelson Mandela gets released? Strike up the band. The Berlin Wall topples? Start the cheers!

But when the US decides to prop up a local strongman, it makes a bargain. “OK, we don’t like what you’re doing, but we’ll ignore that for the larger goal of your cooperation on something else.” There may be good short-term reasons for bargains like these, but the longer this kind of support goes on, the more trouble it may cause down the road when things boil over. The anger at the oppression of the Shah of Iran in the 1970s also was aimed at the US, because the victorious Iranian revolutionaries knew about the bargains the Shah made with the US.

These Faustian bargains — selling the freedom-loving soul of the United States for short-term advantage — come due when the strongman leaves the scene. If a new strongman deposes the old, perhaps a new bargain can be struck. But if a popular revolution takes down the strongman, all bets are off and the diplomats start to sweat. Again, see Iran in the 1970s.

Which brings us to this tweet from Jake Tapper= GO here

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