Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 17, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

SLOUCHING TOWARD CAIRO....Here's the latest from Mr. Democracy Promotion:

President Bush, wrapping up a series of visits with Arab leaders who are working to expand their economies but wary of relaxing their grip on power, on Wednesday praised Egypt as making progress toward "greater political openness."

....He said the Egyptian leader had moved his nation toward "economic openness . . . and democratic reform."

Look. I get it. Sometimes the realities of the world prevent you from being as plainspoken as you'd like to be. But this is just embarrassing. I thought we reserved this level of sucking up for countries with lots of oil.

Kevin Drum 11:38 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

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Having recently learned how to read, the president has seen how he is either hated or laughed at throughout the world. Understandably, he now wants to be loved by more than his effing dogs and cats.

Posted by: Rula Lenska on January 17, 2008 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

And what, exactly, would this "movement" have consisted of? (I'm refraining from the obvious scat joke and opting instead for a genuine query here.)

By now we have become so inured to the lunatic babble frothing out of the presidential oracle that when statements like this spew forth, the mediawrites documenting them don't even bother to wonder what they mean, let alone whether they reflect reality.

Posted by: Riggsveda on January 17, 2008 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

The President's statement is further evidence he is a faith-based man.

Posted by: absent observer on January 17, 2008 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

I thought we reserved this level of sucking up for countries with lots of oil.

We fund/suck-up to Mubarak for Israel's sake.

Posted by: F. Frederson on January 17, 2008 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Fareed Zakaria observed the other night that de facto Washington policy is "stealth Kissinger realism." People may talk about "promoting democracy" or some other such activist, interventionist principle, but their actions are straight pro-stability Realpolitik.

Mubarak has a lot of restless Islamic fundamentalists and revolutionaries reasonably well bottled up, and that's where we want them to stay. Ergo, we make nice with Mubarak. Pretty simple.

Posted by: bleh on January 17, 2008 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin: I thought we reserved this level of sucking up for countries with lots of oil.

Or countries with lots of Muslims who are potentially either 'fer or 'agin' us in the "mind" of Bush and whose leaders need to be mollycoddled.

Posted by: trex on January 17, 2008 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: I thought we reserved this level of sucking up for countries with lots of oil.

You forgot Pakistan.

Posted by: gregor on January 17, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I think an even more clever early-20th century literary allusion would have been "Eyeless in Cairo."
W's always been a slouch, but now he's asking us not to see Egyptian politics.

Posted by: Jim M on January 17, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

You always suck up to countries with fascist right-wing theocracies. You suck up to Israel. You suck up to Egypt. And also to fascist non-theocracies--Russia, Chile under Augusto Pinochet. Etc., etc.

If you are Bush, the rich, the powerful, and the fascist, are always right.

Posted by: Anon on January 17, 2008 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

It has always been stealth realpolitik. Henry Kissinger did not invent it. It has been the case ever since popular European and American demands for greater democracy at home had to be reconciled with the demands of lucrative imperialism abroad- the anti-thesis of democracy and national self-determination. It remains today. Americans would never accept a foreign invader coming in and reorganizing their society along lines that benefited the foreigner, but they cannot figure out why others would resist their best intentions.

The story has always been that the benevolent White Man was spreading democracy, civilization, good dealing, fair courts, right religion etc to the benighted peoples of the world. The thing about the laissez-faire economics abroad is that it doesn’t require democracy; it just requires whatever body has sovereign power to keep society away from the strategies of wealth accumulation. The truth is that it requires the national conscience, as represented by the Parliament and a free press, to be limited in their scope of action no matter how counter to the national traditions or interests foreign economic needs may be.

Bush's wars in the Middle East are textbook imperialism with the same rhetoric and the same realities of the 19th century. The only wrinkle is that it is harder to coerce native populations who have had more than 100 years experience with the "national interests" of foreigners.


Posted by: bellumregio on January 17, 2008 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Looks like the policy of endearing ourselves to Muslims by upholding and fluffing their dictators continues unabated.

Does "Slouching towards Cairo" imply that Bush is some sort of Anti-Christ?

Posted by: Boronx on January 17, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

From the LA Times article:

Nor did Bush refer to any of the issues raised in the State Department's annual report last March...

The report cited abuses including a state of emergency in effect almost continuously since 1967, torture of prisoners, arbitrary arrest, limits imposed by the executive branch on the judiciary, and restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, religion and full access to the Internet.

Maybe Bush overlooked these items because he doesn't see them as negative but rather as necessary items in the toolkit of a leader. In fact, he employs a number of them himself.

Oh, and Egypt is one of the place we render people to be tortured for us, after all. Can't piss them off too much, effective torturers are hard to find. Danes won't do it and Tahitians just aren't that good at it.

Posted by: trex on January 17, 2008 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Sometimes you suck up to the friends you have, not the friends you wish you had.

Posted by: AJ on January 17, 2008 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Bush is much like Carter in being "so good he is good for nothing."

After 60 years of Israel and its puppet crapping on Arabs, any democratic government in the region is likely to be radical, America hating, and terrorist supporting. What we need is a continuation of moderate non-democratic governments.

Posted by: Luther on January 17, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

As an Egyptian born U.S. citizen who travels to Egypt all the time, I'd like to chime in on this:

"Fareed Zakaria observed the other night that de facto Washington policy is "stealth Kissinger realism." People may talk about "promoting democracy" or some other such activist, interventionist principle, but their actions are straight pro-stability Realpolitik."

This is true, but its not very stealthy. The reasonably educated Egyptian on the street finds it quite obvious that the US speaks of democracy in Egypt to make Americans happy and to try to maintain an image as the bastion of democracy, but this does not translate into any real change in Egypt. We had sham elections a couple of years ago that were well known to be rigged.

Now heres the sad truth. In my last visit to Egypt, which was a couple of weeks ago, I asked my father-in-law about the prospects of democracy for Egypt. That was my American side talking. He responded "never, look around you, at these people. They are all broken". And thats the truth. The Egyptian people are too broken to think about democracy. Egyptians constantly talk about the good old days (before Nasr) when Egypt was a more prosperous nation. They see no future. Mubarak is 82 years old, and they don't talk about this as a possibility for new government, they just speculate on who the next dictator will be. When I mention the word "democracy" to my relatives there, they react as if I brought up the tooth fairy.

Posted by: Osiris on January 17, 2008 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

"I thought we reserved this level of sucking up for countries with lots of oil."

Egypt's in the Middle East. It's full of Arabs. Bush probably thinks it DOES have a lot of oil.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on January 17, 2008 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK
…."so good he is good for nothing."….Luther at 2:37 PM
That us one adjective that can never be applied to Bush save in an ironic sense. It is true that democratically elected governments in that region will be more like Hamas than anything, but think in the long term: accept them and help them help their population. The hate will eventually subside and hope will begin. Like Osiris says, all they have now is despair. Posted by: Mike on January 17, 2008 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

"After 60 years of Israel and its puppet crapping on Arabs, any democratic government in the region is likely to be radical, America hating, and terrorist supporting. What we need is a continuation of moderate non-democratic governments."

Its not good to generalize. Most Egyptians I know, while they have no love for the US, are not radicals or terrorist supporting. One does not need to be either of those things to hate America.

Also, in a country where people have lived for decades under dictatorship, they know very well that the president does not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the general population. As such, most people I speak to their point out that they don't hate Americans, but they do hate the US governments policies and interventionism in the middle-east.

Posted by: Osiris on January 17, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Look...Arabs throughout the Middle East point to Egypt as a clear example of our hypocrisy. We talk constantly about openness and democracy and then suck up to a regime which jails and tortures political opponents...

and then our clueless president comes around and praises their openness and commitment to democracy...

and the rest of the Middle East gets even angrier at the duplicity and lies.

Where is Karen Hughes...I am sure she would have been able to straighten this out.

Posted by: dweb on January 17, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

"Look...Arabs throughout the Middle East point to Egypt as a clear example of our hypocrisy. We talk constantly about openness and democracy and then suck up to a regime which jails and tortures political opponents..."

Nowadays they point to Palestine, and the fact that the US cut aid to a democratically elected Hamas government. You could also point to Saudi-Arabia or Jordan. All of them are US Allies and autocratic regimes.

Posted by: Osiris on January 17, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

"Sometimes the realities of the world prevent you from being as plainspoken as you'd like to be. But this is just embarrassing. I thought we reserved this level of sucking up for countries with lots of oil."
_____________________

Isn't he just following the pragmatic, "soft power" formula that everyone here has been saying we need? President Carter bought off the Egyptians thirty years ago in return for peace along the Sinai. Unless we are willing to see that bargain go by the board, what sense is there in insulting the client? Same thing for Jordan.

Posted by: Trashhauler on January 17, 2008 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

But this is just embarrassing.

Describes the entire Bush presidency.

Posted by: craigie on January 17, 2008 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Egypt provides the good oil alright. What it does with the battered bodies, who knows?

Posted by: wmmbb on January 17, 2008 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Egypt rates the suck-up for being so nice to Israel, especially signing the separate treaty.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 17, 2008 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on January 17, 2008 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK
….Isn't he just following the pragmatic, "soft power" formula that everyone here has been saying we need?….Bushchauffeur at 3:47 PM
It's not soft to the people that suffer the tyranny. It's not peace and security to the millions of suffering Iraqis. The West has been supporting authoritarian government since WWI and it's time to stop this outside interference that is keeping these people from their own destiny. Do you seriously think that the people want to have all the money go to a few royal families so their progeny can whoop it up in Monte Carlo? Posted by: Mike on January 17, 2008 at 8:12 PM | PERMALINK

gregor >"...You forgot Pakistan."

Pakistan has natural gas and is a possible end point for an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea.

The Great Game II is REALLY ALL about the control of petroleum resources. Wake up.

And a tip of the hat to Osiris for the insights. Much obliged sir.

"The sailor does not pray for wind, he learns to sail." - Gustaf Lindborg

Posted by: daCascadian on January 18, 2008 at 1:29 AM | PERMALINK

"And a tip of the hat to Osiris for the insights. Much obliged sir."

Happy to be of help. It is very hard to understand a country unless you have spent time there speaking to the people and living in the environment.

It is important also to realize as one has these discussions, its not like their is an epidemic of torture in the country where everyone has a family member that has been tortured. It is not like people are all constantly despairing because they live in a dictatorship.
There are in fact things I personally prefer in Egypt. Family ties are generally stronger than what I've observed in America, there is much less violence & angst in the popular media.

Always keep things in perspective. Things aren't perfect, I still hope for the day democracy will take root in Egypt, but there has been progress.
I remember 10 years ago, people would get uncomfortable if I said anything negative about Mubarak over the telephone. That doesn't happen any more.
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, women still aren't allowed to drive and get in trouble if they aren't wearing a head scarf....

Perspective, perspective perspective.

Posted by: Osiris on January 18, 2008 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK
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