Wikileaks and Egypt: Has Obama Got Away With It?
There is a crescendo of self-congratulation in the US State Department about the lack of damage to America’s standing from the continuing Wikileaks’ release of secret US embassy cables. Few observers of American power – academic, journalistic or other - disagree. The lack of media interrogation of the Obama administration’s complicity in carrying out illegal and deadly policies abroad, as exposed by Wikileaks, is stunning to observe.
Yet, the case of Egypt advances a clear and damaging thesis that challenges that view: that successive American administrations from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama knowingly financed, armed and propped up a repressive regime directed to keeping its people down at home and undermining Palestinian aspirations for self-determination abroad. Instead, the Hosni Mubarak regime protected Israel and effectively permitted and connived in its successive wars against the Palestinians. Israel, according to secret cables, gave Egypt advanced warning of its war on Gaza in December 2008, and even offered Gaza to Egypt as a prize if Hamas were removed from power. And the Israelis, along with the Americans, were Mubarak’s most fervent supporters until the bitter end when his fate was sealed by the insistent demands of popular protests and dissension within the ranks of the Egyptian armed forces.
Released US embassy cables described Egypt as dominated by corruption and cronyism on a stupendous scale. They detailed the excessive power of the armed forces within Egyptian society, economy and polity. Mubarak was characterised as an egotistical and stubborn dictator, and as actively grooming his son to takeover Egypt after him. The Egyptian military high command was described as taking the ca $1.3 billion paid annually into its coffers from American “aid” as the price of friendship with the United States and its policies of protecting Israel and containing the Palestinians.
Yet, despite the critical character of the message in American embassy cables, there was not a hint of a recommendation that the Mubarak regime should publicly be criticised let alone cut-off by the Americans. Barack Obama, with his Nobel Peace Prize in hand, valued Mubarak virtually till the end of his days as Egypt’s virtual pharoah. Obama described him as a man to be trusted and respected because he ensured stability in the Middle East, a counterweight to Iran. It will be recalled that the late Shah of Iran had received President Jimmy Carter’s blessings and support right up until he was ousted in 1979.
American administrations, including that of Barack Obama, have not just turned a blind eye to the Mubarak regime’s human rights and other violations: they have valued and exploited Egypt’s willingness to crush anyone remotely espousing “Islamic” politics, including the Muslim Brotherhood which is opposed to al Qaeda. American administrations have used Egypt for torturing suspected terrorists for years.
So where now for Egypt and US policy there?
America has invested ca $50 billion in Egypt’s armed forces since 1979. Another $28 billion in non-military aid has been invested there. America is not going to yield Egypt to its own people without a fight. Egypt’s military reportedly controls around 15% of national economic output, worth almost £140 billion. It owns companies in practically every area of national life – from hotels to clubs to banks and other businesses. Its senior officers enjoy lavish lifestyles; even its middle ranked officers retire to lucrative posts in state-owned businesses. The military has finally ousted Mubarak; but it now has direct control of Egypt, even if constitutionally it ought to pass to the leader of parliament should the president resign.
50 years after outgoing President Dwight Eisenhower warned about the rise of a military-industrial complex as a threat to American democracy, the Americans have constructed an even more fearsome complex of military repression, torture, rendition, and capitalist corruption in the leading country in the Arab world. Egypt’s armed forces, at almost 470,000, are the world’s tenth largest, with thousands of tanks, armoured vehicles, fighter jets, attack helicopters and submarines. A far cry from promoting democracy and freedom that is the usual rallying call of American power.
Obama’s policy of supporting corrupt Arab dictators lies in tatters. Despite his credentials as a man of the people and as the harbinger of change, of his claim to understand and empathise with the peoples of the Middle East, and of offering a hand a friendship to Muslim peoples, he has demonstrated the exact opposite. His administration takes its place right alongside post-1945 American administrations that have helped install and prop up military dictatorships whose ultimate virtue is that they support United States policies regardless of the interests of their own peoples.
What the Wikileaks cables have shown is that the brutal facts are coolly recognised and catalogued by America’s diplomatic representatives – or rather their viceroys – in dictatorial regimes. The significant point is, however, is that they are more than happy to continue supporting such vassals because they help maintain American power and interests. Egypt remains in the grip of American power.
Those double standards damage American standing abroad and corrupt the meaning and values of democracy within the United States and its craven western and other allies, regardless of the mainstream media’s stunning silence on the question.