Monday, February 07, 2011

The Limits of American Power

In an interview with David Brody of Christian Broadcasting Network, former Governor and FOX News panelist Sarah Palin criticized our president, Barack Obama, for his apparent failure to tell us who will replace Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's authoritarian, military-backed president, when he is forced to step down.

Last week some Egyptian protesters blamed our government, which has backed the military-backed regime in Cairo, for its failure to pressure Mubarak to resign. Some held empty tear gas canisters saying "Made in America" to prove their point that the weapons which we sold to the Egyptian government were used to suppress them. Some believe we owe them our support.

Anti-war leftists have used similar claims about American imperialism to condemn our country's interventionist policies.

Some neoconservatives criticized our president for what they believed to be his failure to back the Iranian protesters insisting upon a recount after their country's government certified the results of a presidential election that they claim was fraudulently decided.

Some neoconservatives, in their efforts to justify and rationalize the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, said our invasion might serve as a catalyst for change in the region. Arab subjects in the neighboring states would clamor for democratic reforms if the democratic experiment was successful in Iraq.

What do these neoconservatives, anti-war isolationists, Sarah Palin, liberal hawks (who sided with the neoconservatives on Iraq) and the American people in general (we tend to back our government and never challenge the assumption that we will be "welcomed as heros")have in common? They believe we have the power, if not the moral authority (and this is where they diverge), to remake the world in our image and they condemn us for either our failure to or our success in, creating a set of facts or reality that suits our national interests.

Sarah Palin faults the administration for its failure to tell us whom we have anointed (if not crowned) to lead the Egyptian subjects while the Egyptian protesters condemn us because they believe we have already chosen Mubarak's stalwart ally in the intelligence agency as his successor.

They hare hopelessly naive. Neither side has given any thought to the claim that the Egyptians, and not the American government, is in control of its destiny. I don't think our president wanted these protests because the democratic government that could replace the Mubarak could put the Middle East peace process on hold for another decade. And I am sure that, if he had his choice, he would opt for a democratic and free Egypt that was a friend of Israel.

But our president knows we don't live in an ideal world. Barack Obama knows that he must, as head of government, negotiate with the governments other countries have and not the governments which we want. We made our deal with Hosni Mubarak for a reason. He was ready to make a deal. Mubarak would uphold his part of the bargain by preserving the peace with Israel and torture terrorism suspects when we didn't want our hands to get dirty. In return, we offered him billions of dollars in aid and the freedom to rule Egypt as he saw fit. Revolutions come from within. They are born from the aspirations of a people who think they can do better and are willing to die so that their families can do better. They are not forced down a person's throat with the barrel of a gun.

Those who say we should have cut our ties sooner and more forcefully press for reforms need only look at our failed experiments in Afghanistan and Iraq. By removing Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein from power, we unleashed some political forces that could not be contained. The factionalism that simmered under Hussein's rule came to a boil. Sunnis bombed Shiite mosques. Shiite death squads raided Sunni, Jewish and Christian neighborhoods. To date we have failed to get the three major factions to agree on Kirkuk's political status, oil revenue sharing, and constitutional reform.

Our efforts in Afghanistan have proven no more successful. Here we are forced to back an ineffective and corrupt administration which lacks the conficence of the Afghan people over the Taliban insurgents that once backed the terrorists who planed the 9-11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C while land seized from the Taliban is lost to the Taliban. Obama himself, acknowledged that the key to winning the war in Afghanistan lies in our ability to win the war in a nuclear-armed Pakistan and our options there are limited.

These failures, more than anything may have led our president to think twice beowre we intervene in another country's domestic affairs. President Obama didn't know whether the Iranian revolutionaries had the wherewithall and the means to overthrow their country's mullahs and the Republican Guard. And at this moment, he probably doesn't know if the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, could outlast the protestors now congregating in Alexandria and Cairo. The information we are getting is decidedly mixed.

The military, up to now, has neither backed nor suppressed, the protesters and they are the key to Mubarak's surival or departure. Nor do we know what we can expect from the protestors since they have not appointed their leader for the negotiations over his departure. Obama knows his options are limited. He doesn't know if they can outlast Mubarak or if the military will pick a side. The president is hedging his bets. Obama doesn't want to offend the people who might topple their president, but he doesn't want to offend the president who might outlive the protesters, because the president will have to negotiate with the government Egypt has, whether he likes it or not. We couldn't have it any other way.

No comments: