Monday, January 31, 2011

Mideast Turmoil

“Turmoil in the Mideast:” There’s a headline that has been prevalent ever since the time of Moses. The only other news lede that has rivaled it in recent decades has been the ubiquitous “Mideast peace talks.” If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that “diplomatic” is a term that has never been used to describe me or my writing. It is, therefore, with a thorough understanding of my lack of nuance, my inability to appreciate the finer gray points of moral uncertainty, and my unrestrained desire to cut through the diplomatic crap, that I offer my observations about what appears to be happening across and around the Mediterranean. To save you some wasted moments I should confess that I do not expect anyone who has any scintilla of responsibility for foreign affairs to read this.
Let me begin with probably the most controversial of my assertions. I believe that if all the Mideastern thuggish and oppressive governments were overthrown by jihadist-incited mobs, it would improve the international situation for the United States. If the people of Yemen, Lebanon, Iran, Egypt and Tunisia (maybe Jordan also) all overthrow their present despotic governments, our diplomatic corps would have hissy fits and wet their pants. The immediate impulse for the Foggy Bottom striped-pants crowd is to protect our “friends,” but all that attitude does is embitter the people who oppose the regime. Egypt is a classic example of the Dilemma’s Horns of international affairs. Because Sadat yielded to Jimmy Carter’s pleas and agreed to the Camp David Accords, the U.S. has been funneling at least $10 billion per year in foreign aid to Egypt every year. Complicating matters is the fact that Egypt is the home of the Muslim Brotherhood which has been the incubator for international jihad including Al Qaida. So, as we have propped and subsidized the Egyptian government, the caldron of discontent has been bubbling among the people. If you recall, most of the 9-11 hijackers were from Egypt providing some small element of evidence that there is a vast amount of smoldering resentment there.
What we must do is to construct a more realistic foreign policy that is not wedded to the touchy-feely idealism of the Foreign Service wonks. So if Egypt were to become a jihadist state as a result of a rebellion, the United States could refuse to issue visas except for political refugees and stop the delusional foreign aid madness. There is a distinct difference in stark clarity between a Picasso and an Ansell Adams photograph. A state whose leaders profess to be supportive, but whose population resents us is not an ally. It is a mirage. I prefer to know who my enemies are, and to deal with them forthrightly and openly. Having an untrustworthy back-stabbing friend leads to a monumental waste of time, energy and resources. The Hamas situation with the PLO has made our diplomats and leaders somewhat gun shy about Mideastern nations’ efforts for self-determination. In an earlier time, Iran, too, became a theocracy following a popular movement, but as we can note, the people of Iran appear to have become weary of the mullahs and their iron-clad grip on Iran.
The cliché states that two wrongs do not make a right and supporting despotic leaders when the people chafe under their rule is doubly wrong…and for the long term, never right. Political leaders and diplomats are clever, but we require honest straightforward recognition of our limited ability to control the internal affairs of other nations in the age of the internet, the cell phone and Face Book. People are who they are, and no amount of wishful thinking by our political leadership can alter that reality. Let’s face the facts and remain vigilant.
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  1. Amen Charlie. $10 billion a year was rented peace. If the people terminate the lease, what do we have to show for that money? Regimes can change, but all we did was buy short term stability at the expense of long term resentment.

  2. Charlie, I was educated for the Foreign Service (and now I thank God every day that I didn't get into it -- I would have been brainwashed to the opposite position). Your analysis is exactly right. We need to go back to the foreign policy of George Washington's farewell address (summarized: no entangling alliances -- by extension, no foreign aid). It worked well for us during our first 75 years -- it will work well for us now.