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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Munich & Thoughts on Egypt and What it Means for the Middle East *updated*

February 5, 2011

At the conference Secretary Clinton spoke about Egypt:

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday that Egypt’s political transition should take place “as orderly but as expeditiously as possible” to give enough time for democratic elections to be prepared.

“President Mubarak has announced he will not stand for reelection nor will his son … He has given a clear message to his government to lead and support this process of transition,” Clinton told a Munich security conference.

“That is what the government has said it is trying to do, that is what we are supporting, and hope to see it move as orderly but as expeditiously as possible under the circumstances.”

Clinton warned that the Middle East faces a “perfect storm” of unrest and regional leaders must quickly enact real democratic reforms or risk even greater instability.

“The region is being battered by a perfect storm of powerful trends,” Clinton said. “This is what has driven demonstrators into the streets of Tunis, Cairo, and cities throughout the region. The status quo is simply not sustainable.”

Some photos from today:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attends the 47th Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in the southern German city of Munich, February 5, 2011.

Here is what I thought was an excellent program on Al Jazeera about how the U.S. needs to take this opportunity to fundamentally change our foreign policy in the Middle East and stop relying on military dictatorships and start to focus more on civil society.

I agree that now is a good time to reassess our policies in the region. We have to get rid of the faux choice between stability and dictatorship. We also have to stop being addicted to the status quo in the region- had the Israeli-Palestinian conflict been solved then Israel and the U.S. would be far less anxious right now.

While Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel has certainly helped maintain stability, Egypt has also been a reliable partner that the U.S. could count on to help entrench the Occupation and NOT put any meaningful pressure on Israel. When we hear US leaders talk about how Mubarak has helped the Mideast Peace process, we have to ask what exactly his role has been given we are no closer to a two state solution than we were a decade ago. By “helpful” do we mean he has served to help protect the powerful (Israel) at the expense of the weak (the Palestinians)? We learned from the Palestine Papers that the U.S. (this administration) threatened to cut off aid to the PA if they held democratic elections because we condescendingly believe that Arabs should only have democracy if we can ensure a pro-Western outcome. Have we threatened to cut off aid to Israel if they didn’t stop illegal settlements? Of course not.

Here is an article from Lobelog about why the U.S. clings to a failed Mideast strategy that hurts our long term security interest:

The incipient loss of the U.S. client regime in Egypt is an obvious moment for a fundamental adjustment in that strategy.

But those moments have been coming with increasing regularity in recent years, and the U.S. national security bureaucracy has shown itself to be remarkably resistant to giving it up. The troubled history of that strategy suggests that it is an expression of some powerful political forces at work in this society, as former NSC official Gary Sick hinted in a commentary on the crisis.

Ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979, every U.S. administration has operated on the assumption that the United States, with Israel and Egypt as key client states, occupies a power position in the Middle East that allows it to pursue an aggressive strategy of unrelenting pressure on all those “rogue” regimes and parties in the region which have resisted dominance by the U.S.-Israeli tandem: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.

The Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq was only the most extreme expression of that broader strategic concept. It assumed that the United States and Israel could establish pro-Western regime in Iraq as the base from which it would press for the elimination of resistance from any of their remaining adversaries in the region.

But since that more aggressive version of the strategy was launched, the illusory nature of the regional dominance strategy has been laid bare in one country after another:

* The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq merely empowered Shi’a forces to form a regime whose geostrategic interests are far closer to Iran than to the United States;

* The U.S.-encouraged Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 only strengthened the position of Hezbollah as the largest, most popular and most disciplined political-military force in the country, leading ultimately the Hezbollah-backed government now being formed.

* Israeli and U.S. threats to attack Iran, Hezbollah and Syria since 2006 brought an even more massive influx of rockets and missiles into Lebanon and Syria which now appears to deter Israeli aggressiveness toward its adversaries for the first time.

* U.S.-Israeli efforts to create a client Palestinian entity and crush Hamas through the siege of Gaza has backfired, strengthening the Hamas claim to be the only viable Palestinian entity.

* The U.S. insistence on demonstrating the effectiveness of its military power in Afghanistan has only revealed the inability of the U.S. military to master the Afghan insurgency.

[snip]

Scrapping the failed strategy in favor of an historic accommodation in the region would:

* reduce the Sunni-Shi’a geopolitical tensions in the region by supporting a new Iran-Egypt relationship;

* force Israel to reconsider its refusal to enter into real negotiations on a Palestinian settlement;

* reduce the level of antagonism toward the United States in the Islamic world and

* create a new opportunity for agreement between the United States and Iran that could resolve the nuclear issue.

It will be far more difficult, however, for the United States to make this strategic adjustment than it was for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to secretly set in motion their accommodation with China. Unconditional support for Israel, the search for client states and determination to project military power into the Middle East, which are central to the failed strategy, have long reflected the interests of the two most powerful domestic U.S. political power blocs bearing on national security policy: the pro-Israel bloc and the militarist bloc. Whereas Nixon and Kissinger were not immobilized by fealty to any such power bloc, both the pro-Israel and militarist power blocs now dominate both parties in the White House as well as in Congress.

[emphasis added]

But who in Washington has the spine to stand up to the entrenched lobbies which have helped ensure a failed Mideast Peace process so that Israel can continue to expand and colonize and change facts on the ground, making an eventual two state solution impossible? It would seem that this current administration, despite a promising beginning, has shown it has no interest in confronting Israeli intransigence- the Palestine Papers make that abundantly clear.

One of the things that could help move the U.S. towards a more pragmatic Mideast policy is an informed electorate. Sadly, our media spends a good deal of its time maintaining the current status quo. How many Americans do you think have read the Palestine Papers? How many Americans realize that the Palestinians have already recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security? How many Americans know that the U.S. has acted not as an objective mediator in the peace process, but as a protector of the strongest party in negotiations, Israel, rejecting Palestinian concessions and providing political cover for Israel so that it can continue the Occupation unabated and in violation of international law all the while pretending to be interested in peace? How many people realize that the Arab League said it would normalize relations with Israel upon a just resolution of the crisis along the internationally-recognized 1967 borders? The question is, why don’t Americans know this? Why were the Palestinian Papers largely ignored by the U.S. media? Because it contradicts their narrative that Israel had/has no partner for peace and is always unjustly called upon to be the only party making concessions? Or does the Israel Lobby hold so much sway that when it comes to the Mideast conflict, facts don’t matter?

Another question that should be asked is if the U.S. and Israel rejected major concessions on Jerusalem, the right of return, troops remaining in the Jordan Valley, no right for the Palestinians to any military defense, limited sovereignty, maintaining most settlements and on and on, what exactly does a solution to this conflict look like in the eyes of the U.S. and Israel?

UPDATE: I know I slam the MSM a lot so I feel I should give props where props are due- the NYT actually recognized and provided a very balanced article about the group, The Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports the Egyptian protesters and opposes the Israeli Occupation. The article highlights the divisions within some in the Jewish community and how right-wing Zionist organizations in the U.S. are now turning to violent tactics to stifle any opposing viewpoints about the Middle East, even if they come from their own [Jewish] community. It’s worth a read and if you feel so inclined, and if you would like to see more balanced coverage in our MSM,please take a moment to email the authors (emails are at the bottom of the article) and express appreciation for their balanced coverage.

UPDATE II: Egypts ruling party leadership resigns, including Gamal Mubarak. Apparently Hosni Mubarak has symbolically stepped down as the head of the ruling party, but he remains in office. Unfortunately, it also seems like Obama is pushing for a transition govt headed by Sulieman- not sure if the protesters are going to accept basically a Mubarak Mini-Me.

Here’s more on what some think the US administration is hoping/planning:

Seeking reform in Egypt, the U.S. increasingly is counting on a small cadre of President Hosni Mubarak’s closest advisers to guide a hoped-for transition from autocracy to democracy.

It’s a plan that relies on long relationships with military men and bureaucrats who owe their professional success to Mubarak’s iron rule. To the regret of some U.S. diplomats, it’s also a plan that steers around the Muslim Brotherhood, the powerful Islamist political movement that almost surely would play a central role in any future popularly chosen government.

[snip]

U.S. diplomatic cables released by the WikiLeaks website encapsulate part of the problem with trusting these men to be the head ushers of democratic and economic change.

Beyond the generational split with young protesters disgruntled by years of harsh unemployment, inequality and political repression, the Mubarak men belong to a military elite whose wealth and power are inextricably linked to the 82-year-old president.

“Egypt’s military is in decline,” a 2008 U.S. cable says, summarizing a series of conversations with academics and analysts. The memo cites a professor in Egypt as saying “the sole criteria for promotion is loyalty and the … leadership does not hesitate to fire officers it perceives as being `too competent’ and who therefore potentially pose a threat to the regime.”

Yet the military’s authority remains strong and its interests in Egypt vast. Mubarak built an army of almost a half-million men that holds large stakes in the water, olive oil, cement, construction, hotel and gasoline industries.

A diplomatic cable also describes large land holdings of the military along the Nile Delta and the Red Sea, and suggests that the top brass would not be served by important change toward democracy and freer markets.

Most analysts agree that the military “generally opposes economic reforms,” according to the U.S. diplomatic correspondence.

UPDATE III: Here is some incredibly disturbing information on Omar Suleiman, someone whom apparently the U.S. has had long dealings and whom we are looking to to usher in the transition to democracy. When I read about our complicity in Egypt’s torture and repression it makes me ashamed to be an American and that’s not something I say lightly. Sometimes I really think bringing down the Twin Towers was not Osama Bin Laden’s most horrific achievement- it was his ability to scare us into violating our most sacred democratic principles in the name of security.

Here is another profile of Suleiman.

UPDATE IV:This is interesting:

The Obama administration on Saturday formally threw its weight behind a gradual transition in Egypt, backing attempts by the country’s vice president, Gen. Omar Suleiman, to broker a compromise with opposition groups and prepare for new elections in September.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking to a conference here, said it was important to support Mr. Suleiman as he seeks to defuse street protests and promises to reach out to opposition groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Administration officials said earlier that Mr. Suleiman and other military-backed leaders in Egypt are also considering ways to provide President Hosni Mubarak with a graceful exit from power.

“That takes some time,” Mrs. Clinton said. “There are certain things that have to be done in order to prepare.”

Her message, echoed by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, was a notable shift in tone from the past week, when President Obama, faced with violent clashes in Cairo, demanded that Mr. Mubarak make swift, dramatic changes.

Now, the United States and other Western powers appear to have concluded that the best path for Egypt — and certainly the safest one, to avoid further chaos — is a gradual transition, managed by Mr. Suleiman, a pillar of Egypt’s existing establishment, and backed by the military.

Whether such a process is acceptable to the crowds on the streets of Cairo is far from clear: there is little evidence that Mr. Suleiman, a former head of Egyptian intelligence and trusted confidant of Mr. Mubarak, would be seen as an acceptable choice, even temporarily. Opposition groups have refused to speak to him, saying that Mr. Mubarak must leave first.

But Mrs. Clinton suggested that the United States was not insisting on the immediate departure of Mr. Mubarak, and that such an abrupt shift of power may not be necessary or prudent. She said Mr. Mubarak, having taken himself and his son, Gamal, out of the September elections, was already effectively sidelined. She emphasized the need for Egypt to begin building peaceful political parties and to reform its constitution to make a vote credible.

Why would the protesters trust the man who had a key role in oppressing and silencing them for decades, to be the one to usher in free and fair elections? I’m having a very hard time reaching the conclusion that we are NOT trying to influence events in our (and Israel’s) favor behind the scenes- by placing Suleiman in charge, how much change can people really expect?

Oh, and here’s a translated article about Mubarak’s family wealth, estimated in the tens of BILLIONS, most of which is in Swiss, U.S. and Caymen bank accounts. So, how much have the US taxpayers donated to Mr. Mubarak’s personal wealth?

Peaceful Protests in Cairo

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2011 11:20 am

    Great, comprehensive post. Today, Al Jazeera reported a gas pipeline explosion in Egypt that halted shipments to Jordan. Mubarak blamed it on “terrorists”. Some protesters fear this is another ploy from Mubarak – create more chaos and blame it on Islamists. He is not trusted by the people to implement reforms and he is not even trusted to step down in Sept. He has claimed he would step down before. It’s not a sure thing.

    The longer this goes on, the more instability builds, and I believe the more chances of an outcome that truly could impact US and Israeli interests. Egyptians by and large are not blaming the US now. They want freedom. But if we are perceived as enabling Mubarak and Suleiman to remain, and we continue funding them and giving them an air of legitimacy of implementing “reforms”, while Mubarak quietly continues his crackdown on the people, it would not be a good thing for anyone.

    • February 5, 2011 12:55 pm

      I think the fear of the protesters is valid. Mubarak is certainly well-placed to create mayhem and blame it on “Islamists”- something he’s been doing for thirty years to justify his emergency laws and police state.

      I think a govt that has Suleiman at the head, even in the interim, could be a big problem. September is a long ways away and Suleiman is essentially the same as Mubarak and in some ways more notorious for ordering torture and all kinds of horrible tactics to maintain control. And of course we learned that the US used Suleiman’s willingness to torture to allow us to send [render] terrorism suspects to Egypt to be “interrogated” ie. tortured.

      If I were Israel I would release a statement voicing unqualified support for democracy and the protesters and essentially pledge to work with whomever the people choose. Then I’d shut up and just watch events unfold for fear of being seen as making it all about Israel, when it’s clearly not. Israel has played this very poorly thus far- by taking the side of Mubarak Bibi certainly hasn’t endeared himself to any future democratic govt in Egypt. I’ve come to the conclusion that Israel has no diplomacy skills- sometimes when the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. They should be working day and night for rapprochement with some of their neighbors rather than simply threatening to use force to solve every problem.

      It’s stunning to me how so many commentators refuse to acknowledge the price the US and Israel have paid for allowing the Occupation to continue simply because we don’t have the political will to change the status quo. Also, as the Lobelog article above points out, our actions in the middle east- the Iraq War, the support for Cast Lead, our fear-mongering about Iran and Israel’s war against Lebanon, have actually radicalized people- it hasn’t made ANYONE safer. It makes no damn sense. Whether there is a democrat or republican in office, our foreign policy towards the ME is decidedly neoconservative and based in large part on Israel’s perceived needs. It would seem that the State Dept. and WH are still filled with people with the same neoconservative mindset- that blind, unquestioning support of Israel, even when it engages in actions that are in direct conflict with our interests, has made things worse, not better.

  2. HillaryFan permalink
    February 5, 2011 3:37 pm

    Great commentary.

    I like that photo of the guy with the flowers in Cairo.

    I wonder if we can freeze Mubarak’s assets in the U.S.? It’s obscene that his people make $2 a day and he was over 50 billion dollars that he will no doubt have full access to when he leaves.

  3. February 16, 2013 2:55 pm

    I wish I could live a day in her shoes.

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