Our son of a bitch

If we’re lucky — if we’re very lucky — we’ll end up with something other than a radical Islamist government in Egypt, a government that does not make visceral hatred of the United States and a burning desire to destroy Israel the centerpiece of its foreign policy.

And, yes, “luck” is the operative word here. There is no way to predict the ultimate outcome of the street revolution in Cairo. The U. S. government is completely powerless to affect its direction. About the only thing that seems certain at this point is that Hosni Mubarak’s time as our man in Egypt is up.

Mubarak is not the first unpopular foreign dictator the U. S. has backed. As far back as 1939 Franklin D. Roosevelt, when questioned about his support of the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza García, reportedly answered, “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

In fact, the U. S. has backed quite a few sons of bitches since then, and, almost invariably, our support for these dictators ends up causing us problems. When a crisis such as the present one in Cairo arises, we are damned no matter what we do. If we stand by our man, we incur the wrath of the people he oppresses; if we abandon him, we reveal ourselves as faithless allies and cowards — and his former subjects still hate us.

That’s what happened when the U. S. government pulled the rug out from under the Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and and from under Somoza’s son, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, and the Shah of Iran in 1979. In all three cases, our friendly despots were succeeded by rabidly anti-American governments.

In Vietnam the U. S. government went beyond merely abandoning “our” man: the Kennedy administration actively participated in the overthrow and murder of South Vietnam’s President Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu in 1963. Ostensibly, the U. S. acted to remove Diem because his government was corrupt and had lost the support of the South Vietnamese people. However, in 1997 journalist Seymour Hersh, while researching his revisionist history of the Kennedy Administration, The Dark Side of Camelot, found that Kennedy had learned that Diem had been secretly negotiating with the Communist North to get all American troops out of Vietnam. Kennedy had abandoned Laos to the Communists the previous year, and the 1964 elections were only a year off; he didn’t want to be blamed for “losing” another nation to Communism. Whatever the reason for U. S. participation in the coup, Diem’s overthrow turned Vietnam’s war into America’s war and it would cost us 58,000 American lives over the next decade.

Having friendly governments in countries of strategic importance is how the U. S. does empire. It makes more sense than the way European governments did it in the 19th century, i.e., by sending troops and hordes of civil servants to set up what in effect were occupation governments. Not that the U. S. hasn’t done that from time to time, but generally we don’t care what kind of governments our client states have, as long as they advance our interests.

Being one of “our” sons of bitches pays very nicely, if you can get the work and if you survive the almost inevitable fall that awaits you. This has certainly been the case with Mubarak: Egypt has been second only to Israel in the amount of U. S. foreign aid it has collected. In fact, Israel and Egypt together receive about a third of all U. S. foreign aid.

Now the Obama administration — backed by a U. S. Senate resolution co-sponsored by Senators Kerry and McCain — is trying to do to Mubarak what past administrations have done to other friendly dictators when they fell out of favor with their subjects. To see this as anything other than cynical is the height of naivety. Despite all the talk of democracy and freedom and fair and open elections, what the administration is really trying to do is end up on the winning side in the hope that whatever government succeeds Mubarak will continue his policies. This is one of the reasons for all the optimistic talk about the Muslim Brotherhood. They are really not that radical, we are told; they are “sworn enemies” of al-Qaeda; they only want to introduce just a teenie-weenie bit of Sharia law. This is wishful thinking, not realistic analysis. Revolutions take on a life of their own, and no one can predict how they will turn out.

All this has put the neocons in a quandary. After all, they are the ones who have pushed nation-building and democracy in the Muslim world, partly on the theory that democratic regimes would be friendlier toward Israel. However, Mubarak, for all his faults, has been the only leader of a Muslim country that Israel could really call a friend, and democratic elections in several countries (most notably, the Palestinian Authority) have brought radical Islamists to power.

So far the best advice on how to deal with the situation in Egypt has come from the Pauls, father and son (Congressman Ron and Senator Rand): cut off all aid, not just to Egypt, but to all nations. For one thing, we can no longer afford it. For another, it is none of our business. The Obama administration has no more right telling Mubarak that he must step aside than it does propping him up. The same goes for every other son of a bitch we have been bankrolling around the world. It is time for us to mind our own business.