Thursday, February 10, 2011

Iran and Egypt
Mike Rappaport

I haven't been following the Egypt situation too closely, but it seems to me that Obama has been far more vocal in urging Mubarak to step down than he was about the Iranian Mullahs in 2009. And doesn't this get it exactly wrong!  As usual, of course!  Not that I feel that Mubarak is anything great, but the Mullahs are worse and the Iranian protesters are better than the Muslim Brotherhood.

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Mike Rappaport


Thank you for remarking on the obvious - of which the media dare not speak. Your point reminds me of the silence concerning the administration's blunder over what it called the "coup" in Honduras.

Posted by: Greg | Feb 10, 2011 6:08:43 PM

That's a Rodger. This is Obama's first real, "What now, Lieutenant?" moment. It is obvious that he has no clue, and this is a lot more significant than his other eff-ups, such as the Zayala affair mentioned above, or the "beer summit" farce.

Posted by: Lou Gots | Feb 10, 2011 8:47:39 PM

The common thread, of course, is that since the 1960s, the left-right partisan divide over foreign policy has consistently seen the right line up in favor of American interests and American power, and the left line up against them.

"Human rights" and democracy have nothing whatsoever to do with it--during the Cold War, today's "neocons" were defending America's alliances with various unsavory regimes that took America's side against the Soviets, while liberals and leftists championed those allies' pro-Soviet enemies in the name of freedom from tyranny. Today, of course, the roles are reversed--because pro-democracy actors are more consistently pro-American these days.

Honduras is the most egregious example of this polarization at work: there was simply no publicly defensible justification for the Obama administration's behavior--not support for democracy, not support for human rights under any definition, not support for rule of law. But between a vehemently pro-American faction and a vehemently anti-American one, the choice, to the Obama team, was crystal clear.

The reasons for this polarization are complicated--they have to do with the demographic and socioeconomic makeups of the two main political coalitions. But it has been a consistent feature of American politics for decades.

Posted by: Dan Simon | Feb 10, 2011 9:48:19 PM

But the success of a democratic regime with a strong Islamist component in Egypt (as in Turkey) would put more pressure on Iran than US rhetoric anyway, which it can easily ignore.

Posted by: mike livingston | Feb 11, 2011 10:28:23 AM

Regarding Egypt, Mubarak was a mortal octogenarian dictator and the riots just accelerated a succession crisis that was going to happen anyway. Whatever deal we and Israel had with him was going to be renegotiated when he died or became senile. As I posted two weeks ago on this site, his fall was actually a coup. The next couple weeks will determine what deal the army makes with whom to get their candidate in office. There will be a more islamist direction, but again, that was going to happen anyway. Moreover, the Junta will not allow islamic militants into government for the simple reason that the leaders of the Junta would have been majors and colonels during the counterinsurgency against the islamists and probably got fast-tracked for promotion based on their enthusiasm and reliability.

Honduras was the US complaining about, but not actually sanctioning, a country in our Sphere of Influence for a right wing coup. Like most previous right wing Latin American coups in the bad old days, it actually had popular support and the democratically elected Left actually was a little nuts. The important message for the US to send in the incident was that the bad old days were over, which the administration duly sent by publicly backing Zelaya, even though we did virtually nothing substantively to help him back into power. It was the equivalent of the US voting present when the coup came.

Posted by: molly | Feb 12, 2011 8:12:09 PM

Molly, the US didn't simply vote "present". It cut off all non-humanitarian aid to Honduras, and vocally denounced the ouster of Zelaya--even to the extent of threatening not to recognize the results of the already-scheduled upcoming elections there. In doing so, it sided with Zelaya against the entire rest of the Honduran government, against the wishes of the Honduran people, and against the principles of constitutionalism and democratic rule.

So when you talk about the "important message" for the US to send being that the "bad old days were over", you certainly can't mean the "bad old days" when the US supported dictatorship over democracy and human rights, since the Obama administration was doing precisely that in Honduras. Nor can you possibly be referring to the "bad old days" when the US intervened pointedly in the internal politics of Latin American countries--again, that's precisely what the Obama administration was doing. The only interpretation of your phrase that makes any historical sense, in fact, is that the "bad old days" refers to the time when the US actively pursued and defended its own interests abroad, rather than deliberately undermining them. For the time being, at least, those days do indeed appear to be over.

Posted by: Dan Simon | Feb 12, 2011 11:20:25 PM

Zelaya was elected, you recall. That does matter. The army intervened in a fight between Congress and the President, which does not automatically mean the Congress was right. Moreover, Zelaya did in fact have supporters who did have a tendency to end up dead after the coup. Public opinion was not as overwhelming as was portrayed in the media. You may also recall that the US was following the OAS in condemning the coup, not praising a coup over the objections of the OAS. I understand you are beyond persuasion of course, given that you seem to think the US president is trying to undermine the US despite ample evidence to the contrary. If he walked on water you would probably complain he couldn't swim.

Posted by: molly | Feb 13, 2011 1:05:45 AM

Molly, it was a fight between the entire rest of the Honduran government--Congress, the Supreme Court and the military, backed by the majority of the public--and the President. Moreover, if the fact that Zelaya was elected was so important, why would the US even dream of threatening not to recognize the outcome of the coming presidential election, in which Zelaya was constitutionally forbidden to run? And although Honduran public support for Zelaya's removal may have been "not as overwhelming as was portrayed by the media", it was still a solid majority.

Yes, the OAS condemned the coup. That's sort of the point--by publicly deferring to the OAS, the Obama administration was announcing to the world that it would henceforth cease to decide on international matters based on its own interests, and instead bow to international organizations that are at best impartial to, and often openly hostile towards, the US.

As for my personal persuadability, I don't see why that should even be a topic of discussion here, but given that I've been marshalling actual arguments, while you've resorted to a combination of falsehoods, irrelevancies and implicit concessions of the merits of my points, it's pretty clear which of us is the more persuadable.

Posted by: Dan Simon | Feb 13, 2011 6:26:14 AM

Two more thoughts:

1) The word, "coup", in my comment above should of course be in quotation marks--the Honduran army was protecting Honduran democracy, not abrogating it.

2) This isn't strictly about the current US president, whose foreign policy has been characterized first and foremost by vacillation and indecision, rather than ideological fervor. I interpret this behavior as indicating the presence of multiple factions within the administration, which Obama, lacking much executive experience, has done a poor job of harnessing under his leadership. One of these factions, though, is clearly leftist in orientation, and is presumably responsible for the administration's repeated, if sporadic, outbursts of gratuitous hostility to allies, fawning obsequiousness towards avowed enemies, and wild enthusiasm for policies and initiatives that run blatantly counter to any reasonable definition of US interests.

Of course, this anti-American orientation is never bluntly expressed as such, except perhaps in radical circles. Rather, it manifests itself in elaborately contrived pretexts for kowtowing to anti-American forces, while undermining pro-American ones. The Obama administration's transparently and indefensibly weak pretexts for supporting Zelaya in Honduras--embraced here in all their incoherence by Molly--provide a textbook example.

Posted by: Dan Simon | Feb 13, 2011 10:04:57 AM

Backing the OAS is not a weak pretext. The EU, which is largely coterminous with NATO, condemned the coup as well. Deferring to allies is arguably good policy, particularly when we have virtually no interests in Honduras except the Monroe Doctrine. The reason we should defer to allies sometimes is that we actually do need them, and unilateralism has been shown to have drawbacks.
As for the Supreme Court and Military, their opinions properly do not count in any sense as being democratic. The Congress and the President had a dispute that was settled by the army. That makes it a coup.
The line falsehoods, irrelevancies and implicit concessions doesn't make sense. You should actually point those falsehoods, irrelevancies and implicit concessions out before you throw lines like that around.

Here, I'll show you: You implicitly concede that the media portrayed the situation wrongly, that the president's supporters were killed after the coup, and that you are in fact an ideologue. The Supreme court's opinion is an irrelevancy in determining what is democratic. The anti-americanism of the left is a falsehood. See, that's marshalling an argument. Saying you have marshalled an argument is very different from actually doing so. You also use too many adjectives.

Posted by: molly | Feb 13, 2011 10:04:15 PM

As you requested, Molly...

Falsehood: "Honduras was the US complaining about, but not actually sanctioning, a country in our Sphere of Influence". As I pointed out, the sanctions were very real.

(Falsehood and) irrelevancy: "I understand you are beyond persuasion of course...If [Obama] walked on water you would probably complain he couldn't swim." This is a completely incorrect characterization of my views, as I've explained--and an irrelevant ad hominem attack, to boot. Why personalize this argument needlessly?

Implicit concession of the merits of my points: "the EU, which is largely coterminous with NATO, condemned the coup as well. Deferring to allies is arguably good policy..." I was going to bring up some earlier ones, but this latest is too good to pass up. After numerous lame arguments--including citing the OAS' condemnation of Zelaya's ouster, which, as I pointed out, only reinforced my point--you bring up the EU's similar condemnation, along with a bunch of windy rhetoric about deferring to allies. Putting aside the laughable claim that the way to foster transatlantic comity is to echo the EU's anti-American bloviations on the vital issue of Honduran domestic politics--while snubbing its members in favor of Russia at every opportunity--I am compelled to ask: where was this argument three comments ago? How much more obvious could it be that this is a transparent pretext, rather than an actual justification, for the pro-Zelaya, anti-American position?

Far from being an ideologue, I'm a firm believer that the standard left-right "ideological" polarization is actually an ideologically incoherent division between two diverse, ever-shifting coalitions of socioeconomic, demographic and interest groups. (I also believe that real ideologues, such as libertarians or Marxists, are even scarier, adhering as they do to dogmatic belief rather than pragmatic self-interest.) My observation about the foreign policy tendencies of the "left" and "right" coalitions stems from this worldview, not from any ideological preconception. And I see no reason why those tendencies couldn't shift markedly one day, or even reverse themselves, as they did during the postwar era, when the American "right" and "left" coalitions gradually switched sides in the debate between isolationists and internationalists.

One thing that I notice consistently, though, is that "left" and "right" partisans have a great deal of difficulty imagining that anyone might not fall neatly into one of these two categories. That's presumably why you noted my disagreement with you, and simply assumed that I shared your simple-minded, knee-jerk partisanship--just on the other side.

Posted by: Dan Simon | Feb 14, 2011 12:07:27 AM

come, come. Has anyone ever been *really* scared by a libertarian? What, are you afraid you'll be banned from a D&D usenet group or something?

Posted by: Tom Smith | Feb 14, 2011 11:51:19 AM

Well, Marxists are pretty harmless, too, on an individual basis. Give them some power, though...

(Yes, yes, I know--libertarians have never had power. Of course, there was a time when Marxists could say the same thing.)

Posted by: Dan Simon | Feb 14, 2011 1:47:05 PM

My knee-jerk partisanship is not simple-minded

Posted by: molly | Feb 14, 2011 7:26:43 PM