Saturday, January 28, 2012

Small-Minded Defeatism of Washington

It is understandable, if not terribly illuminating, to see some uninformed, unorthodox and outright silly analysis of a normally relatively sedate topic, once the matter becomes publicized at the highest level by this highly politicized White House.  As such, much of the wacky views about what to do with Egypt -- ranging from tying the country to a global jihad to sugar-coating clearly anti-modern Islamists as Jeffersonian democrats -- can be dismissed as part of the expected Beltway reaction. 

What is far less acceptable, however, is when leading experts of Egypt policy in Washington can offer so little in terms of a constructive approach for putting Egypt on a modernist path of reform in this time of transformation.  The central assumption of the CSIS's Egypt in Transition:  Insights and Options for U.S. Policy is that the United States has a very limited role in Egypt and, as such, can basically not do much apart from watching on the sidelines and occasionally making a point here or there.  The assumption is inaccurate and leads to a dangerous conclusion of inaction. 

The United States has massive influence in Egypt at multiple levels, and must use it.  Even apart from the obvious sway associated with U.S. military might, financing a large part of Egypt's annual military budget (and the associated "conferences" at strategic locations near American shopping centers), and the tens of billions of dollars of grants, soft loans and programs of U.S. economic aid, and even more from multilateral institutions backed by American money, the United States is the super power in every sense of the term in Egypt.  Visits with U.S. officials are the tell-tale sign of having made it to the big-time.  White House and State Department commentaries about events in Egypt become domestic events in and of themselves.  American multinational corporations directly and indirectly employ a major segment of the upper and middle classes, U.S. markets serve as rich outlets for an even wider segment of the millions of Egyptians employed in the light industries of textiles and furniture, and American services and products of all types dominate the domestic marketplace.  And U.S. culture and values pervade more deeply in Egypt's top-down society than in almost any country on earth - from television and movies, to schools producing tens of thousands of American-copy teenagers, to mini-Pasadena housing developments, and on and on. 

Battle of the Colas: Sherbin Style
To take all this and conclude the United States cannot really do anything is a product of failed imagination.  The United States is in a position to decisively orient the country in a reformist direction.  The United States can drive economic policies that can produce durable political and social reforms by both pushing for IMF loans and opening Western markets to Egyptian goods, services and people, something, in fairness, CSIS notes in the report's best line:
Rather than passively awaiting economic decisionmaking, the United States can help shape that thinking and arrest what might otherwise be a slide toward state-centered economics.
The United States also can back groups and leaders - military, political, economic and social - espousing individual rights, and blacklist those that do not.  The United States can approach Egypt as a country, and not as a religion.  The United States can do this because it is the United States, and has a relationship with Egypt and Egyptians that allows for this.  

Egypt is more in need now than ever of the supporting influences of modernity, and it is squarely in the U.S. national interest to ensure that modern forces prevail over Islamist retrogrades, nationalist thugs or chaotic populists.  This can only happen, however, if the United States is led by a foreign policy that recognizes, and believes in, U.S. capacity to effectuate positive change, rather than subscribing to small-minded defeatism.

1 comment:

  1. the problem is not about modernity, islamists, or else - it is increasingly that SCAF appears to be willing to sacrifice Egyptians and its relationship with the US to retain influence.