Thursday, January 27, 2011

US Urges Freedom and Democracy in Egypt – As Long as It is Good for Israel

"Is it good for the Jews?" has been asked by Jews whenever they learned of a significant event outside their neighborhood. In the last few decades the question has been transformed into, "Is it good for Israel?" It doesn't bother me so much when Israelis and their supporters ask the question. But when the United States government sees everything through the prism of "Is it good for Israel?" then you know that something is deeply askew.

In the last few days, Representative Ilana Ros-Lehtinen, who is not herself Israeli or Jewish, has objected to the US "paying one fifth of the bills for the UN's anti- Israel activities, including the UN Human Rights Council, a rogues' gallery dominated by human rights violators who use it to ignore real abuses and instead attack democratic Israel relentlessly." (from the Jerusalem Post) . In other words, if the UN does something Israel doesn't like, we stop payment.

But the most extraordinary statement came from State Department spokesperson, P. J. Crowley. In an interview with Shihab Rattansi, when questioned why the US doesn't take a stronger line with Mubarak, who is cracking down on protesters, Crowley says:

We respect what Egypt contributes to the region. It is a stabilizing force, it has made its own peace with Israel and is pursuing normal relations with Israel. We think that's important. We think that's a model the region should adopt, broadly speaking. At the same time we recognize that Egypt, Tunisia, other countries, do need to reform.

According to Crowley, Egypt's virtues seems to a) it is a stabilizing force and b) it's good for Israel.

So despite the fact that the US wants democracy and liberalism in the Arab world, it wants it if the Arabs elect governments congenial with its – oops, I mean, Israel's – interests.

There is a strong parallel between Washington's "tough talk" on Arab democracy and its "harsh criticism" of Israeli settlements. Clinton and Obama will make a few speeches, offer some carrots for change, but will never come down hard on its client states. Remember that the US gives 1.3 billion dollars of aid to Egypt and more billions of dollars of aid to Israel. They may not be happy with their respective governments, but they aren't going to unduly ruffle any feathers, even though the US taxpayers have a stake in the outcome. As long as the opposition in Egypt is Islamist the US may be able to get away with its double game.

But when the US supports protests in Iran and only gives lip service to the protests in in Egypt, even though both sets of protesters are protesting authoritarian regimes, the US earns itself the contempt of the protesters, and of the Arab world.

And of decent folks everywhere.

h/t to a few friends who follow these things more carefully that I do, especially Helena Cobban, who has an important analysis here

And an important interview with Egypt-expert Joel Beinin that explains US's interests in Egypt, see here


Michael W. said...

Yea, how dare we demand our tax dollars work for us.

Peter H said...

Michael W,

Can you elaborate? When does "supporting massive repression in Egypt" = "making our tax dollars work for us"?

Michael W. said...

Peter H,

I was referring to the comment about paying the UN's bills.

Unknown said...

can i crticize israel and US foreign policy is asked by the magnes zionist whenever he reads the news

my friend open your eyes take a look at what has happened to the price of oil and world stock markets and then ask what stability the US is worried about

as for the Israel dictating amer ME policy take a look at the new iraqi "democrcacy" and its close ties to iran . As long as they start the oil pumping with US contacts "stability" will have been achieved

Peter H said...

Michael W,

Ilana Ros-Lehtinen isn't demanding that our our UN dues "work for us"; she's demanding that they "work for Israel". Big difference.

Unknown said...

your selective reading of politics and lack of sophistication never ceases to amaze...a congresswoman from south florida comes out strongly with the aipac party line...and ron paul tea party darling calls for suspending all aid to israel and quitting the UN

and what does that tell you about future us foreign policy and the future relations between the US and the UN

Jerry Haber said...

lawrence, you are right; initially I overplayed Israel's importance to US policy based on Crowley's remarks; it is one of the main motivators, but not the sole motivator. But I do not retract it being a main motivator -- this has been repeated ad nauseum by US foreign policy wonks.

Read the interview with Beinim; link is provided in the post.

Anonymous said...


do you seriously wish to have egypt return to its pre camp david policies?

and america does nothing that is not in its best interest

and as israel is an ally of america, why shouldnt a congressperson speak up to support her and decry the hypocracy of the un and the faux hrc?

Unknown said...

Egypt has long been one of the most cosmopolitan and secular of the Sunni Arab states, and the combination of factions united by their opposition to Mubarak (who had decades to work out a steady transition to actual limited democracy, and who failed to do a darn thing), proves it. One can perhaps derive a gleam of hope from that, for otherwise it would seem that Egypt is going down the long, destructive road seen so many times before.