Foreign Policy

The popular uprising in Egypt has left politicians and commentators scrambling for an appropriate reaction. Just about the only thing we know for certain about what will happen is that we cannot predict the outcome and there is very little the United States can do to affect the course of events.

What Happened So Far
To the best of everyone’s knowledge the initial spark for this week’s events occurred on Dec. 17 when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit stand vendor set himself on fire in protest over the government’s confiscating the goods he was selling. Over the next few weeks growing protests resulted in the departure of the man who had been president of Tunisia for over twenty years and ongoing attempts at a transition government. These events which have been called the Jasmine Revolution inspired people in other Arab countries to protest against their autocratic governments. Rising food prices throughout the world have increased discontent among people in many poor countries who face spending more and more of their earnings on food. This is likely to have lowered the threshold for normal discontent to boil over into uprisings against oppressive governments. We could go into the causes of rising food prices and whether inflationary policies in the US and other Western countries are contributing to unprecedented cost of basic commodities, but this would take us a little far away from the current events in Egypt.

A week ago people started protesting in Egypt, a country of 85 million people, which is also one of America’s most loyal allies in the Middle East and one of only two Arab countries that have signed a peace treaty with Israel. Initially, the protests seemed unorganized and express general discontent with President Mubarak, Egypt’s leader for the past thirty years. In the past day or so, Mohamed el Baradei, a diplomat and former head of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), has emerged as a spokesman for the opposition which includes the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group with lots of documented terrorist ties.

What’s Next?

President Mubarak’s government is on the defensive and has opened negotiations with the opposition. The army has announced that it won’t shoot at protesters. It looks like the rule of the 82-year-old Mubarak is quickly coming to an end. What’s next?

Nobody knows. The best case scenario is a gradual transition to a hopefully maturing democracy that rejects Islamist fanatics. The army, which appears to be respected by the people, may play a role similar to the army in Turkey – a firewall against extremists and anarchy. The Egypt emerging in this scenario would continue to be at peace with Israel and an ally of the United States. This scenario could be seen as a vindication of President Bush’ policy of bringing democracy to the Middle East via Iraq.

But there is a darker, much more dangerous course of events. The initial transition may be to a relatively weak leader like el Baradei followed by the eventual takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood which would turn the country into another Islamic Republic. Many revolutions have started with the initial turnover of power to people that are nice and reasonable, but who are no match to the committed ideologues waiting in the wings. This is what happened over 200 years ago in the French Revolution. It happened again in 1917 in Russia and thirty-two years ago in Iran.

In such a scenario, Israel would face a new threat to its existence, trade with Europe via the Suez Canal could be threatened and disruptions in the oil supply could result in sky-rocketing energy costs (e.g. gas at $5 or more a gallon). Worst of all, the Islamist contagion could spread to other Arab countries and become the main alternative to autocratic, secular governments in the region.

The successful suppression of the uprising by Mubarak seems unlikely especially now that the army has announced that it will not attack the demonstrators. This would be a bloody outcome similar to the 1989 Tinaman Square massacre in China or the suppression of the 2009 Iranian Green movement. Not something the United States should be associated with.

The Obama administration faces no good options. If we keep supporting Mubarak too long, the people of Egypt may see America as an ally with their oppressor. If we support the opposition uncritically, we may aid the ultimate victory of Islamist radicals. Other imperfect US allies may cool their relations with us when they see how quickly we dump an ally of thirty years. Opinions on this are widely divided, but the best approach may be to privately urge Mubarak to leave and threaten loss of US support, open up a dialogue with the army and key opposition figures and try to help with a transition that has some type of safeguards against an Islamist takeover.

It’s a high stakes game with an uncertain outcome. We are concerned whether President Obama has the understanding and experience to navigate this biggest foreign policy crisis of his administration. In matters of national security such as this, all Americans have to hope that President Obama receives the best advice and acts wisely in the interest of the United States.

Israel has more at stake in these events than any other country in the world. Here are comments from Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper:

The administration faced a dilemma. One can guess that Obama himself identified with the demonstrators, not the aging dictator. But a superpower isn’t the civil rights movement. If it abandons its allies the moment they flounder, who would trust it tomorrow? That’s why Obama rallied to Mubarak’s side until Friday, when the force of the protests bested his regime.

The street revolts in Tunisia and Egypt showed that the United States can do very little to save its friends from the wrath of their citizens. Now Obama will come under fire for not getting close to the Egyptian opposition leaders soon enough and not demanding that Mubarak release his opponents from jail. He will be accused of not pushing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hard enough to stop the settlements and thus indirectly quell the rising tides of anger in the Muslim world. But that’s a case of 20:20 hindsight. There’s no guarantee that the Egyptian or Tunisian masses would have been willing to live in a repressive regime even if construction in Ariel was halted or a few opposition figures were released from jail.

Now Obama will try to hunker down until the winds of revolt die out, and then forge ties with the new leaders in the region. It cannot be assumed that Mubarak’s successors will be clones of Iran’s leaders, bent on pursuing a radical anti-American policy. Perhaps they will emulate Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who navigates among the blocs and superpowers without giving up his country’s membership in NATO and its defense ties with the United States. Erdogan obtained a good deal for Turkey, which benefits from political stability and economic growth without being in anyone’s pocket. It could work for Egypt, too.

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The publication of classified documents by WikiLeaks has caused much embarrassment for leaders around the world who believed that they were talking to American diplomats in confidence. It will be more difficult for our government to have frank discussions with other countries about sensitive topics. The damage to American diplomacy is significant and the Americans who leaked these documents and Wikileaks editor Julian Assange should be prosecuted for the crimes they committed.

The documents also reveal what a dangerous world we live in and that foreign leaders often are much more supportive of American action against the world’s terrorists and rogue regimes than we are lead to believe by the media. For example, the king of Saudi Arabia urged the Obama administration to take out Iran’s nuclear capabilities by force. He and other Middle East leaders are concerned about a nuclear Iran, not about a few Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Tonight, a new story has emerged that China is ready to abandon the mad regime of North Korea and accept a unified Korea led from Seoul, South Korea’s capital. That is good news although how to get to this goal remains a challenge and who knows how Kim Il-Jung and his generals will react in the midst of the current confrontation with South Korea.

Here is a discussion of the WikiLeaks revelations on Fox News:

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On Saturday Fidel Castro for the first time in four years addressed Cuba’s communist parliament. He almost died in 2006 from intestinal problems when he handed over power to his now 79-year-old brother Raul Castro. The almost 84-year-old gave a ten minute speech warning about a nuclear holocaust if the United States and Israel stand firm against the dictators of Iran and North Korea and their efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The Miami Herald reports:

Castro noted that after months of warning of the risks of nuclear war if the United States tries to inspect Iranian ships beginning in September, as part of U.N. sanctions, he’s now less pesimistic.

“At first I thought that the imminent danger of war had no solution possible,” he said.

“I am sure, however, that it will not happen that way and that, on the contrary, the conditions for a solution . . . are being created at this time.”

“One man alone will have to make the decision: The president of the United States,” Castro said, because Iran will not bow to U.S. and Israeli demands to halt its nuclear program.

If Obama approves an attack on Iran, he added, he will trigger a war that will spread through the Middle East and Asia and cause “the instantaneous death of hundreds of millions of people, among them an incalculable number of people in his own country.”

The “established order of the planet . . . will inevitably collapse, the reigning social order will disappear abruptly” and all currencies will be worthless, he added.

Castro noted that “as luck would have it,” Obama’s father was Muslim and his mother was Christian and added he hoped the U.S. president will become conscious of the threat to world peace.

Unfortunately, Castro is right about Obama’s unwillingness to seriously confront Iran and take out it’s nuclear capability. The real threat to the world is the opposite of Castro’s warning. Not confronting Iran and destroying its nuclear facilities creates the risk of a nuclear war in the Middle East.

If we had a president who understood the nature of the Iranian regime and of propaganda from old dictators like Castro, he would see through Castro’s rhetoric and understand that doing the opposite of what Castro recommends will ensure the world’s safety. Unfortunately, President Obama has been incapable of understanding the evil nature of Iran’s leaders and has grown up surrounded by leftist intellectuals who still idealize Castro’s murderous regime. Obama won’t admit this in public, but he is likely to find validation in the warnings of a decrepit dictator.

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President Obama’s reaction to the confrontation between the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and pro-terrorist-Hamas activists that tried to run Israel’s blockade is another example of the “alien in the White House” syndrome described in the previous post.

Congressman Mike Pence (R – PA) concisely summarizes the events and their background and ends with asking: “Mr. President, whose side are you on?”

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been fairly invisible over the past year and a half. President Obama keeps sending her to obscure Third World countries.

Recently though she has been back home and used the opportunity to comment on “one of the biggest international problems we have… The rich are not paying their fare share in any nation.”

So now our Secretary of State wants to export America’s turn to socialism around the world. Last year she lectured Pakistan that they needed to raise taxes. What a complete reversal of America’s historical position that the United States is a country where you can take risks and, if you are successful, earn the rewards and build wealth.

Clinton cites Brazil as a country of high taxes that is also growing and where poor people are improving their lot. Well, not so fast. Here is what she said compared to a State Department profile of Brazil that was updated in February after Clinton had been in office for one year:

“Brazil has the highest tax-to-GDP rate in the Western Hemisphere, and guess what? It’s growing like crazy,” she said.

Actually, the State Department report on Brazil states its “GDP dropped 0.8% in the first quarter of 2009.”

The Tradingeconomics.com research firm shows that the U.S. economy, which Clinton believes does not tax enough, has out-preformed Brazil.

Brazil has experienced sluggish GDP rates, averaging 1.61% in 2007 before the world recession hit, compared to the U.S. averaging 2.5%, according to the firm’s inflation-adjusted numbers.

After the recession hit, Brazil’s economy was sluggish just like the U.S. economy. Brazil grew by 1.39% in 2008 and 0.96% in 2009, compared with -1.83% and 0.18% for the U.S., respectively. In other words, Brazil’s economy is hardly “growing like crazy,” as Clinton asserted.

What’s more, while Clinton praised Brazil’s high-tax society, the State Department report criticized it: “Significant vulnerabilities remain in the Brazilian economy. The total tax burden is high, income distribution remains skewed, and the private business community complains of burdensome regulation. The global financial crisis has hampered President [Lula da Silva’s] efforts to accelerate economic expansion.”

The report has more criticism for Brazil’s tax system:

“In order to attract increasing levels of FDI [foreign direct investment], many business groups and international organizations have highlighted the need for Brazil to improve its regulatory environment for investments and to simplify the tax code.”

The State Department report does not credit high taxes, as Clinton does, for Brazil’s growth. But it does single out somethings she rarely talks about: turning government-run enterprises over to private business.

The State Department said: “Many antiquated and burdensome state management structures that operated in the sector have been dismantled, though some of them still exist.

Clinton had one fact correct: Brazil has the highest percent of tax revenue (38%) compared to total GDP. Clinton credits those taxes for improved economic performance.

Let’s fact-check another Clinton assertion about Brazil. She said at Brookings: “The rich are getting richer, but they’re pulling people out of poverty. There is a certain formula there, that used to work for us until we abandoned it — to our regret, in my opinion.”

According to the CIA World Factbook, the percentage of Brazilians living below the poverty line is 26%. The 2000 edition said Brazil had a poverty rate of 17.4% in 1990. You might argue that Brazil’s embrace of high taxes has created more poor, not fewer.

Facts don’t matter to Clinton and Obama. They are ideologically committed to taxing not just the “rich” but also the middle class and those entrepreneurs risking their savings to build private enterprises. They want to “spread the wealth around” as Obama famously said to Joe the Plumber during the 2008 election campaign.

Clinton and Obama don’t care that taxing a country’s wealth makes everyone poorer and hurts lower income people disproportionally. We recently posted a twenty year old confrontation between former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and a Labor member of Parliament where she exposed the fact that Socialists would rather have everyone be worse off rather than let successful people build wealth that creates jobs for everyone else.

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