When Presidents Get Idealistic in the Middle East

Posted on Sun 01/30/2011 by


T Lee Humphrey

T Lee Humphrey

George W. Bush’s speeches during his primary run and then as the nominee show us a man very focused on domestic issues. When it comes to foreign policy some of his initiatives were to be ending the idea of nation building and getting out of Bosnia and Kosovo…why because President Clinton had US forces there long after combat operations ended and the US military wasn’t built for nation building. He also proposed a review of the US force levels in South Korea suggesting that we could cut more than half of the 50,000 troops and instead station troops in less expensive Japan and reinforce if necessary but really he wanted to turn over the task of protecting South Korea to South Korea, he also proposed cutting the European command to less than 100,000 troops centred on fewer bases and if possible down to less than 50,000 troops in all of Europe by the end of his first term. The savings would be used to replace the military’s heavy equipment designed for the cold war and to pay the troops more. All good stuff and none of it happened because on a bright fall day a group never once mentioned by either candidate (even though the very group attacked US targets 5 times during the 2 Clinton terms) during the 2000 election attacked the US. Bush’s Presidency changed in a heartbeat as his fathers had when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

President Carter didn’t like autocratic leaders who wouldn’t help their citizens, he demanded better of the government he told its leader that without reform the US could not and should not support him and then President Carter cut off aid to that country. Roughly a year later an unknown Mullah came to power and ordered his followers to take over the US Embassy. After decades of friendship Iran became the enemy of the United States and still is.

President Obama needs to look hard at Middle Eastern history and that of Africa. While we’d like to believe that when young people take to the streets asking for more freedom, what comes of it most often is more repression and more chaos. I would truly wonder what a young Pakistani would say about his country today. Is he happier under President Asif Ali Zardari than he was under General Pervez Musharraf? If President Bush had resisted the urge to tie aid to reform and forced General Musharraf to agree to step down as the head of the military and then pressured him to leave office would Benazir Bhutto still be alive, would the Taliban not have been increasing ignored while Musharraf ensured he wasn’t going to be overthrown in coup and let the Generals off the hook in going after the hard core AQ and Taliban elements living in his country in exchange for their support?

Today we see Cairo in flames and we’re shocked, we see young people in the thousands risking and losing their lives to say we want more freedom and that the government have allowed the police to go too far. They are increasingly corrupt and brutal in the way they ensure bribes are paid. In fact what is really going on is a reaction to the corruption reaching a tipping point. The police and local government officials have gone too far in their demands for bribes and as in Alexandra, the main police station was the primary target for those who complained of beatings when bribes weren’t or couldn’t be paid by business people and average citizens but and it’s a huge but, what is truly waiting to replace Hosni Mubarak, is it the Nobel Peace winner or is it the official opposition party, the Muslim brotherhood? President Bush learned a harsh lesson when he called for fair and free elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip thinking the Palestinians would support the moderate candidates that wanted peace with Israel, he bet on freedom and what he got was Hamas and more rockets being fired at Israel and elected opposition Fatah members running for their lives back to the West Bank. It’s hard to walk back from we trust the people unless the people vote for a terrorist organization. You really have a hard time with your freedom agenda if the people freely chose a terrorist organization.

President Obama in 2009 called for more freedom in Egypt and today we’re seeing the people step up and demand it. In 2005 President Bush made the same call and Egyptians responded by electing the largest number of Muslim Brother Candidates ever. President Mubarak learned from that election and rigged the next one to ensure he got 88% of the vote and that the Brotherhood only elected a handful of candidates.

While I believe that the peoples of the Middle East can prosper in a democracy it is certainly not going to be in a Western style democracy so we need to work behind the scenes to help improve people’s lot in life, not in public, for out of protest the most frequent result in Africa and the Middle East is chaos followed by brutal repressive regimes that make the past injustices look mild not to mention these regimes are often thrilled to thumb their nose at the US and Israel thus destabilizing the region.

Should President Obama make the wrong choices in the next 96 hrs and even hint publically or to the wrong people privately that he’s considering suspending aid we’ll see protests like never before and violence beyond anything to date and the result will not be a more peaceful and stable Egypt that remains indifferent to Israel but a country ripe for Al Qaeda and it’s cousin the Muslim Brotherhood and then folks we’ll really see what happens when a US President gets idealistic in the Middle East.