Egypt: Another Lesson in the Failures of U.S. Policy
The rebellion in the streets of Egypt is fascinating and inspiring to watch — an uprising against autocratic rule that reportedly isn’t being led by any of the organized opposition figures or parties. I don’t know much about Egypt, but I’ve been inspired by the strengthen of this non-violent movement that Monday night led the Egyptian military to declare it would not use force against the protestors.
Former FCNL Friend in Washington Helena Cobban reminds us in her very good postings at Just World News of the context for this rebellion and the decades of repression funded by U.S. military aid. I also appreciate her very good piece on the recent non-violent activity by the Muslim Brotherhood (see also this piece by a former CIA agent and this other piece). I don’t know much about Egyptian politics, but I do think the demonstrators have a point when they express anger at successive United States governments that for decades has offered almost unconditional political and military support for an Egyptian state that has denied the majority of people freedom of political expression.
As the U.S. government struggles to craft a new policy toward Egypt, my sense is that part of the problem is our government’s policy remains grounded in a Cold War approach that starts with the simple premise that “if you are not with us, you are against us.” Dividing the world into simplistic categories of friends and enemies made no sense during the Cold War and it makes no sense today.
What do I mean by a “Cold War” approach? In Africa (which is the area I know better than the Middle East) during the Cold War, many individuals, communities and movements struggling for their own liberation from oppression were drawn to the United States because of the American ideals of freedom of expression, liberty, and democracy. Yet when those African liberation movement leaders sought to reach out to the United States government they were rebuffed and told the U.S. government supported the colonial or neo-colonial powers that were often defending U.S. corporate interests in Africa. Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, for instance, then turned to the Soviet Union for support.
The “new” foreign policy frame that is popular in the United States is to divide the world into countries that are with Osama Bin Laden and countries that are with the United States. Yes, I’m exaggerating a little here to make a point, but sadly I’m not exaggerating very much.
Whatever happens in Egypt, I hope the events in Egypt persuade people in the United States to take a hard look at the Cold War-style foreign policy that divides the world into countries that are “with us” or “against us.” In the coming decades, the United States needs to move away from a policy that seeks to control world events through alliances based on U.S. domination and control in favor of a policy that focuses on cooperation and seeking policies that will benefit all countries rather than just a few.
My own perhaps idealistic sense is that President Barack Obama understood this point instinctively. Yet the president has so far been unable or willing to organize the government in that direction and he lacks a popular movement in this country that would support such a new political approach. Events in Egypt will be decided by the people in Egypt. What we at FCNL need to do in the United States, is continue to build a movement that will change the focus of U.S. foreign policy.