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Live Chat: Robert Scheer on Egypt
Posted on Feb 11, 2011
Scheer: Well, democracy always has risks. We see it in our own society to now. We have forces in America that want to appeal to the worst instincts that are xenophobic, racist … you know, and so forth. That’s what democracy is all about—challenging those ideas, hoping the truth will win. But there’s an assumption to that questioning of the ability of other people to make a freer society, to have democracy. And I just don’t … I don’t know why that always comes up. First of all, it’s not our business. They’re the ones that had the right and the responsibility to make a decent society.
Now, you know, assumed in that question somehow there’s a threat to our security or well-being. I don’t buy that. I think the threat to our well-being comes from our meddling in their interests. After all, we built up this Egyptian army. We propped up this dictator. We’ve propped up the oil monarchs—you know, where did the [Sept. 11] hijackers come from? One came from Egypt; 15 of the 19 came from Saudi Arabia, a country that we’ve been doing business [with] and supporting their military, supporting their monarchy, forever. So supporting a monarchy certainly carried a lot of risks, in terms of the hijacking, and now here we are at a moment when the Egyptian people have so clearly spoken out for freedom—nonviolent! They’ve been nonviolent. They risked their lives, and they’re out in their streets … if this thing had gone the other way, they’d all be in jail and tortured and everything. And then we sit around on these news shows and everything and wonder whether they can be trusted with their freedom?
They have demonstrated that they have the right to make their own history. They took the risks, they were out there, these primarily young people in Egypt, and I find it kind of insulting that these pundits sit around and say “Are they ready for democracy?” I’ll raise the question: Are we ready for democracy? You know? And why wasn’t that raised during our history? We had slavery; we had segregation; we didn’t allow women the right to vote; we threw a lot of innocent people in jail during our history. We fought wars that were based on lies. Why don’t people around the world say hey, are you Americans ready for democracy? And yet anytime people around the world move to make their own history, we wonder, oh, are they ready for this? Who are we to be making these points? Where are our hands so clean? We’ve propped up many evil forces in this world, many evil dictatorships, and not the least among them in the Mideast. And we’ve been on the wrong side of a lot of this stuff.
I would point out, by the way, we even propped up Saddam Hussein. We propped up the Shah of Iran when it was convenient to us. And then we turn around and say, hey, you people can’t be trusted to make your own history because you might back the … yes, that’s the risk of democracy. They might back somebody we don’t like; they might back somebody we wouldn’t vote for. But, you know, it’s their country, and as long as it doesn’t represent a threat to our freedom, you know, I think we have to … I watched Ron Paul, who’s increasingly becoming somebody I like, and Ron Paul was on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, and Wolf Blitzer said can’t we just … don’t we have to decide, and don’t we have to move … and Ron Paul said [paraphrasing Rep. Paul] “Wait a minute. What are you talking about? We built the Egyptian military, we supported this monarchy; we did it because of the military-industrial complex. And now you’re saying if we don’t meddle in there, they’re not going to be able to figure it out?” I think it’s very insulting to other people, particularly people of such a rich, long history as the Egyptians.
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Scheer: Well, you’re not insulting me, and I didn’t think the question came from you. But I’m not trying to put down anyone who … people can raise any question they want. It’s just the way these questions always come up. And I do … I think it’s not insulting to me, it’s insulting to these other people. That somehow … look what happened in Egypt, for God’s sake. Here was a Google executive who had it made in the shade. He was making a lot of money; his career was launched. And instead of saying, “Hey, I’m just going to get fat and rich like the people on Wall Street,” he said, “You know what?” he said, “I’m going to worry about my country. I’m going to worry about the people that I went to school with. I’m going to worry about what happens.” And he risked his life! And he went to jail. And now we’re going to turn around and say he can’t be trusted to figure out what should happen in his own country?
Anderson: Certainly not me. I’m not going to say that. [Laughter]
Scheer: Well, all right. Just wanted to straighten that out there, Ms. Anderson. [Laughter]
Anderson: Yes. OK, well, we’d better pay some attention to our Truthdig members, who are asking you questions about your column this week. So here’s a good one from Truthdig member gerard. She said: “I’d like to ask Mr. Scheer to please explain what he means by this phrase”—and she quotes you—“ ‘... the deep cynics who run our foreign policy.’ Most of us are trying to figure out a reasonable explanation for the behavior of our State Department and our foreign relations people. Or we’re dissolving in self-hatred and fear. Have we all given over to cynicism, too? Is there any cure?”
Scheer: Well, I think that the people in the foreign policy establishment have been deeply cynical over the decades. I think they were prepared to make a deal with the vice president [of Egypt], and keep Mubarak until September, and so forth. And I think, had it been up to our advisers and our people there, things would have gone very badly. And that’s what concerned me; I said there was “an odor of betrayal” to what we were starting to hear, after a good start by Obama.
However, I think the instincts of the American people are great. I think our history has prepared us to support people who struggle, who fight for freedom; after all, we were a revolutionary society. And I think Barack Obama, in his statement on Friday, was brilliant. He was poetic; he was incredible. I’ve criticized the man on many occasions, but he rose to the occasion. He seized the moment, and he’s absolutely right. He celebrated the ability of the Egyptian people to make their own history; he celebrated this change.
And now, by the way, the test is going to be whether the morning after, Barack Obama leans on our own Pentagon and says [paraphrasing the president], “Look, we’re not cooperating with the Egyptian military unless they cooperate with their own people. We’re not going to give them [the military] a blank check.” We’ve been giving them an enormous amount of money over the years in military aid, aid of other kinds; we’ve been underwriting a lot of their activities; we’ve done it because they have contracts with our own defense industry. And I think it’s really time now for our president to tell the Pentagon, tell the State Department: “Don’t play your games. What we want from the Egyptian military is to provide safety and security to the people of Egypt, so they don’t get beaten up by thugs, and there’s some order. But we don’t want them installing a new dictator or a new oligarchy, as has happened before. If they do that, they will not have our cooperation; we will not underwrite their activities; we will not be their ally in this respect.”
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