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Live Chat: Robert Scheer on Egypt
Posted on Feb 11, 2011
Anderson: Well, that leads me to ask you a question that just came in on the Web from one TDoff, who—I think perhaps in a slightly tongue-in-cheek manner, but [that’s] not definite—says: “Who do you think Leon Panetta will appoint to replace Hosni Mubarak?”
Scheer: Well, that is the danger. I mean, again, [paraphrasing] Ron Paul to Wolf Blitzer, you know, he says I suspect these people in our government and the State Department and everything are running around now trying to find a new guy to back. That is not, as Ron Paul said, our business. How would we feel if a bunch of Egyptians were running around our country, saying, “I’m worried about your next election, let’s reorganize it, we know who the best people are; after all, you know, we’ve studied your culture, we’ve studied your society. We have our intelligence agency.” I think it’s an absurd … I’m sure … first of all, Panetta is actually one of the better people we’ve had, so he’s probably got some sense about it.
But I do think these people tend to be very cynical. If you read the WikiLeaks cables, for instance, there’s very specific language in there of contempt for the very military people, and the others, that we were backing. Our government has known all along how bad Mubarak was, but they also … in fact the general who’s now the key guy, the defense minister, is described as Mubarak’s “poodle” in the WikiLeaks cable. Poodle! OK? So, now, that’s a concern. Because, after all, the military has power. And if that poodle becomes the poodle of another dictator, or a dictator himself, that will be very bad.
And I think our cynics, our experts, whatever you want to call them, who have been having dinner with these people for 30 years and have been underwriting them and advising them and everything else, need to get the word out—“No. We’re talking about real democracy here. We’re talking about the ordinary Egyptians being able to make their history. Now, you know, if you’re on the wrong side of that, we don’t want to give you aid. We don’t want to cooperate; we won’t give you all the war toys. If you’re on the right side of that, and you behave in a decent fashion towards your own people, yes, we’ll continue cooperating.” That’s the leverage the U.S. has right now. And I think if Barack Obama is consistent with his speech, when he quoted Martin Luther King, and our soul, we seek freedom and this is a universal yearning of people. We’ve seen an incredible outpouring of decency in Egypt. Decency. People willing to risk their lives for the freedom of other human beings, for a decent society, and doing it in a nonviolent … this is one of the great victories of nonviolence. This is, you know, Gandhi exponential; this is Mandela at the end; this is Martin Luther King; this is resistance of a really noble order.
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Scheer: Well, I think there’s the basic problem now—assuming that the military doesn’t install another dictatorship, and I think they’d be … I don’t think they’re going to do that; I hope they don’t. I think economic development, economic justice—that was very clear here. You had a significant number of people in the elite in Egypt; you know, the one and a half million people who worked for the government, and certainly the ones on the higher level, the capitalists, the big investor class. They were doing just fine during this period, but the average Egyptian is living a very poor life … quality of material life. And you have a lot of people who’ve got an education but they can’t find decent jobs, and so forth. And it’s not just in Egypt; it’s true throughout much of the developing world. But in Egypt it’s really stark, and they’re living in a neighborhood where other people are oil-rich and can have a lot of luxuries, and so forth.
I think the real pressure now on whatever government comes in in Egypt is going to be to deliver some progress. Because people want it, they want economic progress to be married with political progress. They want to see some results. And Egypt has a well-educated work force, and what they need is investment. And to the degree that we do foreign aid, it should be to support economic development, not just support the military. And what we’ve done is primarily support a bloated military; I don’t know what they need this big military for. Who are they going to go to war with, or what are they going to fight … you don’t need a big military to fight terrorists, if that’s what your real goal is. They need a big military to suppress—and a big police force to suppress—their own population. Well, hopefully they’re not going to be in the suppression business now.
And so, yes, I’m for transferring much of that military aid to economic aid. And here I differ with Ron Paul; I believe in substantial economic aid. But I also believe—and here I agree with Ron Paul—I believe in a lot of trade and investment. That’s what our founders had in mind, as he pointed out: diplomacy and trade. And yes, we should embrace an expanded economic connection with Egypt, not because they have oil to exploit, which they don’t, but because they have a lot of people that deserve a shot at a good life, and they’re hardworking and they’re decent people, and we should become their economic partners.
Anderson: I think [that] next to your next column we should have a graphic that has “agrees with Ron Paul on these points” and “disagrees on these,” so readers can keep up. …[Laughter]
Scheer: Well, let me defend … Kasia, I think that I get your drift there, but let me just say, I … after all, the Republicans control the House. And the conscience of the Republican Party now, for better or worse, [is] really the libertarians, because at least they’re consistent. At least they say, “No, I don’t want big government on the social side and I don’t want big government on the military side.” And I think it’ll be a breath of fresh air if we can have that debate and that discussion.
And we claim that our military people always were so concerned about Egypt—as long as they were buying a lot of weapons, and as long as they had a big army, and so forth—will they be concerned about Egypt as far as feeding the hungry, as far as education? And if that assistance and that support comes from investment and business activity, and we treat Egypt as a potential—you know, like Brazil, potentially a very big economy, a very forceful, energetic economy—that’s a good thing. But if we treat it as a pawn in some kind of Mideast war and politics, then it’ll be a very bad thing. And so, yeah, I like the fact that there are principled people on the Republican side, and so Ron Paul is an example of that.
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