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Live Chat: Robert Scheer on Egypt
Posted on Feb 11, 2011
Anderson: The WikiLeaks played a role in your column this week, and so there’s a question about it that I wanted to raise before we have to wrap up here. And it’s by Jay Sheen, and he asks: “Whatever happened to Obama’s promise to bring more transparency to government? Isn’t WikiLeaks only relevant because of the lack of transparency in the first place?”
Scheer: Well, there’s no question that WikiLeaks is relevant because of the lack of transparency. There’s no question that WikiLeaks played a major role in this upheaval, and in the upheavals we’re seeing, the good upheavals, the Democratic upheavals. Because it let ordinary people in Egypt in on what the U.S. government really thought about their society and their leadership. And it was devastating, because in those cables what you have are the diplomats saying, “We know that Mubarak oppresses his people terribly. We think that’s a good thing, because it gives him stability. We know that they’re corrupt; we know that they’re ripping off their people at every turn.” So … the contempt that American diplomats felt toward the Egyptian leadership was revealed to the Egyptian people. And that supported this uprising.
The reader is absolutely right; it would be better if that had been said openly. But thank God for WikiLeaks letting us all in on what these so-called experts are really thinking. And they’re supposed to be working for us, by the way; they’re not supposed to be lying to us. The State Department’s supposed to be our agency; so is the Pentagon. And they’re not supposed to be deceiving us. But if you look back at the 30 years of Mubarak’s rule, basically under Republicans and Democrats, they were deceiving us. They were not telling us the truth about what was going on there.
And by the way, that’s why we and they, our big-shot leaders, were totally unprepared for this uprising. Right? I mean, did anybody predict it? Did our CIA predict it? Did our State Department predict it? No! In fact, when you read the WikiLeaks cables, they say “No, Egypt is stable!” Hillary Clinton said that very shortly before this uprising. Stable. Why? “Oh, they’ve got a good dictatorship, even better than under Saddam. More efficient, he’s got more secret police, he’s monitoring things better.” I mean, there’s something very evil revealed in the WikiLeaks cable, that our people, who claim to be Democrats in our State Department, were embracing totalitarianism because it was efficient. Well, the Nazis were efficient. You know? They could control the people.
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Anderson: On that note, there was another question about … that I know you can’t really answer, but maybe I can build on it a little bit, out of curiosity. The question was: “What are Obama’s true feelings about Mubarak stepping down? Did he want this?” And I would maybe make it a little more accessible by saying … by asking you what you think the kind of legacy of the Obama administration’s handling of this will be, maybe, when it comes to his re-election campaign or just in general.
Scheer: I think, thanks to the Egyptian people and their resilience, Obama’s going to come out looking very good. I think there was a moment, and that’s why I wrote my column, in which this administration blinked. And they said, “Oh, Mubarak has made a speech, he’s given some signals; let’s hang on till September, there’ll be some modest reforms.” After all, they were hearing not only from Israel but from the oil sheikdoms, the monarchy, they were hearing from Saudi Arabia, they were hearing from other powerful people in the Arab world: “Don’t do anything. Mubarak is our guy, Mubarak is our ally, Mubarak is your ally, you’re going to unleash the mob, you’re going to unleash the people.” And fortunately, the people in Egypt behaved in such an exemplary fashion that you couldn’t support that argument. They retained that nonviolence, they retained that dignity, they retained … they waved the flags of their country. They did it in a way in which they had Christians and Muslims praying side by side.
So by their behavior—by their behavior—they gave the lie to what was an emerging U.S. government position: “Hey, don’t let this democracy spin out of hand, you might get something terrible, we can’t guarantee it,” and so forth. And the Egyptian people said: “No. We can be trusted; we can even hold the square. ...” Remember, they were viciously attacked; they had to defend themselves, but they held that square. And so I think by their behavior, they forced the U.S. government to do the right thing. As to what Obama is thinking, I think Obama loved the end result. I think Obama’s a good man. OK? You know, we’ve had presidents that have been good people. Eisenhower was a good man when he refused to get involved in meddling in the Mideast at an earlier stage. We have good instincts, and I think Obama’s quite thrilled that a dictator has been kicked out; I don’t think he likes dictators. I think he’s quite happy that this has happened, and I think he rose to the occasion today in his speech; I think it was memorable in that he captured what this represents for human history.
A lot of us have been worried about this new technology, you know; [columnist] Chris Hedges on our website, very concerned, is it [technology] a vehicle for totalitarianism, does it amuse people to death, does it mislead people—Twittering and Facebook and all of that. Well, you know, we now have a very big example that this new technology can also be liberating. That the Internet can be liberating. That Facebook and Twittering can be liberating!
And that’s really what we saw in Egypt: that instead of these people using all their little gadgets and saying, oh, who’s the new Hollywood … you know, what’s happening with … I can’t even remember her name, Lindsay Lohan or somebody … I don’t even care about these people. But instead of using their iPads or something and saying, “Well, what’s happening to Lindsay Lohan in that courthouse and did she steal the thing or not steal,” and everything … no! They were Googling and saying, “What did Obama say? What did this guy say, and what is the record, and what did WikiLeaks say?” And so this modern technology has never been on better display than these last weeks—never. It is a great day for the Internet; it is a great day for the new technology showing the potential to inform a democracy. It’s not a done deal, it’s not automatic; it [technology] can be used to trivialize, it can be used to sidetrack people and amuse them to death. On the other hand, we have seen the great liberating effect of the Internet.
And on a day like … you know, with a magazine like Truthdig, I’m really happy. You know, we had our cartoonist, Mr. Fish—we have the best cartoonist in the world on our site, I say that unabashedly—and Mr. Fish did a wonderful cartoon on what was happening. And it showed up in the Mideast! It showed up in Egypt; it showed up around the world, you know? Because people can access it. And that’s just great. And I think they could read stuff that was written outside, and things that were being said outside, and I think it gave them ammunition, it enforced them … reinforced them. So I think this is a great day for the new technology, and being part of this new world of Internet journalism, and so forth. I think it’s just terrific.
Anderson: Well, on that happy note—it’s a good thing, I think, to leave off on a happy note—we’ll thank you, Bob—you’re nobody’s poodle—for your participation today. And we will see you next time for a discussion on Bob’s column. Thanks a lot, everyone.
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