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Live Chat: Robert Scheer on Egypt

Posted on Feb 11, 2011

(Page 4)

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.


Square, Site wide
And yet … the WikiLeaks cable … these are cables written by State [Department] people … it reeks of a vicious cynicism and a contempt for ordinary people. And that should be the subject of serious examination and debate. What are we training these people in the foreign services for? What are we bringing these people in for? And do they really respect people around the world, or do they just respect power?

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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RayLan's avatar

By RayLan, February 14, 2011 at 9:49 am Link to this comment

The article is a necessary and powerful antidote to the US anti-democratic exploitation of Islamaphobia to perpetuate empire.
These protestors are technically Muslim but politically secular and the polar opposite of terrorists - an inconoclastic precedent - the danger is in how the US will influence the events to further its anti-terrorist (terrorist) agenda by manipulating the military.

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Peter Knopfler's avatar

By Peter Knopfler, February 13, 2011 at 6:08 pm Link to this comment

Very good conversation with Bob Scheer, we must be
around the same age, I find on all subjects brain
development, before and after TELEVISION. People who
developed their brains from 3 to 18 years old most of
us grew up reading not T.V.  Bob is right the youth
techno-political movement is a JOY to behold,
although we need to hear more from Women of the West
supporting Egyptian women. Wiki Leaks for
transparency is a blessing, dirty laundry everywhere,
the public not pubic, who pay the bills, HAS a right
to know, EVERYTHING, then together we decide, which
way to go. If my mind and body belongs to the
corporate communist dictators, and my soul belongs to
GOD, what is left for me, yes to be or not to be!
Unfortunately suicide is on the rise all over this
HUMAN Community! My question no so much OBAMITO, but
Communist China, silent but effective. What does RON
PAUL say about Communist China!

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By Tim Perceval, February 13, 2011 at 5:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great words from Scheer, especially “are WE ready for democracy!”

However praising “Obama rose to the occasion” ... you might say he also cashed
in on Primetime TV, any politician’s dream.

He contributed nothing to the ouster of Mubarak.

He doesn’t have the guts to change the Pentagon’s unscrupulous billion dollar
donations to the Egyptian military.

A formidable speaker who rarely acts on his words. Expect nothing from this
man, and you’ll be mildly surprised.

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By rend, February 13, 2011 at 3:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Bob is so brilliant, i think making the site a more multi media experience is a fantastic idea.
However, is there a way you can get the aspect ratio and color correct on the video so he
doesn’t look like he is 4 ft 8 inches and 200 plus pounds. This video look like is was shot by
kidnappers. A mic on his abductor might not be a bad idea either.

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By tony_opmoc, February 13, 2011 at 2:05 pm Link to this comment

I was in Egypt 4 years ago and the hatred of the Mubarak dictatorship was open and obvious - as the bus and the taxi in different trips was halted and delayed for over an hour by ridiculous road blocks and security checks.

So I am delighted that this dictatorship is gone because it is a wonderful signal to the entire world. The Egyptians have achieved what most of the rest of the World can only dream about.

But there is now a vacuum, and there is no guarantee that this vacuum will be filled with honest people of integrity.

In fact the situation is such that a 5 year old has disarmed and tied up a tyrant and is awaiting the police to turn up and arrest him.

I hope that it all works out well for the Egyptian people. One of the most wonderful things about this revolution is that it has been almost completely non political and non religious in nature. Just ordinary people demanding and getting the freedom to decide their own future.

Maybe Egypt will again become an example to the entire World of how to do “Civilisation”

I want to go back already.


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By Barry Dalton (aka LRC Straight Shooter), February 13, 2011 at 10:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Substance wise great.

But it looks like an al qaeda hostage video

hard to watch, easy to listen to

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By white dove, February 13, 2011 at 6:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

to all nations! and people! this is the way to fight this thing!  CAPITAL LETTERS FIRST: LIGHT AND LAW; then LINE UP UNDERNEATH OF IT:      NATION OF JOY

SEE? Can be CITY OF JOY and your city name! COUNTY OF JOY and then small letters always underneath: STATE OF JOY then beneath small letters oregon SEE? as many people’s as you can have do this the faster it will be solved! Province OF JOY; whatever but ALWAYS and ever FIRST: LIGHT AND LAW; see? then 2nd in CAPITAL LETTERS then last centered and small!
  oh boy people! we will be knowing JOY!

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By gerard, February 12, 2011 at 2:11 pm Link to this comment

Tsunami in Egypt

“How could one not admire them? They were non-violent, their demands were reasonable, their actions were spontaneous, they obviously expressed the feelings of the vast majority of the people. Without any organization to speak of, without leadership, they said and did all the right things. Such a sight is rare in history.”—Uri Avnery, The Other Israel

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By FiftyGigs, February 12, 2011 at 11:37 am Link to this comment

I wonder which story will win:

a) Obama is the Puppet Master, who manipulates world events for the benefit of his autocratic buds, or;

b) Obama is inept and way behind the curve, coldly ineffective in the nuance of popular revolt.

Doubtless, the story this site will not acknowledge is that the President contributed an unbelievably brilliant, engaged, enlightened role—to the extend he or any President could—of fostering profound change while helping to keep it peaceful on all sides.

The Egyptian people decided their fate, but they didn’t do it alone. For once, TruthDig, consider national pride. You’re allowed to.

Just like Egyptians.

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By gerard, February 11, 2011 at 11:14 pm Link to this comment

A word to the wise:  People need to write and phone Senator Feinsten in defense of Assange, Manning and Wikileaks..  She’s way overboard against the leaks and answers people with a long harangue that shows how she simply doesn’t “get” it so far as secrecy and accountability goes.  Real old school, cloak and dagger stuff.  She’ll hang in there as long as there’s a breath of a chance of rendition etc.

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By hcferris, February 11, 2011 at 8:30 pm Link to this comment

lighting. lighting. lighting. very important. Truthdig must have good lighting. : )

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By gerard, February 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm Link to this comment

Robert Scheer:  Thank you so much for a great interview on Egypt, and on the significance of Wikileaks and the Internet for their relationship to this victory, and for the future of massive nonviolent social action. I’ve been trying to say similar things in comments on TD for months.  You did it so much more eloquently   Bravo!

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By gerard, February 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm Link to this comment

Robert Scheer:  Thank you so much for a great interview on Egypt, and on the significance of Wikileaks and the Internet for their relationship to this victory, and for the future of massive nonviolent social action. I’ve been trying to say similar things in comments on TD for months.  You did it so much more eloquently   Bravo!

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By Reverend Unruh, February 11, 2011 at 7:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I propose we call today, “World Freedom Day” or something like that.

The date, 2/11/11, is just too good to forget. I think we should name it and
celebrate it annually.

If anyone wants to design a patch, I suggest it have a pyramid or prison on it,
maybe breaking like the Berlin wall or something. I don’t know. The symbology of
this event is overwhelming, it should be commemorated.

I was just thinking how being the cradle of world peace would make it an even
more exciting place to visit. I never wanted to go there before, but now I’d
consider it.

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