Lessons from the US

Abdel-Moneim Said , Friday 11 Feb 2011

At these difficult times, Egyptians, whether in power or opposition, are in need of advice. But there is one party which has no right to lecture Egypt and Egyptians: The US

I do not know if the crisis in Egypt will have ended by the time this article is published or not, but all indications on Saturday night, 5 February, signaled that conditions have reached a peak and have now entered a phase of resolution. It may be too early to study events comprehensively since history is still being made, and it could correctly be the right of Egyptians to revolt even if only once every century.

A few days ago, Fareed Zakaria wrote in Time magazine what Fouad Ajami published in 1995, namely that Egypt has a record of political stability and that for two centuries there have only been two types of rulers in Egypt: a monarchy established by Mohamed Ali Al-Kabir in 1805; and the republic founded by Gamal Abdel-Nasser. In contrast, France witnessed a momentous revolution, two empires, five republics and a quasi-fascist regime during the same period.

Hence, Egypt’s era of revolt has finally arrived after a long wait and Egyptians are forced to deal with new complicated and complex realities. Naturally, difficult times mean many things including a pouring of advice from left right and centre, from friends, allies and others. It is true, Egyptians are in need of advice whether they are in power or in the opposition, because at such times oscillating between exaggeration and flexibility, pride and humility require cool heads and emotions.

Nonetheless, I believe there is one party which has no right to lecture Egypt and Egyptians, namely the US. It has occupied entire countries in order to reform them and train them to become democratic, but we have seen the results in Afghanistan and Iraq. While US President Barack Obama’s administration inherited a heavy burden from the hardline right wing politics of its Republican predecessor, it is noteworthy that the incumbent Democrat administration has not only failed to erase the negative repercussions of these mistaken policies, but instead took even more missteps on most fronts.

This has given rise to a debate about the dimming influence of the sole superpower in the world, in favour of a multipolar New World Order especially that several world powers are competing with the US on the world stage. There are also pessimistic expectations about the future of the US economy, and what the future might hold in light of the current political environment inside the US which is witnessing new unprecedented dynamics.

In terms of foreign policy, there are many areas in which the US has made immense mistakes. In Iraq, despite the success of the US administration in reducing its military presence there and ending combat operations in 2010, this was not reflected well in enforcing stability on the political and security fronts. In the political arena, disputes and conflicts continue among Iraqi political forces which has paralysed the country. This was epitomised in the seven-month standoff in forming a government after elections were held in March, 2010, and ended with agreement to keep Nuri Al-Malki as prime minister.

On the security front, there are still several areas in Iraq which are sporadically targeted by suicide bombers who kill and injury many, despite the security measures and arrangements in place and security cooperation between US forces and the Iraqi authorities.

At the same time, there have been problems in the reconstruction process. The US Department of Defence has been unable to explain how it spent $2.6 billion allocated to the Iraqi government because of lax monitoring and bookkeeping. While reviewing the accounts of $9.1 billion in Iraqi oil revenues, the US inspector general in charge of reconstruction in Iraq revealed that most US military institutions responsible for dispensing funds for reconstruction project did not comply with the rules outlined by Washington in terms of monitoring and spending. The report by the inspector further revealed that some US officials were negligent when opening bank accounts worth $8.7 billion for the Iraq Development Fund according to the rules of the US Treasury. This caused monitoring problems whereby the money was used in inappropriate ways and resulted in unexpected losses.

What is also remarkable about Iraq is that Washington not only failed to correct mistakes made during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 – most notably disbanding the Iraqi army and randomly uprooting the Baath party – but it also failed in containing, or at least neutralising the role of Iran in Iraq. To the contrary, Tehran was able to manipulate the US’s colossal missteps in Iraq to dig in its heels and strengthen its role there, especially but shoring up its allies to take over power in Iraq.

On the Afghani front, despite continued intense efforts by Washington to resolve this conflict by sending more military resources to the war effort there, especially after pulling out troops from Iraq and a complete overhaul of the US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the administration made several errors which resulted in negative developments. These include a marked escalation in the role of the Taliban which was able to capture several areas in Afghanistan, especially in the south, and the exposure of the dispute between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the US administration.

Meanwhile, Iran’s role and influence continue to expand inside Afghanistan, as does the influence of Al-Qaeda especially on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and in tribal areas. Combat operations and US policies in the region have also put a strain on US-Pakistan relations.

It is clear that the US is in no position to give Egypt advice, not only because it has failed on several fronts but also because many domestic factors are at play on the US domestic scene which colour the policies and perspective of the US administration – and they are rarely wise even in securing the interests of the US. These are not only the distortions by interest groups but also the think tanks which rarely give the US president sound advice. As we saw, this culminated in an avalanche of advice by the US which would have been enough to destroy Egypt altogether.

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