Why Has the U.S. Political Establishment Been So Hesitant to Press Mubarak to Leave?

by: David Sirota

Wed Feb 02, 2011 at 16:30


The question of why the American government has been so hesitant to push dictator Hosni Mubarak from power is typically answered in our media through the construct of "pragmatism." If Mubarak leaves, the talking point goes, there could be a new government in Egypt that could threaten "regional stability" with an Iranian-style revolution. This talking point is both bigoted and imperial: It assumes that all Muslims and revolutions are monolithically the same (despite Egypt being Sunni and Arab and Iran being Shiite and Persian), and it assumes that "regional stability" is automatically threatened if a nation exists in the Mideast that isn't under our thumb.

Nonetheless, the "pragmatism" talking point persists, and thus our government continues to deal with the dictator with kid gloves. But here's the thing: We're playing footsie with Mubarak not just because of the self-serving neoconservative construct of "pragmatism" -- but also because of cold, hard cash. Check this dispatch out from the Politico:

Two of the biggest lobbying firms representing the Egyptian government made more than $400,000 during the last six months of 2010 lobbying lawmakers, military officials and their staffs on behalf of the embattled government, according to newly filed disclosure reports. In the period ending just weeks before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's dramatic announcement Tuesday, Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta's firm, the Podesta Group, brought in $279,000 and made about 30 contacts, largely with Senate staffers, according to the report.

It's boring saying again what I so often say (to the point of writing an entire 2006 book about it called Hostile Takeover), but it's worth repeating right now: Most issues that enter our political arena are influenced by our system of legalized corruption and bribery.

The Egyptian crisis, though far away and though about our own (supposed) democratic ideals, is no exception. Power brokers in both parties are making huge money backing a brutal dictatorship -- and the government officials those power brokers influence are consequently backing away from their own purported commitment to democracy. It's cause and effect in a simple political machine -- money goes in, behavior comes out. And as I argued in my book, money doesn't just buy legislative favors. It buys the very language and postures that confine our political debate within very narrow parameters -- in this case, it frames the Egyptian situation as a choice between "pragmatism" (i.e. backing the dictator) and potential terrorism (i.e. allowing Egyptians to democratically elect their own government). Indeed, look at how Toby Moffett, a Democratic congressman turned high-paid Mubarak lobbyist, put it:

"This is a very important strategic ally of the United States and it's about the country not flipping over into the hands of somebody who wants to make it anything other than a secular state," he said.

This "Stick with Mubarak or Get Terrorists" bumper sticker slogan is exactly the same thing you are hearing from so many high-profile American politicians these days as they attempt to pretend they support democracy, while cautioning against removing the despot. Those politicians are framing the debate in exactly the terms the lobbyists want them to. That artificial framing may be somewhat expensive to achieve, but it is quite effective. And while it's not complicated -- it is destructive.

David Sirota :: Why Has the U.S. Political Establishment Been So Hesitant to Press Mubarak to Leave?

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But another factor may be that (4.00 / 5)
Mubarak knows where the bodies are buried when it comes to the US rendition program Obama is so desperate to keep in the rear-view mirror.

Montani semper liberi

Yeah (4.00 / 3)
According to Jane Mayer, Omar Suleiman was (is?) the coordinator of the extraordinary rendition program.

But I think the U.S. is pretty much doing what it always does when one of our dictators is in trouble. Stands by him for as long as possible.  


[ Parent ]
But of course this is perfectly true: (0.00 / 0)
"If Mubarak leaves, the talking point goes, there could be a new government in Egypt that could threaten "regional stability" with an Iranian-style revolution."

Bigoted and imperial doesn't necessarily mean incorrect. In fact, I think it's likely--almost certain--that a post-Mubarak government will threaten 'regional stability'. The fact that that stability relies in large part upon legalized corruption and bribery is another question.


Only if you assume (4.00 / 2)
that the present uprising against these autocratic regimes is unrelated to the way those regimes are governed, and likely to govern when there is nothing to check them. The present instability is a product of the way these countries have been governed, as will be any fall out.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
Why do you need to assume that? (0.00 / 0)
I don't understand. Mubarak offered stability, the stability of an autocratic rule. (The sort of stability is the overriding goal of conservatism.) Of course any change will be less stable--almost by definition. I mean, unless an even more repressive strongman seizes power and adopts the same policies. I'm not sure what your point is when you're talking about what the present instability is a product of.

[ Parent ]
My mistake. We're talking about different things (4.00 / 1)
Your point is about the stability of policy (i.e. legalized corruption and bribery), and you're right. The odds that a new government would continue the old policies to the same extent are lower (thankfully).

My point was that the instability that comes from popular revolt is a product of this sort of autocratic rule, and therefore change can't be avoided by efforts to push back against the people.  At best, this will delay change.  But a democratic and more equal Egypt would be more stable in the long run (after a period of instability, or change).  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
A black swan to crash the narrative: Targeting the journalists (4.00 / 1)
Once journalists on the ground in Cairo and elsewhere - including A-list types like Anderson Cooper - get targeted for mob violence and beatdowns at the hands of Mubarak thugs, their reporting will 'go negative,' whatever the whisperings of Versailles.

Being targeted for violence is a visceral experience. You'll hear that resonate in their reports. I don't take the cable package with all the cable news stations but Brian Williams and Richard Engels on NBC tonight, reporting from Tahrir Square, were not equivocal in disparaging the counter-protesters as "street thugs," "insurgents," "goon squads," and "enforcers" (though Williams did try to maintain some veneer of fake objectivity with passive voice constructions like 'the atmosphere here has suddenly gone toxic' instead of the more accurate 'government-aligned thugs have created a toxic environment with new violence' or some such thing).

I might be persuaded to up my cable package though if Comcast started carrying Al Jazeera English.

The MSM has tagged Independents the party of swing-voting 'centrism.' If Democrats no longer represent your liberal values, show America there is still a Left by registering for another left-aligned party.


OTOH...wtf? (4.00 / 1)
Tweet from Time congressional correspondent Jay Newton-Small:

Anderson Cooper: if your crew is getting beat up in riots in every country you go to-might that suggest UR the 1 doing something wrong?


The MSM has tagged Independents the party of swing-voting 'centrism.' If Democrats no longer represent your liberal values, show America there is still a Left by registering for another left-aligned party.

[ Parent ]
What's the Mystery? (0.00 / 0)
The answer is Israel - which is not a foreign policy issue. It is a domestic one.

Right, that explains why (4.00 / 1)
the US doesn't support any autocratic regimes except those in the Middle East.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
really? (0.00 / 0)
http://www.haaretz.com/news/di...

http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEas...

It may not be the only reason, but it must be one reason.


[ Parent ]
The comment above (4.00 / 1)
clearly implied that Israel is the sole reason.  Your links merely show that Israeli policy is supportive of Mubarak, as is the policy of the US. That's true, but beside the point.

That said, I didn't dispute that Israel mattered.  What I mocked the suggestion that the US needs to be influenced in order to support dictators.  

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
Israel is the elephant in the room (0.00 / 0)
Netanyahu has been in direct contact with Obama over this.  They think this is a top priority.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-e...
http://online.wsj.com/article/...
http://www.haaretz.com/print-e...

Even if Israel isn't the sole reason, they could be the main reason.  Why hasn't the US thrown Mubarak completely under the bus?  The US might coddle dictators, but they also turn on them when it's political damaging to continue.  Why continue hedging?


[ Parent ]
Again (0.00 / 0)
the US has a long history of supporting dictators and autocratic regimes, so there is no need to deploy Israel as a special explanation for standard operating procedure. I see nothing about the US stance that is unusual.  And again, your links only tell us what Israeli policymakers want and are lobbying for. They provide no argument or evidence that Israel is the sole or main reason for American policy.  The last one suggests that the US might become closer to Israel and back off from what (little) pressure it already applies to advance its imperial ambitions, suggesting that, if anything, you have at the causation backwards.  

Finally, since there has been plenty of discussion in the mainstream media about the importance of Israel regarding the US relationship (more than normal), and no one (including me) is denying that, it is not ignored, and therefore not the elephant in the room.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.


[ Parent ]
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