Tag: Egypt (page 1 of 2)

MbS made USCIRF smile: Gatekeepers and Norm Erosion

For many, Saudi Arabia finally went too far. Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul; reports suggest he may be dead. Pundits who gave Mohammed bin Salman—Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, also known as MbS—a chance to prove his reformist credentials have become critical. In the midst of all this, a commissioner of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom—(USCIRF) a government-affiliated human rights watchdog—announced…that Saudi Arabia is making great progress on protecting religious freedom? At first glance, this is confusing, but it may be an indication of the powerful role of strategic framing and policy gatekeepers in eroding international norms.

In “Bono made Jesse Helms cry,” international relations scholar (and permanent Duck of Minerva contributor) Joshua Busby discussed the dynamics through which activists can influence states’ foreign policy; his article also inspired the title for this post. Activists can intensify the appeal of their moral arguments by strategically framing their campaigns to match the cultural value of targets. And when they specifically target “policy gatekeepers,” who provide direct access to the relevant policymaking tools, their appeals can change states’ behavior.

Most assume this dynamic is a positive one, a way for activists to spread altruistic ideas and get states to adopt them. But what if it could be used by states themselves to undermine human rights norms?

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Engineering Peace

Can third parties do more than foster temporary, unstable ceasefires? Without perpetually holding the belligerents at arms’ length via heavily militarized buffer zones? Is it possible to make peace self-enforcing at a reasonably low cost?

Recent work on conflict management suggests not. Less intrusive approaches to mediation, such as information provision, fail to solve the problem that poses an obstacle to efficient negotiate between the belligerents in the first place. More intrusive approaches such as deploying armed peacekeepers are often successful, at least if they come after a conflict ends, but entail great costs. You want lasting peace on the cheap? Good luck with that.

Writing with Anna Pechenkina, I have argued that the consensus view may be too negative. Third parties can raise the effective cost of war by promising to provide subsidies if and only if war is avoided. But even that does not solve the underlying problem. Subsidized peace may persist, provided the provision of the subsidies persists, but it is not self-enforcing.

In a fascinating paper, Rob Carroll offers some optimism. He demonstrates formally that third parties can remove the risk of war, in a fundamental sense, by engineering transfers of economic and military resources in such a way that the natural outcome of trade will reflect the expected outcome of war. Thus, neither side will stand to gain from fighting and will not be expected to do so. In equilibrium, the two sides make their own peace—but they would not have done in the absence of mediation.

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Democracy: de facto vs. de jure

EgyptAgain

For the ultimate outcome of the Arab Spring and the prospects of moderate Islamic influence of politics….  Continue reading

The Era of Austerity or the Era of Intervention?

Tuareg_rebel_in_northern_MaliA variety of commentators listened to President Obama’s Inauguration speech and, having heard few words devoted to foreign policy, declared that the second term of this Administration will be marked by less activism on the global stage.  The draw downs from Iraq and Afghanistan readily reinforce this view, as do a variety of academics peddling recommendations for a new grand strategy of restraint.  I am more circumspect, for inauguration speeches are by nature more domestic in focus.  More importantly, America’s national security interests have not changed fundamentally.

The Obama Doctrine of robust burden sharing—being multilateral when we can, unilateral when we must—will continue to cope with a world that may be in rapid flux but has little propensity to generate the stability and security that would justify a restraint-based grand strategy.  Al-Qaeda was quiescent in one form, but in its new decentralized affiliate-based form it is anything but.  With the global campaign against terrorism continuing amid a constellation of constrained economic resources, robust burden sharing is an appropriate grand strategy; moreover, it is here to stay (at least for the duration of this Administration and likely well beyond).

Opponents of the President have had a heyday with the unintentional phrase “leading from behind.”  Ever since an unnamed Administration official spoke these tongue-in-cheek words to The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, critics have twisted them and/or ascribed their own meaning more along the lines of “retreat to the back.”  Some grew so agitated, they practically fell over themselves in their clarion call for robust American leadership practically at all costs—case-in-point a certain presidential candidate’s “No Apology” book that aptly captured this sentiment, and a certain senator’s delight in singing “Bomb-bomb-bomb Iran.”

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Inside the Bubble, Round II

Richard Grenell was pushed out as Mitt Romney’s national-security spokesman. In The Daily Beast, he attempts to defend his former boss.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got it right. The Middle East desk at the State Department got it right, too. And so did Mitt Romney. All three correctly rejected the initial Cairo Embassy statement on the developing violence in Egypt and Libya as weak and inappropriate. And yet Romney was the only one to become the focus of media ire for it.

Again with “the media.” That horrible, terrible, no-good lamestream liberal media that also appeared in Erik Erikson’s evasive blame-the-messenger defense of Romney. And just how palpable is their double standard? Here’s Mitt Romney’s statement:

“I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” Romney said in the statement. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

Here’s Secretary Clinton’s:

I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack. 

This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation. 

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind. 

In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.

As you can see, they are identical. Both characterize the US embassy statement as “sympathizing” with  the attackers. Both characterize that statement as the official position of the Obama Administration.

Okay, maybe Grenell’s talking about the actual remarks that disowned the US embassy statement. Like President Obama’s…. Right. He didn’t actually do so in his official remarks. Well, what about his 60 minutes remarks?

In an effort to cool the situation down, it didn’t come from me, it didn’t come from Secretary Clinton. It came from people on the ground who are potentially in danger,” Obama said. “And my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they’re in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office.

Okay. So maybe Grenell is referring to reports that numerous people inside the Executive Branch were angry about the statement, e.g.,

“People at the highest levels both at the State Department and at the White House were not happy with the way the statement went down. There was a lot of anger both about the process and the content,” the official said. “Frankly, people here did not understand it. The statement was just tone deaf. It didn’t provide adequate balance. We thought the references to the 9/11 attacks were inappropriate, and we strongly advised against the kind of language that talked about ‘continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.'”

You see, exactly the same thing as claiming that theObama Administration’s first response was not to condemn the attacks…” but to “sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

But what else would you expect, argues Grenell, from the aforementioned liberal media?

The mainstream media has so far failed to ask persistent and tough questions of the State Department or the White House. In fact, NPR’s Romney campaign correspondent, Ari Shapiro, and CBS News’ Romney campaign correspondent, Jan Crawford, were caught on tape minutes before Romney’s press conference conspiring to trap him. Why had reporters like Shapiro and Crawford not tried to get the real story? Why were they following the Obama campaign’s playbook?

Evidence? You want evidence of this fiendish trap? Why here it is:

Off camera, you can hear CBS’s Crawford strategizing:

JAN CRAWFORD: That’s the question….Yeah that’s the question. I would just say do you regret your question.
ARI SHAPIRO, NPR: Your question? Your statement?
CRAWFORD: I mean your statement. Not even your tone, because then he can go off on –
SHAPIRO: And then if he does, I think we can just follow up and say ‘but this morning your answer is continuing to sound’ –

Then the feed is cut off. Crawford later added, “No matter who he calls on, we’re covered on the one question.” A man who is not Shapiro states, “Do you stand by your statement or regret your statement?”

Even Tim Graham at Newsbusters admits that there’s nothing really wrong with reporters collaborating to make sure that Romney answers a specific question. He (correctly) suggests that it would have been more appropriate to focus on substantive policy — what Romney would do diff… differ… different… look, I’m sorry, but….

… frack yes, it would be AWESOME if the media made Romney provide detailed policy ALTERNATIVES. I mean, have you seen the Mitt Romney official campaign site? The Iran policy is basically the same as the current policy. Seriously. Except that he “reserves” the right to go back to the inferior “third site” BMD option. The Middle East proposal is to create a we-won’t-call-it-a-Czar-Czar for the region — and it isn’t a Czar because it will have authorities that strike conservatives as even more extra-constitutional than what they’ve been after Obama for! Okay. Look, I know it isn’t fair to pick on campaign sites, but this is a candidate who believes specifics are for ordinary working people… 

Anyway, what was I writing? Graham’s fallback argument is that there’s nothing per se wrong with this coordination except that the liberal media are biased and liberal and stuff… because Clinton.

Been an interesting day. At least Obama’s “this is crazy, but Egypt an ally? Call it, maybe?“* line will introduce some new wrinkles into the narrative.

*I sure hope this is the kind of mixed-message signaling designed to “warn” another regime in an ambiguous way. How boring if it just turns out to be a “gaffe.” 

Foreign Policy to the Fore: Is Romney Below the Bar?

U.S. Consulate in Benghazi 9/12/2012

I heard Dan Drezner in the car on NPR yesterday talking about whether foreign policy might matter in this election. And, last night and today, with the events in Egypt and Libya, he may be more right than even he anticipated.

We may have an incident, in the wake of the 11th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, that will shape the contours of the election and have wider repercussions for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa. Politically, does it constitute a disqualifying moment for Mitt Romney?
Like Dan, I’ve been of the mind that foreign policy doesn’t matter for most Americans in this election, and that barring a crisis, Mitt Romney only minimally needed to be seen as above the bar to serve as commander in chief. Foreign policy might affect the election on the margins with military families in key swing states.

As Dan suggested in recent posts, Romney did himself even more damage in recent months and during the convention in which he unnecessarily antagonized our closest allies on his foreign tour and then failed to mention our troops in Afghanistan during his convention speech.

Both actions, somewhat minor at the time, may now be overshadowed by Romney’s ill-timed and intemperate rush to blame the Obama administration for apologizing for actions by private actors in the U.S. that might have outraged Muslims (namely a bizarre and crude anti-Muslim propaganda “film” by a mysterious person who claimed Jewish, American, and Israeli roots who appeared to be none of those things). Never mind that the so-called “apology” was a tweet issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo at a time before the protesters’ attacks were launched where the embassy sought to defuse a volatile situation. Never mind that the Obama administration quickly distanced itself from this tweet.

All of this would have been small beer had it not been for the tragic events that unfolded over the night that took the life of U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, who was killed by a mob apparently outraged by the same film (or, what may have been an pre-planned attack by Islamists taking advantage of the moment to exact revenge for a recent assassination in Yemen).

All of these events remain murky (here’s a timeline) so what’s the sensible thing for a presidential candidate to do in the face of incomplete information? Well, most Republicans issued outrage about the loss of life of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans. Senator John McCain, for example, along with Senators Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman issued a statement: “We are anguished and outraged by the death of four citizens of the United States.” Most politicians said something along the lines of President Obama who said that there was “no justification” for the kinds of violence that had occurred in the wake of publicity of the film.

So what did Romney do? Romney issued a statement last night blaming the Obama Administration for what he called a “disgraceful” apology, that is the tweet by the embassy in Cairo:

I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.

Then, this morning, Romney doubled down with a press conference sandwiched in between Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks and the President’s. By this time, it was clear that the events had escalated in the region and between the time Romney issued his first statement and today, the Obama administration had rejected that so-called apology and, more importantly, our Ambassador in Libya and three other Americans were now dead.

Romney’s statement to rally our country at a potentially perilous moment went like this:

“It’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values.”

“America will not tolerate attacks against our citizens and against our embassies. We’ll defend, also, our constitutional rights of speech and assembly and religion.” 

“Apology for America’s values is never the right course.”

The reaction by many in the media as well as a number of establishment Republicans is that this statement was unseemly and ill-timed political opportunism, especially since the situation is dangerous and as we mourn the loss of life (look at my Twitter feed for today for a long list of detractors like Peggy Noonan, David Frum, Ed Rogers, Joe Scarborough, Nick Burns, even Romney flak John Sununu).

Ben Smith captured a number of off the record reactions by Republicans that were scathing (“Bungle… utter disaster…not ready for prime time… not presidential… Lehman moment.” It is certainly too soon to elevate this moment to be more than it is, but the swift condemnation by both the media and many Republican insiders could redound upon those handful of undecideds for whom presidential candidates must at least meet a basic threshold of competency.

Beyond the politics, with the situation in the Middle East and Afghanistan especially volatile, the next 24 to 48 hours may determine whether or not this moment is more consequential in terms of U.S. interests in the region. While the Libyan government has repudiated these attacks, Egypt’s leader Mohamed Morsi was slow to condemn them. Let’s hope the situation settles down and this doesn’t become a bigger issue.

Gender, Violence and Digital Emergence

One of the most unsettling findings of our media and radicalisation research was the way in which the suffering of certain individual women is turned into a cause by radical Islamic groups that leads to violence by men in those women’s names. The availability of digital media, combined with a certain doctrinal entrepreneurialism by those using religion to justify political violence, has resulted in the widespread dissemination of amateur video clips depicting a specific woman’s plight and calling for reprisals. If you want to understand the link between online propaganda and offline action, it appears that representations of women’s bodies and their “honour” are often central. My project colleagues and I document two such cases in a research article published this week.

Dua Khalil Aswad, an Iraqi teenage girl of the Yazidi faith, was stoned to death on 7 April 2007 by a Yazidi mob consisting of tens of men, mostly her relatives, for eloping and spending the night with a Muslim man. Her death was recorded on a mobile cameraphone by a bystander and circulated on the internet. It was eventually picked up by NGOs and international media, where the killing was framed in terms of human rights abuses. However, the clip was also identified by so-called ‘mujahideen’ in Iraq, namely Al-Qaeda in Iraq and affiliated groups. They claimed Dua was killed because she converted to Islam. They argued her killing demonstrated how non-Islamic faiths violate human rights (they know how to call upon human rights discourse too), and that this warranted the mujahideen bringing their own kind of justice to Dua’s killers. Between April and September 2007 a series of high-profile retaliatory attacks saw the individual and collective killing of hundreds of Yazidis and the wounding and displacement of more. One of the jihadist groups involved in these attacks, Ansar Al-Sunna, posted a video justifying their violence. Dua’s death was woven into a longer strategic narrative perpetuated by jihadists concerning a war between Islam and other faiths.

Three years later, in 2010, we found considerable religious tension in Egypt and the Arab world stemming from several cases of young female Coptic Christians in Egypt who had allegedly converted to Islam and were forced by the Coptic Church, with the aid of the former Mubarak security forces, to return to Christianity. The alleged plight of these women became the subject of media debates, street demonstrations and protests by Muslims and counter-efforts by Copts in Egypt, inflammatory editorials, online speculation, and finally, violence against innocent people. One of the most prominent episodes occurred in July 2010. Camilia Shehata, a female Copt Christian in Egypt, disappeared, and allegedly converted to Islam. She then returned under the shelter of the Coptic Church and released various videos to explain her case. Her story was amplified by Christian and Muslim groups alike, but subsequent attacks in her name occurred in Iraq rather than Egypt. Al-Qaeda in Iraq took hostages in a Baghdad church in October 2010 and announced on YouTube:

Through the directions of the Ministry of War of the Islamic State of Iraq, and in defence of our weak and oppressed, imprisoned Muslim sisters in the Muslim land of Egypt, and after detailed choices and planning, a small group of jealous Mujahideen, beloved servants of Allah, launched an offensive against a filthy center of Shirk [the Church] which Christians in Iraq have for so long taken as a place from which to wage their war and plot against Islam. By Allah’s Grace, we were able to capture those who had gathered there and take control over all entrances.

The Mujahideen of the Islamic State of Iraq give the Christian Church of Egypt 48 hours to clarify the condition of our Muslim sisters imprisoned in the churches of Egypt, and to free them all without exception, and that they announce this through the media which must reach the Mujahideen within the given time period.

The Iraqi government chose to attack the hostage-takers rather than negotiate. The hostage-takers detonated their suicide bombs in the church and 53 people died.

These events confirm one thing we know: terrorist groups can derive asymmetrical benefit from digital media, since content from individual lives and incidents can be rapidly reframed to bolster longstanding narratives such as the notion of a clash between Islam and other religions. But what struck us as particularly significant was the degree of contingency involved. The line from the initial acts to the eventual victims and the way in which events are incorporated into others’ narratives seems chaotic, escaping the control of the initial actors. The economy of exchange through media is irregular: digital footage may emerge today, in a year or never, and it may emerge anywhere to anyone. The concept of agency becomes complicated. The span of things done ‘by’ Al-Qaeda is beyond its control. Is distributed agency something new, only made possible by digital connectivity, or have social and religious movements always depended upon – and hoped for – a degree of contingent taking-up of their cause?

While we cannot know why the Yazidi man with a digital camera recorded the stoning of Dua (or why he recorded others recording it with their cameras), the increasing recording of everyday life certainly produces more material for political and religious exploitation. As we have seen, this allowed Al-Qaeda to instantly reframe a woman’s life as a “sister’s” life to shame men into action. If the killing of Neda Soltan during the Iranian election protests in 2009 represented one face of today’s mix of gender, violence and digital emergence, the cases of Dua and Camilla show another.

Cross-posted from the journal Global Policy

Etch-a-Sketching the Egyptian Arms Deal

A few sensitive souls expressed dismay this week when a Romney official declared that the campaign would “reset” itself for the general election after the primaries. Virtually all of the shock was insincere and hypocritical. The “Etch-a Sketch” approach is hardly news for anyone who understands election politics in the U.S. or just about anywhere. In fact, the only newsworthy aspect of the statement was its refreshing openness–but of course the Romney campaign furiously backpedaled from it.

 Of greater interest is another example of Etch-a-Sketch politics this week. Only a few months ago, the Obama administration had threatened to withhold military aid to Egypt based on its indictment of American NGOs for supposedly interfering in Egyptian politics. Also behind the threats perhaps was a new American law requiring that the State Department certify Egyptian progress on human rights before dispensing military aid.

This week, however, the administration reversed course, approved $1.3 billion in aid, and avoided application of the new law.
 

A major reason: election year politics in the U.S. Withholding military aid to Egypt might have cost jobs among some of America’s neediest–its military contractors–or cost large amounts of American taxpayer money.As the New York Times reported:

A delay or a cut in $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt risked breaking existing contracts with American arms manufacturers that could have shut down production lines in the middle of President Obama’s re-election campaign and involved significant financial penalties, according to officials involved in the debate.

In other words, this major foreign policy decision, which one might naively have hoped would hinge on strategic or perhaps even human rights concerns, was in fact driven by domestic jobs in battleground election states. It works this way: American taxpayers pay for military aid to our good friends and fellow democrats in the Egyptian army. If for some reason, the government decides not to send the aid, the U.S. government must pay penalties to the American arms companies who manufacture the arms for Egypt. Either way, the American taxpayer foots the bill.

Meanwhile, the biggest winners in this game of Etch-a-Sketch are America’s underprivileged government contractors, worthy citizens like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. You’ve got to love our sacrosanct system of military and corporate welfare!

War and the Eurozone

PM and Chancellor Merkel press conference

Last week, at University of Bristol, I gave a talk called “The Future of World Order” to the student International Affairs Society. It was a speculative lecture, based on my 17 years directing the Grawemeyer Award (for Ideas Improving World Order) more than my scholarship per se. I warned the audience from the start of two personal biases: (1) I am an optimist; and (2) I don’t really put much stock in specific predictions. I tried to stick to big ideas more than particular policies.

In the presentation, I argued that any order built on coercion and force would inevitably face a legitimacy crisis — and would ultimately collapse. The implications are twofold, I think. Domestically, people will demand greater control of their own lives. This means the world will see many more emancipatory movements to topple autocrats and unaccountable sources of power — as illustrated just this year by events in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, the city of London, Wall Street, etc.

Internationally, it means order built on deterrence, brute force, or even the balance of power will give way to something that is more consensual, such as a security community. In support of this position, I talked a bit about John Mueller’s thesis that major power war is becoming obsolete — an outmoded institution, abandoned like slavery and dueling previously were. Could this thinking become even more pervasive, so that virtually any talk of war — internal or external — becomes outmoded? Eventually.

In the talk, I did not explicitly argue against the traditional state-centrism of international relations, nor call for the end of the states-system. However, I strongly implied that the future of world order will be more cooperative, focused on low rather than high politics (elevating the human security agenda), and much less violent.

This week, recovering from jet lag, I’ve been following the efforts to save the euro and Eurozone. One interesting aspect is that conservative leaders in Europe have certainly made some bold claims to sell their preferred outcomes. For instance, while traveling in Australia, British Prime Minister David Cameron used some classic statist language to highlight his concerns about the implications of ongoing negotiations:

“This is our key national interest, that Britain, a historic trading nation, has its biggest markets open and continues to have those markets fairly open and fairly governed.”

He later told the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson: “In business often it’s selling more to your existing customers that’s the best strategy.

What his comments reveal is that when – if – the eurozone crisis ends, big political questions will replace the big economic problems”

“We’re big sellers into Europe, we can do better in those markets if we liberalise further.”

Mr Cameron has vowed to protect the UK’s position and said on Friday that the City of London was one “area of concern… a key national interest that we need to defend”.

“London – the centre of financial services in Europe – is under constant attack through Brussels directives,” he said.

Note the words and phrases Cameron used: “key national interest,” “attack” and “defend.”

Next, consider these remarks Wednesday from German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

“Nobody should take for granted another 50 years of peace and prosperity in Europe. They are not for granted. That’s why I say: If the euro fails, Europe fails,” Merkel said, followed by a long applause from all political groups.

“We have a historical obligation: To protect by all means Europe’s unification process begun by our forefathers after centuries of hatred and blood spill. None of us can foresee what the consequences would be if we were to fail.”

Gulp.

Based on these quotes, scholars should perhaps worry about the long-term durability of Mueller’s thesis.

Well, at least slavery is gone. Right?

Revolution, Revolution until Victory

‎”… Yet the crowds were not placated, and they spent the next hour in the courtyard repeating the classic songs of the uprising, “thowra thowra huta nasr” (revolution, revolution until victory).” –Al Jazeera (4/25/2011)

The revolution which overthrew Hosni Mubarak is in danger. While Western media outlets have given primacy in their coverage of events to speculative discussions about the historic, current, and future role of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the pivotal role of the Egyptian military, it is the organizations representing the rights of factory workers and allied leftist youth that actually did the heavy lifting from an organizational perspective before and during the revolution (see for example the April 6th Youth Movement). Thus, it is these same groups (whose demands include nationalizing textile factories, improving safety conditions, increasing wages for workers, and a maximum wage for the owners of capital) which will need to be addressed alongside more established political organizations if enduring stability is to be achieved.

But the demands of the workers are scarcely likely to be met given the severe economic challenges which lie ahead for Egypt and the broader global economic context in which this revolution is unfolding. The government has already turned to the IMF for $10-12 billion in financial assistance and $2.2 billion from the World Bank, citing a dramatic decline in revenue from the vital but perennially endangered tourism industry and a wave of worker strikes in recent months. Given the neo-liberal economic ideology and decisionist (Schmittian) political outlook toward developing countries that is prevalent among the Western governments that dominate the Executive Boards of the Bretton Woods institutions, as well as with military leaders and comprador economic elites in deveoping countries, the Egyptian state will undoubtedly face external pressure to repress worker demands. In fact, foreign pressure will most likely be used as a welcome opportunity by comprador elites to pursue preferred policies while placing the blame for repression on an external bogeyman.

As with many other developing countries, Egypt has a complex and politicized history of relations with the IMF (not to mention an even longer and more sordid history of sovereign debt to Western creditors prior to WWII). At times the historical narrative about Egypt-IMF relations has focused almost exclusively on the 1977 food riots that followed an attempt at structural adjustment during the Sadat regime. This narrative has usually been oversimplified by left leaning academics who have all too willingly bought into the military regime’s account of the structural adjustment program as a moral lesson in the political shortsightedness of the mandarins at the Fund and the inhumanity of a ruthless and disembedded neoliberal economic ideology. (In point of fact and as we now know, it was the military regime which proposed cutting food subsidies when the Fund had recommended slashing the unsustainable military budget). An overemphasis on that moment risks ignoring all of the efforts since then to implement neoliberal strategies of privatization, liberalization, and integration — half-hearted, illusory, and lackluster though they may have been.

If we look beyond the kabuki theater of the state’s relations with the Fund and neoliberalism more broadly, we can see that prospects for meeting the workers’ demands and reviving the textile industry, which constitutes about a quarter of both industrial employment and industrial production, are unlikely to emerge through neoliberal strategies. The current challenge to Egypt’s textile industry goes back to the phase out of the GATT/WTO textile quota regime in 2004 and the beginning of genuine global competition. Egypt’s textile industry which is characterized by low productivity simply could not compete against Chinese textile firms. Egypt was able to gain some breathing room by signing on to a tri-lateral preferential trade agreement (the QIZ) with Israel and the US, but the political climate in Gaza and the West Bank has hardly made this a robust alternative for Egypt.

If Egypt hopes to compete against China, it will need to study China’s reform of its own textile sector in the nineties which laid the ground work for its return to profitability in 2000.  The short version of the story is that China cut 2.7 million employees out of 7 million, closed 600 state-owned firms (1/5th of the total), suffered billions in losses while it restructured and updated equipment (Lardy 2002, 23). The real question is what enabled the state and society to endure this restructuring? The answer is far more complex than can be covered here, but at the very least it seems apparent that a set of economic strategies designed to winnow the state is the wrong path to take. To the contrary, the East Asian “model” generally points to the importance of strengthening state capacity in order to compete in the global marketplace. However, while such strategies are often anchored by nationalist ideology, they are rarely kind to the interests and radicalized demands of workers.

Does the Arab Spring show how strategic narratives work?

Nobody has come close to explaining how strategic narratives work in international relations, despite the term being banded about. Monroe Price wrote a great article in the Huffington Post yesterday that moves the debate forward. As I have already writtenstrategic narratives are state-led projections of a sequence of events and identities, a tool through which political leaders try to give meaning to past, present and future in a way that justifies what they want to do. Getting others at home or abroad to accept or align with your narrative is a way to influence their behaviour. But like soft power, we have not yet demonstrated how strategic narratives work. We are documenting how great powers project narratives about the direction of the international system and their identities within that. We see the investments in public diplomacy and norm-promotion. We have not yet demonstrated that these projections have altered the behaviour of other states or publics. Does the Arab Spring show these narratives at work?

Many leaders in the West and protestors taking part in the Arab Spring promoted a narrative about the spread of freedom, often conflating this with the hope and vigour of youth and emancipatory potential of social media. Of course this narrative may be bogus, as Jean-Marie Guéhenno argues in yesterday’s New York Times. However, the key point Price makes is that narratives set expectations, regardless of their veracity. Narratives defined what NOME leaders were expected to do: step aside! We can see the power of narratives by seeing what happens to those who defy them. Mubarak and Saif Gaddafi both gave speeches where they were expected to align with the narrative. The narrative set the context and expectation for how they should behave. But they did the opposite of what was expected. Price writes:

From a perspective of “strategic narratives,” Mubarak and young Gaddafi were speaking as players in an episode, set by key actors, international and domestic, who had the expectation that their wishes as to the playing out of the drama would be fulfilled. Their speeches did not match the sufficiently accepted script, in the case of Mubarak, or the incomplete outlines of one, as in the case of young Gaddafi.
Who has successfully promoted an overarching narrative? Obama, Cameron, Sarkozy? Where did the ‘Arab Spring’ narrative come from? How does an overarching narrative play out in each country? What room does it leave for individual governments and public to create their own destinies? In the next year, building up to a debate at the International Studies Association (ISA) convention in San Diego in April, we will be exploring this. 
Cross posted from: http://newpolcom.rhul.ac.uk/npcu-blog/ 

Guest Post: What way will the guns point in the Middle East?

Building on Dan’s observation this past week, Theo McLauchlin is a PhD student at McGill University offers us some insights on the role of the military in the various Arab revolutions we’re witnessing. He works in the area of military defections and civil wars.

Which Middle Eastern regimes seem liable to fall? That’s a popular question these days, and an important answer, as Dan Nexon points out, is that it depends on each country’s armed forces. But what they are likely to do is something most people don’t seem inclined to speculate about. That caution is warranted, as I’ll argue below. But what can we say? What ideas do we have at our disposal for thinking through what militaries will do?

One important factor might be professionalization. Lucan Way notes that in comparison with the rest of the Middle East, Tunisia and Egypt seemed to have relatively professional, depoliticized armed forces, able and willing therefore to act in concert to say “enough”. The regimes lacked the “coup-proofing” techniques that, according to a quite extensive literature, have helped prop up authoritarian regimes across the Middle East. You promote your friends, marginalize your adversaries, and don’t trust anyone too much. Multiple different internal security agencies, for example, keep an eye both on officers and on each other. If an officer is plotting a coup, he stands an awfully good chance of being reported by someone else eager to curry the dictator’s favour. These techniques really do seem effective at preventing coups.

Despite some confusion about how to think about Egypt–John Barry and Christopher Dickey argue that it was in spite of Mubarak’s coup-proofing that he fell, not because he didn’t do it enough–there’s a lot going for this approach. But it shouldn’t be taken too far. It is not as though heavily politicized armies have a great overall track record of defending regimes. For example, in comparing China in 1989 to Indonesia in 1998, Terrence Lee finds quite the opposite: China’s more professional army stood by its regime while Indonesia’s more heavily politicized armed forces fell apart.

Lee makes the point that coup-proofing isn’t necessarily meant to deal with massive popular uprisings. The threat of punishment for defection depends on the willingness of others to inflict it. It’s rational for an officer do the regime’s bidding as long as, but only as long as, he expects the regime to survive. When officers have good reason to believe that the regime will fall, they have heavy incentives to make sure they’re not backing a losing horse. And popular uprisings can throw a previously stable expectation out the window. As I argued in a paper last year, an external rebellion can provoke a cascade effect within the military. Timur Kuran’s insights about the tipping point in Eastern Europe in 1989 can apply to armed forces too. This is how it’s possible for officers and soldiers to defect from a dictator despite fearsome coup-proofing systems.

The trouble for the analyst is, as Kuran argued, that this implies that prediction is extremely difficult if not impossible. Everyone has a strong incentive to keep their preferences and their likely actions a secret–from the dictator and, necessarily, from us.

But in my paper I also tried to develop some limits to these revolutionary cascades. In particular, some regimes are governed by minority groups that are given heavy preference–especially within the military. Jordan, Syria and Bahrain are important examples. This means that opposition tends to rally among out-groups–and, in consequence, the loyalty of the in-group gets reinforced. Essentially, over time, a stable expectation can develop, associating some groups with the regime and others with the opposition. In rebellions, they have little other choice than to stick with the regime. An East Bank officer in Jordan in 1970 was not likely to do well out of a PLO victory, nor an Alawi officer in Syria in 1982 from a Muslim Brotherhood victory. Palestinian and Sunni officers, respectively, were more likely to defect. While this makes regimes vulnerable to out-group opposition, it can be a perverse strength, because it gives regimes a relatively stable core of support to count on. You get a core of strong support at the cost of encouraging continuous, low-level unrest. It’s loyalty on the cheap.

One interesting consequence of this approach is that the regimes that look the least stable–Jordan in 1970, Syria in the late 1970s–can have a better chance of surviving a rebellion than regimes that look lots more solid, like Iran’s before 1978.

Is all this any help in understanding the Middle East today? It suggests attention not so much to professionalism vs. non-professionalism, but rather to how much of the army is closely identified with the regime. The answer in Egypt, by all accounts, is: not much. This helps explain why basically none of its army was willing to defend Mubarak to the hilt, unlike in Libya. It also helps explain why the army’s command had the flexibility to declare, early on, that they would not fire on unarmed protesters. They were able thereby to keep their own credibility with the opposition. And, given that many soldiers looked likely to disobey such an order, it’s unclear that the regime would have lasted anyway, even if the top brass had tried to crack down.

In Libya, more of the armed forces seems closely identified with the regime. More have therefore stayed with Gaddafi, with bloody consequences. Part of this has to do with Libya’s now-famous tribal divides. According to Hanspeter Mattes , Gaddafi’s own Gadhadhfa tribe, along with the Warfalla and Maqarha, have dominated the armed forces. However, both the Warfalla and the Maqarha have had a chequered history with the regime; Warfalla officers rebelled against Gaddafi in 1993 and picked up the support of some Maqarha officers (see this free but gated article). The Warfalla and Maqarha tribes have defected. I suspect, as do others, that the Gadhadhfa tribe will stick with the regime out of fear of what happens if they don’t. In this context I note that Gaddafi’s resort to bombing civilians might not just be because he is horrible and callous (though of course it has a lot to do with that, too). It may also have something to do with his tribe’s dominance in the air force. It reminds me that Hafez al-Assad used the Alawi-dominated air force and artillery at Hama in 1982 to awful effect. That is not a pleasant thought.

I could well be wrong, and I hope I am: one of the pilots who deliberately crashed his plane rather than bomb civilians was a Gadhadhfa tribe member.

More broadly, communal politics should provide a bulwark to the regimes in Syria, Jordan, and Bahrain. It’s in the latter where the protests are strongest at the moment. And there, the opposition has attempted to cut across the Sunni/Shi’ite divide, but the regime seems to know where its strengths are: it’s been specifically targeting Sunni protest leaders. (I’m not sure this applies to Yemen’s north/south divide; the fact that the south seems to aim at secession rather than a government takeover suggests it’s not so easy to blame for protests in Sana’a.) Every regime tries to delegitimize its opposition, with Gaddafi’s Bin Laden conspiracy theory only the most absurd attempt so far. In Bahrain, the regime has more to work with.

My approach fully accepts the extreme difficulty of making predictions where there aren’t communal divides. I don’t think either Tunisia or Egypt (or Algeria, or Morocco, or Saudi Arabia) was really a foregone conclusion. We can try to understand both in retrospect, but I don’t claim that we could have predicted the fall of either regime terribly easily. It is still just as amazing as it ever was.

Middle Eastern Dictator Speech Bingo: Threatened by Revolution Edition

Fortune-Tellers of Foreign Policy

 Congressional hand-wringing over America’s inability to forecast the Egyptian and Tunisian revolts is unsurprising given the foreign policy hubris that dominates in Washington today.  How can it be, the cry goes out, that America, was blindsided by these earthshaking events?  Doesn’t “exceptional” America see further and act more wisely than other nations? 

Sadly, that arrogant and delusional mindset is unlikely to be changed even by this latest “intelligence” failure.  Rather than questioning whether anyone could have predicted this kind of event—let alone whether we should be trying to control the future of other societies—the response is likely to be:  let’s throw more money at the problem! 
In fact, this “failure” is part of a broader, failed effort to know and control the foreign policy future, led by groups like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and its Integrated Crisis Early Warning System (ICEWS).  As Noah Shachtman points out (h/t Dan Nexon), this project has gobbled up hundreds of millions of dollars.   Yet its predictions are no better than those of a handful of area specialists—or, probably, a cup of tea leaves.
In that light, ICEWS and DARPA are useful primarily to keep Defense Department and “intelligence” budgets growing.  What better way to generate a constant flow of dollars than having not only trumped up “threats” like terrorism–but also ” crisis forecasts” that would require immediate, costly “readiness” efforts?
Consider, for instance, what might have happened if ICEWS had in fact foretold Mubarak’s resignation a year ago?  What could the U.S. have done with that information?

First of all, unless the system was 100% accurate, it would no doubt have been dangerous or at least unpredictable to do anything.  In any case, doing something would no doubt have screwed up the model itself.  But leave aside that trifling matter.  Better yet, invent a technological fix, a feedback factor!  If the seers of DARPA can predict the future, let’s also allow them to feed any reaction into their computers and predict how it would affect the model, again with 100% accuracy.  
A year ago, our good ally and Hillary Clinton’s dear friend, Hosni, seemed untouchable.  Autocratic “stability” reigned supreme in the Middle East–just as America has long preferred.  In that case, top U.S. officials, perhaps Hillary herself, would no doubt have tipped him off to his predicted end.  Yet I somehow doubt that Mubarak would have taken the news submissively, cowed by some pointy-headed modelers.  Rather, he would have unleashed a wave of additional repression against those he deemed likely to foment unrest. 
What if we’d kept the prediction to ourselves?  Would the U.S. have started quietly pulling diplomatic staff from Egypt, discreetly advising tourists to head to Cancun rather than Cairo, or at least tipping off the hotheads in Congress who are desperate to be ahead of the curve?  Perhaps. 
But one thing is certain:  There would have been a large uptick in defense department contingency planning and spending—justified by “science,” but to little useful purpose.
What about a seemingly beneficent example of forecasting the future—to take the most extreme one, predicting when genocide will occur with the idea of preventing it?  Certainly, that would be a wonderful thing and could save countless lives—if, again, it could be done with 100% accuracy. 
But, just as in the Egyptian revolt case, there are far too many unknowns to predict this kind of result far enough in advance to prevent it.  Certainly, there may be  “warning signs”—like a repressive government suddenly issuing cards identifying all members of a nation by ethnicity, or preparing a plan to systematically slaughter them.  But do we really need massive computer programs to pick these things up? 
Our tools for doing anything in the face of these signs are in any case crude—though peaceful conflict prevention measures would probably be worth trying in some cases.  But what about a massive military intervention before a genocide had started?  This seems infeasible—and in fact likely to trigger the very thing it is aimed to halt.  Milosevic’s reaction to the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 after the Rambouillet ultimatum is a case in point—perhaps not genocide, per se, but certainly mass expulsions prompted by international actions against him.
Major events like the fall of a government or genocide are highly unpredictable beyond a very short time frame.  And, if one does not have 100% certainty, taking any action pre-emptively will often make matters worse. 
In short, programs like ICEWS are yet another case of spending huge amounts on efforts whose overt benefits are questionable—even if the covert benefits, for the government contractors and military, are huge.  Whether for good or ill, godlike efforts at predicting the future are sinkholes of squander.  Admittedly, they are small-scale in the deeply cratered landscape of wasteful defense department spending.  But wouldn’t it be refreshing if a few Congressional gadflies critiqued such programs not for their failures to predict the future–but for their very conception?
The underlying mindset is even riper for critique.  The self-styled deities of our foreign policy establishment do not rest content with predicting the future.  Their real intent is to play God—to control the future.  Consider just one irritating example, Aaron David Miller, on NPR yesterday morning.  (I do not know Miller and use him only as an example from among many possible figures who have made similar statements in recent weeks.)
In his view, the U.S. is “in the worst of all possible worlds with grand expectations and supporting very important values, but without the capacity and leverage to implement a preferred American outcome or even an outcome in Egypt that we can control.”  According to NPR, Miller believes this is a part of a long-term trend in which U.S. credibility is reaching all time lows. “We are neither admired, respected or feared to the degree that we need to be in order to protect our interests, and the reality is — and this is just another demonstration of it — everybody in this region says no to America without cost or consequences [Afghanistan’s] Hamid Karzai says no, [Iraq’s] Maliki on occasion says no, [Iran’s] Khamenei says no, [Israel’s] Netanyahu says no. Mubarak says no repeatedly.”
How shocking!  The leaders of independent states, even our own client states, say No to us!  Our vast “hard power” doesn’t put the “fear” of God into our enemies—or our friends.  The “very important values” we supposedly support don’t generate respect.  (Remind me by the way, what those values are, given likely extension of the Patriot Act, continuing detentions at Guantanamo Bay, rampant drone strikes, etc., etc.)  If only we had the right DARPA model!  Maybe then the people and the leaders of other countries would do our bidding.   
In fact, the idea that the Gods of Government can control the politics of other lands, when they can’t even control our own, would be laughable if it weren’t so costly in dollars and lives.  And that conceit, unfortunately extends well beyond the Beltway to the broader foreign policy “elite” in our country, as I’ve written about and critiqued before.
Don’t get me wrong.  As a social scientist, I think it makes sense to do research to understand and explain the world.  Public policy should be based on the best available information, and in some cases, it may be wise to make large public expenditures on the basis of predictions.  But controlling and even predicting human societies except in the broadest of generalities is a fool’s errand.
So, today, notwithstanding my happiness at Mubarak’s resignation and my admiration of the protesters, I can only hope–but certainly not predict–that Egypt will in fact develop a more democratic government in the future.  I can say that the Egyptian army, like militaries around the world including our own, is not exactly know for its democratic values.  I can say that “people power” may be able to keep the trend toward democratization going.  But in the end, the next stages of the Egyptian revolution are as unpredictable as any major social phenomenon–notwithstanding the fond dreams of the wannabe DARPA deities and their avaricious acolytes. 


We are all Khaled Said, We are all Mohammed Bouazizi

Apparently separate and relatively peaceful revolutions have now toppled dictatorial regimes in two North African states. What provoked these events?  While there are a wide range of political and economic factors as well as organizations that had been building for years, the proximate causes that triggered the call for protests were quite similar.

A cartoon by Carlos Latuff depicting the late
Khaled Said’s revenge on President Hosni Mubarak

The trigger for both events can be traced to two individuals. The outrage that started the January 25th revolution in Egypt was the brutal death of a 28 year old Alexandrian businessman, Khaled Said on the 6th of June last year; and the self-immolation of the 26 year old Mohammed Bouazizi in December started the Sidi Bouzid revolution in Tunisia.

The narratives of both men revolve around difficulties at the hands of arrogant and corrupt police officers. In the case of Khaled Said, he refused to show his identification to police in a cafe as they did not have the right to make such a demand and he knew it was only a ruse to get a bribe. (Anyone who has lived in Cairo long enough has encountered this scenario). The police responded to Said’s defiance by hauling him out of the cafe, and as he pleaded for his life, the police beat him to death over the course of twenty minutes. The Egyptian government attempted to explain the death of Khaled Said by discrediting his reputation and claiming that he died of asphyxiation from trying to swallow a bag of marijuana. The circulation of graphic photos of Said’s dead body made it plainly evident that he had died in the most horrible manner. It should not be surprising then that the protests which erupted under the banner “We are all Khaled Said” occurred on January 25th which was declared National Police Day in Egypt in 2009.

In Tunisia, Bouazizi had his only means of supporting a family of eight, an illegal fruit cart, seized by the police, who also apparently insulted him. Unable to bribe the police or gain an audience from a local magistrate and upset at the fine he had to pay to recover his fruit cart, the young man set himself on fire in protest on December 17th and died on January 4th.

While these events would not have garnered the same level of attention as quickly without social media and satellite television and the protests would not have been as successful without shrewd street-level organizing as well as serious miscalculations about the political economy of violence by riot police, what interests me is why these two particular deaths, among hundreds of citizens in both countries who had been killed/tortured by regime thugs over the years or who killed themselves, created such waves of sympathy and outrage which could be mobilized by protest organizers.

I would argue that what these two exemplified were educated individuals reduced to bare life or to the essence of humanity. They were both young men who could not be deemed a security threat or even politically active; they could only be seen as victims by their countrymen. In fact they came to stand in for the frustrated economic hopes of a new generation living under abusive, Western backed, authoritarian regimes.  Said apparently had studied computer programming in the US. And although Bouazizi did not have a college degree (or even a high school degree), several newspapers initially reported that he was a college graduate. As in any insurrection, the rumors were more important than the truth in galvanizing popular support.

The originally South Asian/Southeast Asian idiom of political protest utilized by Bouazizi was apparently unprecedented in Tunisia, but the symbolic message was simple enough to be communicated almost instantly. In fact, the immolation in Tunisia led to several other immolations in the region, including in Egypt. Of course, in Egypt, once the Tunisian protests began to gather momentum, it was possible to revive the outrage around the death of Khaled Said to rally protesters for police reform. The Egyptian man who immolated himself, Ahmed Hashem el-Sayed, was an unemployed construction worker; his suffering garnered sympathy but I don’t think it made the same connection with young, educated, Egyptian elites as the previously dormant case of Khaled Said.

The reduction of (supposedly) elite individuals to the status of bare life, allowed them to become the common currency or symbol of the utter hopelessness of the political and economic situation felt by many young educated Arab men and women whose prospects for social mobility and even marriage have diminished with the global economic crisis. The transformation from elite individual to a victimized humanity also helped to bridge class divides and revive a sense of nationalism in otherwise highly unequal, class stratified societies.

What we are seeing in these social movements, to paraphrase the argument of Faisal Devji, is the desire of the masses to give agency to humanity, to move from being objects of the state to subjects.  

Mubarak’s Ceausescu Moment?

Marc Lynch calls Mubarak’s speech “The Worst Speech Ever.”

His assessment:

With the whole world watching, Mubarak instead offered a meandering, confused speech promising vague Constitutional changes and defiance of foreign pressure. He offered a vaguely worded delegation of power to Vice President Omar Suleiman, long after everyone in Egypt had stopped listening. It is virtually impossible to conceive of a more poorly conceived or executed speech.

Maybe, but watching Mubarak tonight reminded me of watching the delusional Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu in Nicolae’s last speech on December 21, 1989. Apparently they thought increasing wages by a 100 lei/month (less than $10 bucks was all that was needed to avoid the revolution). The disconnect from what’s happening in the streets coupled with the vapid bureaucratic language was eerily similar in the two speeches. The crowd turns on Ceausescu at the 2:30 mark leaving both he and Elena stunned:

Don’t know what will happen to Mubarak, but it didn’t end well for the Ceausescu’s….

The Shifting Civil-Military Balance in Egypt

President Obama expressed a general sense of relief tonight that the Egyptian military chose to side with the people over the state this week – an outcome not at all pre-ordained by the pre-existing historical relationship between the Egyptian military and the govenrment. In 2004, for example, Stephen Cook concluded the Egypt case study in a Council on Foreign Relations report on civil-military relations in the Middle East as follows:

The organic connection between the Egyptian armed forces and the existing political order is likely to place a drag on Egyptian reform and complicate US efforts to bolster change. With their influence institutionalized at the highest levels of the state, the
officers are likely to countenance reforms that merely shore up the existing regime, but do not effect in any way their highly influential role over the course of Egypt’s political development.

What happened? Mark Thompson at Time Magazine argues:

Ever since the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel, promising Egyptian military officers have come to U.S. military schools, including the Army War College in Carlisle, Penn., the Army’s Command General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. Inculcated there with U.S. ideals on lawful civilian control of military, such an education has helped act as a “safety” on the firepower of the Egyptian streets now massing in Cairo and in other cities.

“This new generation of Egyptian officers has been exposed to the American military and has had a very favorable impression of not just the way we fight our wars but also about the relationship between the military and society,” says Robert Scales, a retired Army major general who served as commandant of the Army War College where he launched the international fellows program. “One of the reasons for the army’s reluctance to follow Mubarak’s intent and squeeze the population in Cairo has to do with the Egyptian military’s exposure to the U.S. military.”

Now, I hope that someone following civil-mil in Egypt more closely than I have will weigh in on the veracity of this analysis. But if this is indeed even a significant element of the basic story, then it confirms an argument by Carol Atkinson on the liberalizing effect of military-to-military relations globally:

The research presented in this article examines one aspect of state socialization, the extent to which transnational military-to-military interactions have served as an effective mechanism of the democratic political socialization of states. The socialization process described in this study is three level: (1) individuals acquire new ideas; (2) coercion, incentives, and persuasion aid in institutionalizing these ideas in the underlying political structure of the state; and (3) once institutionalized, these new ideas/identity of the state influence the material and ideational structure of international society. Using an original data set encompassing over 160 states during the years 1972–2000, the analyses find U.S. military-to-military contacts to be positively and systematically associated with liberalizing trends.

Food for thought.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

Explosive Pakistan

Is “people power” contagious? It’s easy to find examples of journalists, policymakers and/or analysts, and some scholars arguing that opposition to authoritarian rule is spreading like a winter virus from Tunisia to Egypt and Yemen. In this case, many optimists argue (though some merely hope) that the viral idea will result in more democratic governance for millions of people that have long lived under autocratic rule. Moreover, many think (or hope) that the contagion will spread to other similar states with large Arab or Muslim populations.

However, the skeptics and pessimists have keyboards too. IR realists have already provided plenty of reasons for skepticism. For example, even during the so-called “third wave” of democratization some years ago, many states merely transitioned from authoritarian to semi-authoritarian rule.

The worriers are concerned about the fact that Egypt has long been the second largest recipient of American foreign aid. Indeed, many believe that the American government is quite cautious and fairly openly favors the status quo. Egypt has received substantial aid in large part because of its continued support for the Jimmy Carter-brokered Camp David peace agreement; thus, many friends of Israel are more than a little concerned about the current situation.

In any case, I have been thinking about the prospects for internal upheaval spreading to Pakistan — ground zero in the current war and a nuclear-armed state with a history of conflict with its neighbors. Vice President Joe Biden, who like me sometimes worries about the relationship between Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and its internal stability, largely dismisses the prospects of contagion effects. However, he acknowledged to PBS interviewer Jim Lehrer on January 27 that “there’s a lot going on across that part of the continent, from Tunisia into — all the way to Pakistan, actually.” Lehrer explicitly asked Biden to compare the situation in Tunisia and Egypt to events in Eastern Europe more than 20 years ago.


Biden was not biting:

…the difference between Tunisia and Egypt is real, beyond the fact that Egypt’s the largest Arab country in the world.

So, I don’t see any direct relationship…But I don’t — I think it’s a stretch at this point. But I could be proven wrong. But I think it’s a stretch to compare it to Eastern Europe.

However, in a weekend Press TV news report (from Iran) about the continued unpopularity of American drone attacks, a man identified by name as a human rights activist openly declares (in English): “There will be an uprising in Pakistan. After Tunis example, after Yemen…I think so, now it is our turn. Now is Pakistanis turn.” See about 1 minute into this report, which differs somewhat from the one linked above that is currently on Press TV’s website:

Obviously, any mass uprising in Pakistan would be important for a large number of reasons, but today’s Washington Post centers on one key concern — Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal:

Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal now totals more than 100 deployed weapons, a doubling of its stockpile over the past several years in one of the world’s most unstable regions, according to estimates by nongovernment analysts.

As the article notes, U.S. policymakers frequently “voice confidence in its [Pakistan’s] strong internal safeguards, with warheads kept separate from delivery vehicles.”

Perhaps these policymakers are simply whistling past the graveyard as a number of Wikileaks documents highlight genuine US and British concern about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. As the BBC reported in December:

senior UK Foreign Office official Mariot Leslie told US diplomats in September 2009 that Britain had “deep concerns about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons”.

In another cable seven months earlier, then-US ambassador Anne Patterson told Washington: “Our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in the government of Pakistan facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon.”

Potentially, that smuggling task would be easier in a context of internal disorder. Imagine if the state security apparatus is distracted by mass upheaval.

The 22 September 2009 cable quoting Leslie was written in London by Ellen Tauscher, US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. It is available at the Wikileaks collection on The Guardian website and is quite intriguing for another reason. It suggests that Pakistan is fearful of an entirely new form of American counterproliferation:

The UK has deep concerns about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, and Pakistan has accepted nuclear safety help, but under the IAEA flag (albeit British technicians). The Pakistanis worry that the U.S. “will drop in and take their nukes,” Leslie said.

Could the U.S. really “drop in and take” Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal?

Granted, it seems foolhardy to speculate about second and third-order consequences of internal upheaval in Pakistan. The drone attacks in Pakistan have long been unpopular, but it is possible that Biden is correct and that neither Washington nor Islamabad have anything to fear from the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Perhaps readers should take solace in the words of Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK Wajid Shamsul Hasan, who told the BBC in December that his government “had a very successful, foolproof control and command system looking after the nuclear arsenal.”

Maybe we should keep on whistling.

Egyptian “People Power,” Civil Society, and the U.S.

 The prospect of a new government in Egypt opens huge uncertainties for the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East.  At this point, no one can predict what that new government will be.  But it is clear that there will be substantial change, even if Mubarak hangs on.  A military regime is possible.  A transition government, perhaps led by Mohamed ElBaradei, leading to democratic elections also seems possible–and would be the best outcome.

Notwithstanding the uncertainties, it is worthwhile to think more about the implications.  In the long term, the events of last week would seem to mean more democracy or at least more democratic input into government in Egypt.   Regardless, any new government will likely mean leaders less willing to do the bidding of the U.S., whether because of their own beliefs or because of the force of popular sentiment.  (Certainly an important undercurrent in the journalistic reporting has been strong anti-American sentiments expressed by many of the protesters.)  It is good that American policymakers seem to realize this.  President Obama is quoted as stating several times at a high level meeting yesterday that “the outcome has to be decided by the Egyptian people, and the U.S. cannot be in a position of dictating events”–or, in my view, much influencing them.

In the longer term, the U.S. needs to accept the likelihood that a new Egyptian government might be  “anti-American” and anti-Israeli.  Certainly this is likely if elected democracy eventually ensues.  Given huge, decades-long U.S. support for the unpopular and illegitimate government, it would be surprising if Egyptians felt differently.  The result is likely to be an Egyptian government which–surprise, surprise–does not share American foreign policy preferences.  Whether or not this is a more Islamically-influenced government matters less than the fact that it could better reflect popular sentiment in Egypt.

The U.S. has had a difficult time accepting the possibility that “Islamist” or even radical governments might actually be put in office by free and fair elections–by thinking people who see no better alternative in their societies.  U.S. opposition to the duly elected, Hamas government in the Palestinian Authority in 2006 is an obvious case in point.  But it is not necessarily the case that Islamist governments are so hostile to democratic values that after winning election they would destroy democracy.  Nor is it the case that, faced with the reality of governance, they would be unwilling to compromise.  Leaving aside the irony of such views when the U.S. has long supported our own set of Arab autocrats like Mubarak, experience in other parts of the world suggests that governments influenced or run by Islamically influenced political parties are not necessarily hostile to democracy and can be pragmatic.  Turkey is an obvious case in point.

Overall, the fact that soon we may no longer have pliable, autocratic clients in Egypt, Tunisia, and possibly other North African and Middle Eastern countries is, on balance, a good thing notwithstanding risks of short-term violence.  First, a more autonomous Egypt–or even simply a more unstable one–could exert greater pressure on Israel, expressly or tacitly, to reach a settlement with the Palestinians.  Added to American presidents’ ineffective “good cop” pressure on Israel will be another neighborhood “bad cop” that might help change the calculus of negotiation even among the Israeli right.  It is of course unclear how that might play itself out.  But a more democratic or more Islamically-influenced government will not necessarily mean war in the Middle East—and might even add pressure on Israel that would help promote peace.

Second, this and the Tunisian revolt once again demonstrate the force of “people power” seemingly untied to strong civil society associations.  Although the power of “spontaneous” nationwide popular revolts, whether made possible by new or old media, is ephemeral, it can of course have great effect—as centuries of revolution attest.

But the lesson for students of civil society—and for the American and other governments that seek to foster civil society–is broader.  When revolutionary moments end, civil society organizations probably will play an important role.  But in Egypt and other Islamic countries, a freer civil society is unlikely to look much like America’s.  

This seems to trouble U.S. policymakers. Consider this recent remark of Stephen J. Hadley, President Bush’s national security advisor:  “We should not press for early elections.  We should give the Egyptian people time to develop non-Islamic parties. The point is to gain time so that civil societies can develop, so when they have an election, they can have real choices.”  Hadley tacitly acknowledges that there are civil society groups in Egypt already—only, problematically in his view, they and opposition political parties are often tied to Islam.  That is in part a reflection of real sentiments on the ground, although in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood seems to have been caught flat-footed by the popular revolt.  It also reflects the kind of regime the U.S. has helped maintain in power with billions in aid for decades—one that has repressed much of Egyptian civil society, notwithstanding American lip-service favoring democracy.  

A revived Egyptian civil society will not be wholly or perhaps even predominantly secular.   Islamic organizations are likely to hold considerable sway.  But there is no reason to fear or denigrate religiously-based civil society organizations.  American civil society is of course replete with religious groups, and they exert great influence in politics.  The fact that in the Middle East and North Africa these will inevitably by Muslim organizations is not necessarily problematic either.  As long as they are willing to play by democratic rules, their presence should be welcomed.  And many Islamic movements are willing to do so.  

Finally and most broadly, an Egyptian transition unexpected by American officials would reinforce the need to curb American hubris about its role in the world.  Too much of the U.S. foreign policy and military establishment believes and acts as if the U.S. has the right and the ability to manipulate other countries’ political systems, “in our favor.”  This has created vast distortions in our own political system, starting with grossly outsized defense budgets completely disproportionate to the threats we face.  For all that, we have never been able to “control” events overseas, as the Iranian revolution against America’s good friend the Shah demonstrated decades ago.

Leaving aside moral issues of America’s acting as if we are the world’s “indispensable nation,” the events in North Africa should again emphasize that we see no further into the future, and stand no taller than other nations–notwithstanding Madeline Albright’s delusions of grandeur.  And because we cannot control events in other countries, we should curb our penchant for trying to do so.  

Willow Witching Pt. 2: What Washington should do….

The neocon blogoshere is lit up with more willow witching that the events in Egypt are vindication of the Bush’s “freedom agenda.” And, they are blasting Obama for his timid response — apparently, Washington controls the destiny of this protest movement:

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Jackson Deihl claimed that it’s not too late to influence events. He called on the administration to support unidentified “democracy groups.” But more curious was his criticism of the administration. He cited Hillary Clinton’s 2009 comments about her personal friendship with Mubarak as setting the stage: “Thus began what may be remembered as one of the most shortsighted and wrongheaded policies the United States has ever pursued in the Middle East.” Right — let’s just ignore the fact that the U.S. has been cozying up to Mubarak for the past three decades — including a dramatic expansion of security and intelligence ties by the Bush administration after 9/11. Snippy political attack = 1; foreign policy analysis = 0.

Max Boot argued that this is the moment for Obama to “redefine” the Middle East and stand with the aspirations of the people:

we need a president fully engaged in the moment — a president who will speak for the aspirations of the people of the Middle East (more than one line, please), while also working to provide a soft landing for longtime dictators and to ensure that radicals don’t seize power.

Yeah, well there’s a novel idea. I bet no one in the administration thought of that…

Jeffrey Goldberg urged Obama to live up to American values and cut Mubarak loose and let the chips fall where they may with the Muslim Brotherhood — I guess that’s kind of living up to American values….

We still don’t know how this will unfold and I’m somewhat skeptical about what the Obama administration can do today or tomorrow to influence events — though Marc Lynch gives us some thoughtful comments on this.

But, I am struck that in all of this commentary, there is almost nothing about what’s next. Despite all of their generic claims to support democracy, the neocons cling to a very naive notion of what democracy is and how it emerges. In Iraq, they assumed democracy and market capitalism were self-executing — simply remove a tyrannical regime and let the natural, universal aspirations of the Iraqis guide the way. They didn’t plan for Phase IV of the Iraq invasion because they didn’t believe it was necessary. They were wrong, their actions triggered a civil war with disastrous consequences — more than 100,000 Iraqi deaths and countless more wounded, more than 2 million refugees, at a cost of more than 4,000 U.S. service members and well over $2 trillion.

It’s simply not enough to say one is “for” democracy and demand support for the protesters. The hard part of democracy building comes in the weeks, months, and years after a regime collapses. Let’s assume Mubarak flees sometime in the next few days. What then? How can the U.S and the international community help manage a transitional process to accommodate the demands of a disparate group of protesters? They are unified in their desire to remove Mubarak, but that consensus will evaporate the instant Mubarak gets on a plane. How will their competing claims be adjudicated — what kinds of mechanisms or institutions will best serve these challenges? What kind of institutional arrangements will be necessary to ensure domestic security that is sufficient and legitimate enough to maintain some sense of order but not coercive — what kind of leverage does the United States have over various factions within the military and security services to help this? Many of the protesters are in their 20s — nearly 3/4 of all of those unemployed are in this age bracket. What capacity exists to put them to work or to give them hope for new employment opportunities in the near future?

The administration clearly faces challenges in the coming days, but the real challenges likely will come in the weeks ahead. And there is nothing in Bush’s vacuous “freedom agenda” or the Bush administration’s experiences in the war in Iraq, or in the self-congratulatory rhetoric from the neocons that can help with the hard work of developing democratic state norms and institutions.

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