Sunday, October 22,  2017

World

Mideast and Obama

BY Peter Goldmark

I look at our history with the Shah of Iran, the Duvalier père et fils, Saddam Hussein before we abandoned him, Mobutu Sese Seko, Augusto Pinochet, Suharto and literally scores of others and ask myself: In the practical world of realpolitik, precisely what did our country gain of long-term value from supporting these dictators?


Barack Obama did something that no president in my memory has done. He walked away from a dictatorship the United States has supported for 30 years.


In a period of turmoil and difficulty for a country that we call a “close ally,” the president said that we are lining up with the Egyptians in the street, not the dictator in the palace.


It was an awkward, even stumbling, divorce at times — too slow for some, too cautious for others who wanted to slam the door on the way out.


But he did it. And from Dwight D. Eisenhower, during whose presidency my political memory begins, through John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, all the way to the George Bushes and Bill Clinton, I cannot remember an American president doing this. 


It was the right thing to do. America does not belong at the side of a dictator — it belongs with those in the street demanding change, freedom and their rights.


I received an e-mail from an experienced social entrepreneur in Cairo who has lived throughAmerica does not belong at the side of a dictator — it belongs with those in the street demanding change, freedom and their rights.  the Mubarak oppression. For her safety, I do not mention her name. “The humiliation and destruction of the Egyptian character and the spirit of the people in a calculated and organized way took place for 30 years in a relentless and very evil way,” she wrote. “Egyptians stopped laughing or smiling from their hearts, you could see and touch helplessness and hopelessness among the old and the young. Phenomena such as sexual harassment, looting and predominance of thugs spread because they were encouraged by the security that wanted to break the pride and self-respect of all Egyptians. The murdering and killing was not only of peoples’ bodies and lives but of their souls and spirits.”


I understand that some experienced and sophisticated foreign policy analysts say that Obama turning away from Mubarak is extremely dangerous.


In reply, I say: There is no route forward that is without danger.

Some observers point out that extremists may try to grab control of what is now a popular movement. I say that is true — and that it is precisely support of harsh dictatorships that fuels extremism and makes jihadist reaction more appealing and more likely. 


And some of the experienced, grizzled hands say that the school of realpolitik teaches that it is often better to temporize with an unelected but smart and loyal local strongman than to support uneducated, undisciplined forces who wish to overthrow him.


I look at our history with the Shah of Iran, the Duvaliers pere et fils, Saddam Hussein beforeSome observers point out that extremists may try to grab control of what is now a popular movement. I say that is true — and that it is precisely support of harsh dictatorships that fuels extremism and makes jihadist reaction more appealing and more likely.  we abandoned him, Mobutu Sese Seko, Augusto Pinochet, Suharto and literally scores of others and ask myself: In the practical world of realpolitik, precisely what did our country gain of long-term value from supporting these dictators? What does the final box score show?


In the same news cycle in which Obama made his first, careful statements, a TV reporter in Cairo held up a spent tear gas canister that had been fired by the Egyptian police at Egyptian demonstrators. Written in clear letters on the canister were the words: Made in USA. It was a vivid reminder to Americans of what most Egyptians have long known: that American materiel, money and advice have long supported the Mubarak dictatorship.


I have an ancestor who was a general with the ragtag Americans in the Revolution against the British. And my Hungarian relatives supported the students and protesters who fought against the Soviet tanks in the streets of Budapest in 1956. All of them loved America. And all of them would have been outraged at the sight of that canister made in the United States.


You got this one exactly right, Barack Obama. I think a lot of us are with you on this one — not because you or I or the experts are smart enough today to know what tomorrow will bring. But because it’s right.

Peter Goldmark currently directs the Climate and Air program for Environmental Defense Fund. Prior to joining Environmental Defense, he was Chairman and CEO of the International Herald Tribune. He holds a B.A. from Harvard University and has received several honorary degrees



READ MORE BY:  Peter Goldmark

 

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