Stop the Presses

Murky Waters for USA in Syria and Egypt

July 20, 2013 by Somebody Else

I'm starting to get seriously confused about the positions that the United States media and government have been taking lately on what's been going on in Syria and Egypt. Am I the only one? Or are there others like me out there in cyber-land who are also scratching their heads and wondering if the official line has been heading into Orwellian territory for quite some time? Well, if you are indeed wondering that and reading this, please do read on.

Here's what I know about Syria so far. That country's embattled president, Bashar Al-Assad, appears to be a ruthless autocrat of the worst order. Kind of odd when you take into account that as a younger man he had studied for a number of years in comparatively staid and civilized England to become an optometrist, and was only thrust into the presidency because his older brother, originally the heir to the throne of his country, suffered an untimely death.

When I see pictures of Al-Assad, he always seems to have a distinctly British bearing and air about him, and his stylish and formal European clothing suggests conservative English tastes. Had his brother not died, Bashar Al-Assad would have probably lived out his life in relative obscurity as an amiable and unobtrusive optometrist, perhaps plying his humdrum trade somewhere in the United Kingdom. However, destiny decreed otherwise, and instead of enjoying carefree afternoons taking tea and biscuits at a summer cottage in Brighton, he ended up in a heavily armed Damascus fortress as the person chiefly responsible for the vicious massacre of tens of thousands of his nation's citizens.

How did all of this happen to Al-Assad? I'm no psychologist, but I'll still allow myself to speculate a bit based upon the general facts known. His father ruled Syria with an iron fist for decades, and had considerable success at holding on to power by ruthlessly crushing any opposition to his regime. So, like father, like son, I suppose, with the chief difference being that where the father more or less succeeded, the son appears to be on the brink of utter failure. I guess it's kind of natural for Al-Assad to think that what worked for his dad would likewise work for him. And maybe that would have been true at some point in the past, but evidently, times have changed.

Now that it is clear to him that he will not be able to prosper by using his father's outdated methods, Al-Assad is locked into a war that he cannot emerge from alive if he is not the victor. Basically, he is fighting for the survival of his faction and family, both of which face likely annihilation should he lose this war.

So, let's take a look at how the US government and media have decided to position themselves on those matters. The official line is that Al-Assad should step down because of his brutal violation of basic human rights. All well and good, but let's not forget that Al-Assad has close ties with Russia and China, whose military and economic interests in the region are in large part diametrically opposed to those of the United States. It is for those reasons alone that both Russia and China have resisted efforts to impose diplomatic sanctions upon the Syrian government. So, it is therefore not such a stretch of the imagination to suppose that the US opposition to Al-Assad is in reality motivated by little more than its determination to make geopolitical chess moves against Russia and China. 

To complicate matters further, the Syrian opposition has itself been no shining example of human rights either, and includes subgroups that are fundamentally undemocratic, as well as decisively against the United States and Israel, perhaps even more so than Al-Assad's regime. Al Qaeda has allegedly infiltrated the Syrian opposition, and in any case, it appears that if they should overthrow Al-Assad, an Islamist government with highly uncertain international loyalties would come into power. In my view, that is probably the biggest reason that the United States has for demonstrating such profound reluctance to throwing its full support behind the Syrian rebels.

As I've meditated on these matters, a terrible thought has dawned upon me, which is that maybe the United States government actually wants the Syrian civil war to go on indefinitely. In other words, maybe our government officials think that it's actually a good thing for neither Al-Assad nor the rebels to completely consolidate their power, because in that way both groups, neither of which the United States feels it can wholeheartedly support, remain relatively weak. If that is true, it would be the very height of cynicism – to think that we might prefer that tens of thousands needlessly die so that we can maintain the upper hand in the struggle to secure Middle Eastern oil. It's a revolting, repulsive thought, but there it is, nonetheless. I leave it up to you to draw your own conclusions.

Now, let's take a look at Egypt, and consider what it has in common with Syria. Let's remember that both the uprising in Syria and the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt formed a part of what has commonly come to be known in the Western press as the Arab Spring, generally understood as a widespread uprising throughout the Islamic world against entrenched authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. This popular revolution began in Tunisia in early 2011, and subsequently propagated throughout the region.

After Mubarak's overthrow, Egypt held an election, and Muhammad Morsi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood political party, emerged as the undisputed winner. However, his victory was certainly not a political mandate as we tend to understand it in the United States, since he won with only slightly more than half of the popular vote, meaning that close to half of the country did not want him to be president. He might have been expected to find a way to work with the opposition, but that did not turn out to be the case.

Morsi's victory in a democratic election presented something of an ideological conundrum, because the Muslim Brotherhood advocates the implementation of Sharia law, which is essentially government based upon the decrees of the Holy Koran, in other words, the establishment of a theocratic state rather than a democratic one. This led to a common metaphor in the Western press, according to which Morsi and his political allies had climbed to power on the ladder of democracy, and were now preparing to pull up the ladder behind them.

Even so, that might have been acceptable so long as Morsi had a decisive majority of the people supporting his Islamist agenda. However, it quickly became evident that much of the country, if not most of it, did not approve of Morsi's efforts to impose theocratic law in Egypt, which included thwarted efforts to seize power from high-ranking military officials, to re-write the country's constitution in strict accordance with his own political party's platform, and to dissolve the judicial system. Additionally, Morsi embarrassed and worried much of Egypt's progressive-minded populace with his appallingly ignorant and racist rants against Jews, and his bellicose rhetoric against Israel. Finally, Morsi's perceived mishandling of Egypt's dismal economy led to a general impression of incompetent leadership.

Still, lest we forget, Morsi was elected democratically, so in theory at least, he had a right to remain Egypt's president until the end of his term, unless he were to break some kind of law which would forfeit his right to hold office. Herein lies the problem, because Egypt, fledgling democracy that it has recently attempted to be, did not really establish any kind of transparently objective standard by which Egypt's president might rightfully be removed from power. Instead, Morsi was simply and unceremoniously given the boot when street protests reached a fever pitch, and the military junta, still mostly controlled by Mubarak-era officials, decided that enough was enough, and that it was time to depose him with a largely bloodless military coup, but a coup nonetheless.

Morsi's removal has led to yet another ideological problem for the United States in the Middle East, since although our government and media do not approve of Morsi's agenda nor of his handling of political matters in Egypt, it still looks rather hypocritical to celebrate the democratic process that brought Morsi to power, while at the same time applauding his very undemocratic overthrow. In fact, the United States has undoubtedly brought pressure to bear so that the recent military coup may not be labeled as such, because such a classification would result in the suspension of billions of dollars in American military assistance for Egypt.

Ah, the United States wants to have its cake and eat it too. Let's have supposed democracy in the Middle East, just as long as it keeps Islamist presidents like Morsi out of power, and instead supports political leaders who have the backing of the Mubarak-era military, and thus of the United States. So much for true democracy in Egypt, and so much for the so-called Arab Spring.

In both Syria and Egypt, the United States has once again proven that when it comes right down to it, the only ideological considerations that matter are those that have to do with the preservation and advancement of economic and geopolitical power. But of course, the United States government and press can always be counted on to make a show of standing up for the sacred principles of democracy, if only for the PR value of doing so.

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