Sunday, February 13, 2011

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

So the Egyptian political leadership, which is also at this point the Egyptian military leadership, made it clear today that they would continue to honor international treaties and agreements put in place over the decades of Hosni Mubarak's 'pragmatic' rule.  There are a lot of these bi-lateral and multi-lateral treaties, and most of them are intended to preserve trade and peaceful relations in the region, and to assure, if not reassure, benefactor nations and trade partners that Egypt, in exchange for considerations from military aid to favorable trade status, will act in accordance with the expectations placed on it by its allies, particularly the United States.  Which of course means the peace treaty with Israel.

This is unfortunate in a very real way.  Israel's behavior over the last decade has become increasingly belligerent, intolerant, heavy handed and hostile, to an extent far exceeding what are considered international norms.  Many of these actions, from political assassinations to collective punishment to operating a de facto apartheid state are actions even superpowers are unwilling to take.  So why does this little regional power with a population barely one half of that of Los Angeles and a GDP a fifth the size of Mexico continue to get away with the most egregious of human rights violations?  Easy - the US provides not just massive direct military aid, but explicit unconditional support for anything and everything the radical right-wing Israeli leadership chooses to do.

And as long as there no international outcry, no consequences for these horrific actions, no concerted effort to bring pressure on the Israeli government to moderate it's hateful and criminal mis-treatment of a people they logically should consider long lost brothers and sisters, there will be no incentive for Israel to behave like a civilized, modern nation.  Like the quintessential spoiled child, without discipline there will be no motivation to seek solutions through politics, diplomacy and compromise, because there is no compelling argument for moderation.  In Israel, any movement in the direction of political compromise is viewed as a 'unilateral' action because no third party can force them to move in that direction - therefore it must be their choice alone.

But Egypt has a great opportunity to bend this curve.  Positioned where they are, they could abrogate their agreements with Israel, open the Rafah crossing to international aid, travel and trade, and even recognize the Palestinians in Gaza as a kind of a proto-Palestine, with real governance and even passports.  This would bring about an end to the blockade - if Israel continued to refuse to lift the ban on commercial trade, Egypt could give Gazans special access to Port Said.  Several good things would flow from this action - Israel would learn that there actually ARE limits to her power, even with the US as big brother, and the Palestinians would be able to start down a path to a sustainable independent future.  There are risks, of course - the US could shut off the flow of aid to Egypt, but after the last year's whole Settlement debacle that seems unlikely.  Israel could invade and re-occupy Gaza - it would not make any sense for Egypt to intervene militarily - but ultimately, every nation in the region is at risk from an Israeli attack, and will continue to be until Israel faces actual consequences for her aggression, so that seems a risk worth taking at this point.

There are occasional tipping points in history, and they always have ramifications and opportunities far beyond what is initially apparent.  There is something historic and important happening in the middle east and North Africa right now, and however it all shakes out, the status quo of today will be nothing but a chapter in the history books, just as certainly as the Eastern European countries of the Soviet bloc.  It's always important when people throw off the chains of a despot and demand the freedom to choose their own destiny, but it's also important to think about how those new governments might choose to interact with other nations.  The US, for some perfectly pragmatic reasons made some terribly unpopular choices in a region that is now re-thinking everything they thought they knew about their place in the world.  Now we must accept that the people of the new order may not choose to be our friend simply through bribery, fear and intimidation.  Certainly China, Russia, Iran and Saudi, for starters, will be willing to provide better bribes and markets.  Just as the revolution we watched this week didn't have to bloody, so a realignment of alliances and agreements need not be so either.  But while we are powerless to influence these fast-moving political events, through our behavior we can have some influence over that realignment.  Perhaps this time we'll make better choices...


  1. The US, for some perfectly pragmatic reasons made some terribly unpopular choices in a region that is now re-thinking everything they thought they knew about their place in the world.

    We've made these same pragmatic choices in many regions of the world. Poor South Americans, you want freedom™? So sorry, Dole and such as want profits.

    I see no excuse our hypocrisy + flag-waving. Other than the fact that it makes money for the people who count.

  2. I'm not sure there's anyone offering any kind of serious excuses, Thunder. It is what it is. We made choices. They were wrong, but it's silly to pretend we can't understand the reasons for those choices at the time.

    Those choices, however, have consequences, from al Quaeda to Khameini to Marcos to Suharto to Musharaf to the fall of Mubarak. To be fair, the other great capitols don't have a significantly better track record.

    But history is comprised of recorded fact, viewed in perfect 20/20 hindsight. And sadly, no one can prove we'd be measurably better off had we made different choices...

  3. But history is comprised of recorded fact, viewed in perfect 20/20 hindsight.

    I've heard that history is written by the winners.

    I can't prove that we (and the Iranians) would not be better off if we hadn't inflicted our good friend the Shah/dictator upon them, and then when that blew up in our faces, turned to our new friend Saddam Hussein.

    But I suspect it is so.

  4. Realpolitik has its limits, as shown over and over again throughout Post WWII US history. However, part of that is tied up with how one answers the question "What's the United States' best interest in this case?"

    Most often, it's been too heavily influenced by the oligarchs and too lightly influenced by the corollary question "What's best for the region and the long term interests of the planet?" Because that might interfere with someone's profits.

    Still, I'd prefer that over a wholly ideological approach to foreign affairs. That way lies madness.

  5. Democracies just can't be relied upon to get you what you want.