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|Obama´s riddle: withdraw or keep military aid?|
The Times - January 31st 2011
It is a sobering thought, for any European or American prone to proselytising for democracy and human rights, that this month´s events in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab dictatorships have had so little apparent connection to anything the West does or says. It is even a tad embarrassing that it is Al Jazeera, a broadcaster backed by the dictators of
That embarrassment is, however, as nothing compared with the fact that the rulers being overthrown were previously known as our "strategic allies". We did little to bring them down—at least, Hosni Mubarak has so far paid no heed to the phone calls he has had from Barack Obama and David Cameron, urging him to democratise Egypt—and yet so far seem to have escaped direct blame for the rulers´ past sins. However, if that immunity from blame lasts it will be, shall we say, quite surprising.
Perhaps this is unfair. Perhaps Wikileaks´ revelations of America´s honest view of the Tunisian dictator´s venality and incompetence have played a part; perhaps, a loyal US spokesman might now say, the tough speech in Doha, the Qatari capital, on January 13th by Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, warning Arab governments that unless they reformed they would be in danger, might have caused a few ripples; perhaps the European Union´s "Barcelona Process" of talks with the other side of the Mediterranean over trade and aid amid muffled mumbles about political development made some minute difference. We don´t and can´t know. Like Hosni Mubarak right now, we need to be humble about our own powerlessness.
We shouldn´t, admittedly, be too self-deprecatory about this. Revolutions have always happened in unpredictable ways, at unpredictable times, making it impossible to say with any certainty why the crowds formed and the necessary sense of collective bravery emerged in one country at one time, and not in another country at another time. Contagion helps, and so does the dissemination of information about how an overthrow was organised, whether by internal groups, by outside lobbies such as the International Center on Non-Violent Conflict in New York, or just through western media coverage.
The main tool by which we can promote democracy and other freedoms is by our own conduct and example. The trouble is, that also includes our conduct towards the dictators. Everyone knows about Realpolitik, and most accept the need to do deals even with people we view with distaste, forever risking accusations of double standards, but Realpolitik leaves a trail, which is pretty likely eventually to be exposed. In a revolution, the archives are thrown open, previously silent people talk, and in an atmosphere of recrimination people look for culprits.
As that happens, in
The trail is, as with most things, chiefly an American one. It dates back to the peace treaty between
If he is to be sincere and consistent in his calls for democracy and support for the Egyptian demonstrators, then he really ought to be threatening President Mubarak with the immediate withdrawal of the aid if he does not stand down and move to democracy. That would certainly place the Obama administration ahead of its predecessor, given that George W. Bush oscillated between public pressure on
Yet he is caught in a trap of
The best course of action would be to cast the past aside.
This surely means that the military aid to
That also, however, means that