There’s been a lot of commentary over the last couple of days regarding Frank Wisner, who, depending on whom you ask in the White House, is either an envoy to Egypt or not an envoy to Egypt, who does or doesn’t speak for the Obama administration. Wisner’s comments in Munich last Saturday backing Mubarak caused an uproar, as did revelations that his law firm worked for the Egyptian regime and Wisner is an “old friend” of Mubarak. That’s the least of it. His father, Frank Sr., was involved in all sorts of imperial shenanigans, including running the coup that overthrew Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. Vijay Prasad had a nice essay on Counterpunch and a turn on Democracy Now!, talking about father and son, and dubbing Wisner the “empire’s bagman.”
Below are the comments of Stuart Schaar, professor emeritus at Brooklyn College, who is an old acquaintance of Wisner Jr. I had Stuart as a teacher when I did my BA at Brooklyn, and his knowledge of the Middle East is unsurpassed. He is now retired and living in Morocco, where he is watching events, like many of us, with a mix of hope and dread.
Here’s what he says about his old schoolmate, an interesting perspective on a man the New York Times describes as part of a “distinct class in Washington: a corps of foreign policy realists who came of age in an era when American power reigned supreme:”
“The Americans are f***ing up again, buying into Mubarak’s line that chaos will follow if he departs. Wisner, whom I’ve known since 1958 (he was at Princeton with me and our paths have crossed over the years) is a company man. His father headed the CIA‘s USSR and Eastern European bureau and he committed suicide in 1965 because, as his son told me, he killed too many people. Frank learned Arabic in Tangiers—we traveled to the Sahara together in 1963—and then was posted to Algeria to study the strategic hamlet program there, which failed miserably. He then was posted to South Vietnam, to help set up the US strategic hamlet program there. His ambassadorships include the Philippines to shore up Aquino’s regime, Egypt under Mubarak—I saw him there—and then India. He ended his career in the government as undersecretary of defense. After retiring he became vice president of the infamous AIG and was very active in the international conciliation committee that was influential in shaping Middle East policy. He also chairs a round table established by him and Leslie Gelb, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations, in Washington. They meet once a month to discuss crisis areas. He therefore is the new John McCloy, with close family ties to the CIA, a state department luminary, and has close contacts with the generals and admirals in the Pentagon. His business credentials at AIG make him a potent force, bringing together multiple forces of US policy in his person. He used to be quite handsome, a cross between JFK and a young Robert Redford, making him very sure of himself.… Once I asked him in Princeton when he went off for a weekend where he always went on Friday-Sunday. Without missing a beat, he said, "I play polo.” To which I, amazed, asked, “Who the hell plays polo in America?” I then asked with whom he plays and he answered "the Mellons, Gettys, Rockefellers, etc." He never would have made his comments to Munich without Obama’s permission. He’s in the spotlight and is sowing confusion on purpose. Obama is really following what Wisner said he should do, since the president must have told him to say what he did.”
Schaar doubts Wisner went off the reservation but was rather acting on instructions:
“I still can’t imagine Frank mortgaging his future by contradicting a sitting president, who could screw him up and his lobbying firm as well. All this is adding to deliberate confusion in order to camouflage Obama’s switch of policy in the last few days, endorsed by Merkel at Munich, to allow Mubarak to stay after Obama overstepped the limits by trying to push him out earlier. Pressures from Saudi Arabia and Israel probably weighed in on the president. They love Mubarak and don’t want him to go. Two key allies still needed for a ‘stable’ Middle East. Expect more nonsense in days and weeks ahead to institute an attempted counter-revolution. I smell Metternich everywhere. I only hope that the demonstrators have the endurance to keep the pressure up.”
Metternich of course is the German diplomat who presided over the restoration of Europe’s Old Regime following the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars—the man Henry Kissinger always wanted to be.