Most Republicans in Congress are supporting President Obama’s tepid and uneven response to the pro-democracy protests in Egypt. No surprise there; the mixed signals sent by the current administration’s have about them the familiar incoherence of the Bush-Cheney years.
But not everyone is cheering on White House and State Department attempts to maintain US influence with an authoritarian regime while talking up democracy and freedom.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who broke with Republicans (and many Democrats) to criticize Bush and Cheney, is now breaking with the Washington consensus to object to how Obama is responding. At the root of the maverick congressman and former presidential candidate’s criticism is a broader critique of US policy in the region.
Noting Obama’s maneuvering, Paul complains that “the big fight now is for us to be in charge. If Mubarak survives, we want to be on his side. If they get a new guy, we want to be on [his] side. I just think that doesn’t work because eventually the people rebel. For a while it seemed to be stable, but it’s so artificial.”
Instead of propping up the old dictator or hoping to but influence with the next, Paul argues for cutting aid—particularly the massive military aid packages that pay for a 450,000-man army that “will probably be turned against the people.”
Variations on Paul’s position have started to be heard on Capitol Hill. New York Congressman Gary Ackerman, the ranking Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, wants to suspend the $1.5 billion in aid the United States provides Egypt annually—most of which goes to that country’s military and security complex—until it is clear Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is on his way out.
“I would cut it all off. Immediately,” Ackerman says of the aid. “The only exceptions I would make would be for humanitarian needs, like food or medicine, or support for urgent political transition activities like helping political parties to organize, or training election officials.”
Paul would go much further.
Paul’s never been a fan of foreign aid. And reasonably people certainly disagree with him on the broad question, especially as it relates to humanitarian and development aid.
But the debate about aid to Egypt goes deeper.
Supporters of military aid to the Mubarak dictatorship have, for decades, argued that the aid is necessary to prevent the spread of militancy in a region where US policy makers have long feared the influence of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
But Paul’s not buying into this line.
“That is the argument, but [the folks who peddle that idea never seem to ask] whether the growth of groups like this is because they have a target and the target is us—is our public government,” the congressman suggests, with a bow to the language and analysis of the late Chalmers Johnson, author of Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (Holt). “We didn’t have to worry about radical mullahs in Iran until we put the Shah in and then it took a couple decades and finally the people rebelled and there was a revolution. Then there was a blowback to us and you had an unintended consequence. So, yes, I think we have to worry about the radicals, but we have to understand how they get their motivation. And their motivation—how they arouse the people and radicalize them—is when we take over.”