Sunday, February 06, 2011

Egypt, FOX News and the neocons

It's not news that Glenn Beck promotes loony rightwing theories. You have to wonder if his raving on the Egypt situation is cynical, or if it's coming from an actual clinical condition. John Amato reports on this in Bill Kristol smacks Glenn Beck with John Bircher label over his insane 'Egypt-Muslim Caliphate' Theory C&L 02/06/2011.

Beck's new world-conspiracy theories are negligible in terms of their truth-value. It is a sad example of a classical political-paranoid conspiracy theory, more unhinged from reality than a lot of them.

But FOX News has been generally hostile to the democratic movement in Egypt in its propaganda "reporting". This is notably different from the position a lot of the hawkish neoconservatives have been taking, a difference referenced in Amato's post title. Sen. John McCain and star pundit David "Bobo" Brooks are two examples of people who follow the neocon line of thinking who are being cautiously supportive of the Egyptian democratic movement in their statements.

Daniel Luban has a good discussion of the neoconservatives' departing from the usual positions they taking closely conforming to the hard-right line of the Israeli Likud Party: Whither the Neocons? LobeLog Foreign Policy 02/01/2011. He frames the matter this way:

Neoconservative claims to be ardent democracy promoters have always been met with well-deserved skepticism. Despite a great deal of high-flown rhetoric to the contrary, the movement has largely continued to abide by the framework set forth in Jeane Kirkpatrick’s “Dictatorships and Double Standards”: hostile dictators bad, friendly dictators good, and democratization worthwhile only so far as it replaces rivals with allies. Egypt itself has served as a good example of this tendency, as the Bush administration quickly abandoned its “freedom agenda” in 2005-6 once it became clear that free and fair elections might very well bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power. (Palestine was an even more striking example, as that pious democracy promoter Elliott Abrams helped launch a failed coup against Hamas after they won elections in 2006.) Still, it may be unfair to see the neocons’ support for democracy promotion as purely a cynical cover for other geopolitical goals. It is far from inconceivable that after reciting the pro-democracy script for so long, some neocons have genuinely come to believe it. [my emphasis]
But he advises not putting great hopes on the neocons' reverence for democracy:

In fact, many of the neocons appear unable even to deal with the possibility of a government led by Mohamed ElBaradei, who is about as much of a liberal secularist as the US could realistically hope for. Meanwhile, Charles Krauthammer is suggesting that the US's "ultimate objective" should be keeping the Muslim Brotherhood out of power, and that "arranging for a transition to a secular moderate regime" — note the absence of the qualifier "democratic" — "is our number one priority." One can easily anticipate a scenario in which US support for Egyptian democracy proves to be largely empty rhetoric, as it did during Bush's second term. [my emphasis]
It's also important to keep in mind that the neocons are used to playing the long game. Every since the Gulf War of 1991, the neocons wanted to have another war against Iraq. It took them until 2003 to get it. In the interim, they supported the US intervention in the Balkans and the humanitarian, pro-democracy justifications that were used for it. John McCain was one of them, while a number of Republicans in Congress, including then-Majority Leader of the Senate Republicans, Trent Lott, opposed the Clinton Administration's war policy. For better or worse, the neocons support of the US/NATO interventions in the Balkan Wars helped create the climate for what support was there later for invading Iraq.

Iran is the next war on which most of the neocons are focusing. And I suspect that's part of what is at work here. Seeing some kind of change in Egypt as inevitable - and is already taking place for the short run - the neocons surely must realize that encouraging "regime change" in Egypt can help lay the groundwork for promoting regime change in Iran, both by subversion and sabotage and eventually by an American invasion.

Not all the neocons are in agreement over the current revolutionary situation in Egypt. Jack Ross at the Old Right isolationist site Right Web writes on the differences in Whither the Party Line on Egypt? 02/01/2011. Frank Gaffney, Caroline Glick, Thomas Joscelyn and Clifford May, Ron Radosh are instances of neocons who have reflected the main FOX News position of worrying about the takeover of the supposedly very, very scary Muslim Brotherhood.

I'm just very wary of neocons talking about their support for democracy abroad. Their basic outlook is essentially on of raw power politics, and their intellectual guru Leo Strauss famously urged deception on the part of enlightened elite - which is how the neocons see themselves - in promoting their more unpopular policies. I have big reservations about some of the "democracy promotion" programs that even some genuine liberals favor in the name of strengthening civil society. When a country like the United States funds an opposition movement in another country, they expect a return on their investment. And such subsidies not only put the beneficiaries at risk of being nailed for subversion. In many countries, having financial ties to the US revealed can greatly discredit pro-democracy organizations.

As the Egyptian upheaval is reminding us right now, the ability of the United States to steer political events in other countries is actually very limited. But efforts to do so by subsidizing or arming opposition groups have the potential to set off far-reaching reactions against the United States.

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