Sometimes, it is hard to understand why a country is doing what it is doing. Then you replace the accepted goals of that country with a new set of goals and suddenly everything makes sense. What the country does is a fact of reality, a fact of history that cannot be changed; the understanding of the goals has to be changed to make sense of the act.
It is well known that the US opposed Egypt’s leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser. What is less well known is that in 1952, Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and the same CIA superspy who would later spearhead the Iranian coup that overthrew the democratically elected Mohammad Mossadegh, nourished the plot that would grow into the coup that took Egypt’s King Farouk out of power and brought Nasser in. The CIA aided and advised Nasser as well as funneling millions of dollars his way. Only a few years later, Nasser’s luck would change when the US sided with the radical Islam of Saudi Arabia over the secular Egypt. Later America would switch sides again and side with the secular, and brutal, dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak over what they perceived as the radical Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.
The US sided with the secularists, then the Islamists and then the secularists. They wanted Nasser in, then they wanted Nasser out. They promote democracy but support a brutal dictatorship. Doesn’t make sense does it? Or does it?
Kermit Roosevelt helped Nasser come to power in Egypt because he thought he could pull Nasser’s Arab nationalism into the US orbit. But when Nasser emphasized his nationalism, advocated neutrality for his pan-Arab United Arab Republic, entered into agreements with the communist bloc and Roosevelt lost control of him, the US turned on him. They would side with Saudi Arabia and its brand of Islamic ideology over Egypt and its brand of secular nationalism and unity because they feared the secular nationalist gathering the oil industry and its benefits for its own citizens. Later, the US would back the secular dictatorship of Mubarak for the same reason. If you allow a people to make its own choices democratically, they will always choose to keep the wealth of their national resources for themselves instead of letting someone else take it out of the country. So you can’t let the people decide: you support a dictator in exchange for the dictator supporting your goals.
And when you plug those goals in, it is no longer hard to see why America is doing what she is doing. If the goal is supporting democracy, then the inconsistent ins and outs of Nasser and secularists make no sense. So democracy can’t be the goal. If the goal is preserving US interest, preserving US control of, and access to, oil, then the ins and outs make perfect sense. You know the actions: find the goal, and they make sense. The goal is not democracy, but American interest abroad.
So, Nasser’s ins and outs and secularism’s ins and outs are revealing when it comes to the guiding goal of US foreign policy in Egypt’s recent past. Today’s ins and outs are no less revealing.
There are two countries who are engaged in simultaneous struggles for democracy: though the news only seems to have room for one of them at a time. Egypt dominates February’s front pages; Haiti dominated them in January. In Egypt—though this may have to change in accordance with Chomsky’s principal that America holds on to her dictators as long as she can, then, when change is inevitable, asks them to leave and pretends she has sided with the people all along, while working to put in a new government that is as similar to the old one as circumstances permit—America has asked the dictator to stay; in Haiti, America has insisted that the democratically elected leader stay out.
Mubarak—or if not him, someone like him—must stay, not because America’s goal is democracy, because backing a dictator is inconsistent with democracy, but because backing his dictatorship is consistent with America’s policies on oil, Israel, Iran and Iraq. And that is the goal: protecting American interests abroad. If the goal were democracy, America would not back a murdering, torturing dictator; if the goal is American interests, then what better way?
If the goal were democracy, then America would never let Baby Doc Duvalier into Haiti, and America would never keep Jean-Bertrand Aristide out. But in January, Duvalier was back in. Duvalier, who as the dictatorial President for life, barred and jailed opponents and stole Haitian money while his secret police, the Tonton Macoutes, kidnapped, tortured and killed tens of thousands of Haitians. When asked about Duvalier’s return, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley generously allowed that “This is a matter for the government of Haiti and the people of Haiti”.
When Crowley was asked the same question about the return of Aristide—Aristide who was twice elected by the Haitian people and twice removed by US backed coups—he dismissively replied that “Haiti does not need, at this point, any more burdens”. Enormously popular, democratically elected leaders are a burden who are shown the door and have it slammed on their return, while America politely holds the door for torturing, murdering dictators.
Aristide has clearly expressed his desire to return to Haiti, citing his “readiness to leave today” because the people of Haiti “have never stopped calling for my return”. But, as leaked WikiLeaks documents have confirmed, the “US insists that all efforts must be made to keep Aristide from returning to Haiti.” Despite US pressure to keep him out, the Haitian government has recently announced its willingness to finally let Aristide return from his seven year exile. Perhaps not coincidently, as Mark Weisbrot has noted, upon that announcement, while Egypt erupted, Hilary Clinton sped to Haiti.
Aristide is a leftist who wants Haiti to chart its own independent course. He is also a democratically elected nationalist, a combination that is impossible to bear for America. Democratically elected leaders have to do what their people want if they hope to get reelected, the people will want to chart a course upon which they benefit from their own resources and opportunities, and nationalists are willing to do that. And that does not fit with American interests abroad. And if promoting American interests abroad is America’s goal, then, once again, her actions, letting Duvalier in and keeping Aristide out, make sense. If promoting democracy abroad is America’s goal than those actions make no sense.
Who’s let in and who’s kept out? From Nasser’s invitation in to Nasser’s no longer being welcome and from the secularists and the Islamists taking turns on the guest list, the answer is clear. From the dictators Mubarak and Duvalier being invited to the dance while the popular democrat Aristide is shut out in the cold, the answer is clear. Who’s let in the doors of power and who has the doors of power closed on them is determined by America’s goal abroad. And that goal is not democracy, but American empire and interest.