Picking Sides

Fielding Mellish: Are we fighting for or against the Government?

CIA operative: CIA is not taking any chances this time. Some of use are for and some of us are going to be against them.

The US have a rather poor record of picking sides, when it comes to dictator-sponsoring. Sure, they could do worse: like France’s Foreign Minister, who assured Mr. Ben Ali of her enduring friendship (along with offer of police back-up)… a mere two days before the Tunisian people drove him out of the country for good. A comically bad timing.

Not long before they opted for an altogether different approach to democracy-spreadin’, the United States used to have nothing but kind words for their good Iraqi friend, Mr. Hussein: shining beacon of containment, if not stability, in the Middle East. Containment made all the more necessary by the fresh return of Mr. Khomeini to Iran, where the people were oddly pissed at the United States for blatantly overthrowing their previous, democratically-elected, government in order to back their own puppet-dictator

By comparison, I guess a few decades of murder, military coups and oppression by proxy in half of Latin America is a mixed diplomatic bag for the US. At least they managed to keep Pinochet in place longer than Baptista. And, while their success rate on backing a stable dictatorship in Bolivia was only slightly above average, they certainly get extra points in creativity for enlisting a notorious nazi war criminal to help them along the way1.

Back to our Winter of 2011, where increasingly degrading global economic conditions provide the proverbial straw to the Middle-Eastern camel’s back, sending it to the street2. For the Department of State, Tunisia was a thankfully low-stake gamble: sure, Ben Ali was a model of stable, affably-corrupt, anti-islamist3 dictator, but Tunisia wasn’t exactly a central piece of their Middle-East strategy. And with Club-Meds as its main natural resource, Halliburton wasn’t rushing at the door either. So it did not take much to release reasonably non-commital statements in support of “the will of the people”, when the chances of said people appeared to raise slightly above your average strangled-at-birth democratic uprising.

For Egypt, Mrs. Clinton was considerably more restrained in extolling the virtues of democracy. At first suitably neutral (aka “I understand your inspirations… but why must we use violence to settle this? Can’t you people wait another couple decades for a peaceful transition to democracy?”), and progressively more assertive as the situation evolves (but never more than the strict minimum), on the off-chance that she might have to woe Mubarak’s successor in a not-too-distant future. Because if you think the US doesn’t know when to drop a losing horse, you should ask Imelda how long it took Ronnie to erase her husband’s number from the White House speed-dial, when the wind started turning.

Perhaps most surprising (and somewhat hopeful) about the ongoing events in Egypt, is the apparent detachment of the army from Mubarak: not a week ago, every single analyst assured us that Mubarak could rely on the indefectible support of his military, ensuring that no movement could be taken beyond a certain point. In reality, it currently seems like the army might soon join in on the demand for him to step down (remains to be proven what role they would play in the immediate aftermath)…

Anyway, if Egypt pulls this off after Tunisia, I can think of quite a few pet dictators in the region that will start worrying for their job.

  1. nothing beats the know-how of an infamously sadistic Gestapo officer, when it comes to fighting communist insurgents []
  2. those same economic woes that prompted Western countries to reach for the lube while bending over in front of Goldman Sachs []
  3. In our post-cold-war days, “anti-islamist” is the new “anti-communist” magic label that gets you US backing and CIA funding. []

Leave a Reply