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February 02, 2011


Only thing I think, if the immediate initiator for the uprising was high food and energy prices, then Obama is pushing on a string trying to work within the existing kleptocracy.

I just recently found out about the website below. I don't know much about the people who post there, but it looks interesting.


I don't think Egyptians should trust the good intentions of the American government (whether Obama or anyone else). Obama isn't supporting Mubarak because he's smart enough to see he can't prop him up (which, as this guy points out, puts Obama way ahead of some potential Presidents in the sanity department.) But supporting him was their first instinct, judging from Biden's interview last week. Certainly the Palestinian Authority (which we also prop up) seems to identify closely with Mubarak and if 80 million Egyptians were as easy to push around as a few million Palestinians, I suspect the policies would remain similar. The PA jails political opponents and one hears mainly praise for them in the US. (Hamas is pretty bad in its own domain, of course.)

The US foreign policy establishment can't be happy about the thought of a genuinely independent democratic Arab country deciding for itself what policies to adopt in the Middle East. Still, Egypt is poor and the army probably enjoys the money they get from the US, so that might provide some leverage if such a catastrophe actually occurs.

I hope Mr. Mubarak will step down soon. But he is male, and Middle Eastern, trained form the cradle to view capitulation as a sign of weakness. I hope Obama can keep up the good work, and that Mubarak will negotiate to leave Egypt now in exchange for permission to come back when he is actively dying.

One result of Mubarak's tyranny is that there is no organized and competent civilian force of moderation. There is an undifferentiated mass, there is the Army, and there is the Muslim Brotherhood.

Takeover by MB would lead to abrogation of the peace treaty with Israel, a near-total ending of US Aid, up-arming of Hamas, closer alliance with Iran, and an increased likelihood of war.

The MB has refrained from violence for 50 years; violence against Egypt, because Nasser and Mubarak have been so dangerous. That would end.

Takeover by the Army would be some kind of extension of the current government, I think.

But he is male, and Middle Eastern, trained form the cradle to view capitulation as a sign of weakness.

Can you cite a peer reviewed sociology or anthropology or clinical psychology journal justifying that assessment, or are you just trafficking in absurd racial stereotypes?

And in what way would that be different from the image that the Right in the US paints of itself?

Er, capitulation is a sign of weakness. It's sort of definitional. No cheap psychology required.

When you're the President of a state with 80 million people and you have to give it up because of a few jeering kids in the street, you are shown to be weak. It's not a psychological conundrum. If there's a greater shame than being hounded from office by outraged protesters I don't know what it is.

David Goldman, writing as "Spengler" in the Asia Times, points out that rising food prices, and rising volatility, will continue to bedevil the Arab world. See:

I would like to point out that instability in the Mideast makes Israel less likely to sign a peace treaty; nobody knows what the environment will look like in Lebanon, Jordon, or Egypt in 5 years.

On the other hand, in previous wars (1967 and 1973) the Arab side was armed and backed by the Soviet Union. Iran is an arms exporter, but it isn't in the same league. And I just can't see Egypt aligning with Iran for armaments if the Egyptian Army has any say in the matter. But the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt can't be that different from Hamas, so an Egypt led by the MB might well align with Iran.

instability in the Mideast makes Israel less likely to sign a peace treaty

So the chances have gone from one in ten gazillion to one in twenty gazillion?

Fred, could you offer us a little information on your background as an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood?

Because your description of them, and their likely actions, seems like (at best) a picture of their position 3-4 decades ago. But doesn't look much like anything I have read in the last several years by people who actually have spent any time studying on in the Middle East.

Which doesn't mean that you are necessarily wrong, of course. Just that knowing where you are coming from would be helpful.

Based on my reading elsewhere and obsessive listening to the BBC, I agree with this summary of the situation.

The idea that it was a surprise to anyone in power that Mubarak's days were numbered is laughable. The only thing that can plausibly be described as a slight surprise here is how quickly the current crisis in Egypt followed the events in Tunisia.

Our government is indeed in an awkward spot -- props to Obama for handling it as well as he has -- but it's a spot it put itself into.

I've been saying since Vietnam War days that realpolitik is not consistent with our Constitution or our values. We should be doing everything we can to undermine dictators of every stripe, not propping them up. Maybe in the extreme case of WW II we had no choice but to ally with Stalin against the Nazis, but I can't think of another instance we're our association with a despot was ultimately to our benefit.

One thing the Administration can and should do right away is stop shunning Al Jazeera and make spokespeople available to them for interviews.

It's crazy that we aren't using the Arab world's news rating leader to get our pro-democracy position across. Heck, my own preference would be to bluntly say that we had what seemed like pragmatic reasons for supporting Mubarak all these years, but we now regret it. I think it may take that sort of humble frankness to begin to win back any shred of credibility for US statements with the AJ audience.

FWIW, one of my favorite knowledgeable commentators on the Arab world is Mona Eltahawy

She knows what she's talking about, and her excitement and enthusiasm for what's happened in Tunisia and especially Egypt (where she was born) are truly infectious.

I caught some of BBC World News at the gym tonight. They interviewed a wealthy adviser to Mubarak; the adviser implied that Mubarak cannot step down because he is a military officer and this is a battle. "If an officer deserts the field, he is shot."

A chilling series of reports of the events yesterday can be found here: http://goo.gl/zyXWW

The young man and his friends stumbled upon a 2 year old boy who'd become separated from his parents. Happily, they cared for the child and he has been reunited with his family. Such stories along with images like this: http://twitpic.com/3vzr28 and this: http://yfrog.com/h02gvclj give me hope for Egypt's future.

"Maybe in the extreme case of WW II we had no choice but to ally with Stalin against the Nazis, but I can't think of another instance we're our association with a despot was ultimately to our benefit."

Hi, Moshe. A crook meets a despot.

Counter-example, but defensible.

Mona Eltahawy, yes. Juan Cole is also worth reading. There's a long list, which I'm too tired to give right now.

Gary, I don't think that's a true counter example. Yes, Nixon going to China was a good thing. I also support ending the embargo on trade with Cuba and continuing to talk to North Korea and Iran. Engaging our opponents (and even trading with them) is always a good thing. Much better than sticking our fingers in our ears, chanting nonsense, and loudly proclaiming "I can't hear you." But that's not the same as allying with them and providing billions of US taxpayer dollars to support them, as we've done in Egypt.

The people of Egypt, and of the broader Arab world, know that even as we're advocating a peaceful transition to real democracy in Egypt, we've supported and continue to support regimes that deny their people basic human rights, e.g., Saudi Arabia and Yemen. So who can blame them for accusing us of being hypocrites?

Call me a naive idealist, but I'd like to see our foreign policy reflect our values as consistently as possible.

The newborn American government was too weak to take sides in the French Revolution, but does anyone think the Founding Fathers were on the king Louis's side?

Whoops. That last phrase should be:

but does anyone think the Founding Fathers were on King Louis's side?

I've read that Mao's real agenda in meeting with Nixon was to get Nixon to covertly supply him with things like aircraft, and possibly weapons. China had insulated itself away from its former supplier, the USSR, and was in need of some help. Mao recognized a fellow power-addict, the story goes, and went to great pains to befriend Nixon. He was genuinely baffled as to why Nixon permitted himself to be investigated.

The newborn American government was too weak to take sides in the French Revolution, but does anyone think the Founding Fathers were on the king Louis's side?

No, but I also think that President Washington, even if he had disposed of a trillion dollar budget and an air force, would have vetoed any proposal for the United States to involve itself in French affairs. Everything he ever said on foreign policy makes that clear.

We're so far past the wisdom of our first President that it's not really relevant to bring him up - we're already thoroughly entangled in Egypt. "Taking sides" at this point isn't some choice we can avoid.

I think Obama has played this fairly well. Non-committal at first, then increasingly anti-Mubarak as the people of Egypt made their will known.

Maybe it will end badly nonetheless. I hope not.


But that's not the same as allying with them
It's little known, but Henry Kissinger gave U.S. intelligence to Mao, behind the backs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Soviet troop movements, our satellite photos, etc., to Mao, Chou en-Lai, and his government. We were defacto allies against the Soviet Union.

See here.

National Security Archive Publishes Digitized Set of 2,100 Henry Kissinger "Memcons" Recounting the Secret Diplomacy of the Nixon-Ford Era

See here:

Document 10: Memorandum of Conversation with Zhou Enlai, 20 June 1972, 2:05- p.m., Top Secret/Sensitive/Exclusively Eyes Only

While the far right remained unhappy with Kissinger, the rapprochement with Beijing continued to unfold with another Kissinger visit in October, Alexander Haig's visit in January 1972 and the Nixon trip in February 1972. In White House Years, Kissinger discussed at length his and Nixon's trips to China but he devoted only one paragraph to his talks with Zhou Enlai in Beijing, during 20-23 June 1972. (Note 9) These exchanges, however, do not deserve the obscurity to which Kissinger has relegated them because they were significant, covering key issues such as the Vietnam War, the possibility of normalizing relations, U.S.-Soviet relations, Soviet policy, and a host of regional problems ranging from Western Europe to South Asia to Japan and Korea. Kissinger visited Beijing in the midst of U.S.-China tensions caused by Beijing's secret protests of border incidents and attacks on Chinese ships during the Linebacker I bombing raids and mining operations against North Vietnam in retaliation against Hanoi's spring offensive. With respect to the Soviets, who were the source of considerable apprehension in Beijing, a fascinating moment occurred when Kissinger tacitly brought Beijing within the scope of the U.S. nuclear umbrella by telling Zhou that Washington would make a nuclear response in the event that Moscow launched an attack "that would put all of Asia under one European center of control" (p. 19). On the outcome of the Vietnam negotiations, Kissinger drew on the "decent interval" concept to convince Zhou that the United States was truly determined to exit from Vietnam. He told Zhou that, for credibility reasons, the United States could not meet Hanoi's demand for the "overthrow" of President Nguyen Van Thieu. Nevertheless, once U.S. forces had left Indochina, Kissinger declared, the White House would accept the results of historical change: "while we cannot bring a communist government to power, if, as a result of historical evolution it should happen over a period of time, if we can live with a communist government in China, we ought to be able to accept it in Indochina" (p. 37).

One element of Kissinger's talks with Zhou was an effort to build up the perceived Soviet threat to China in order to reinforce Beijing's interest in rapprochement with Washington. For example, on 22 October Kissinger observed that Moscow was pushing for detente with the West because of its "great desire to free itself in Europe so it can concentrate on other areas," namely China. Alexander Haig, during his January 1972 visit, continued to press this theme when meeting with Zhou. Pointing to Soviet policy during the recent South Asian war, Haig argued that Moscow was trying to "encircle the PRC with unfriendly states." Restating the old policy, dating back to Secretary of State John Hay, of U.S. support for China's territorial integrity, Haig argued that Soviet policy was a danger because "the future viability of the PRC was of the greatest interest to us and a matter of our own national interest." Once Moscow had "neutralized" Beijing, he declared, it would "then turn on us." To strengthen Beijing's position, Haig offered to provide the Chinese with strategic and tactical intelligence on Soviet forces arrayed against China. Zhou must have taken up the offer because Kissinger probably briefed the Chinese on Soviet forces during the February 1972 visit, but the premier did not care for Haig's phraseology and subjected him to what Kissinger later called a "withering blast": China would never depend on "external forces" to maintain independence and viability because that would make it a "protectorate or colony" (see documents 24 and 25).(5)

Documents on Kissinger's secret talks with the Chinese during the South Asian crisis over Bangladesh illuminate Kissinger's and Haig's perceptions of Soviet policy. Convinced that Moscow was behind New Delhi and that Indian policy aimed at destroying Pakistan, Kissinger covertly tilted U.S. policy against India and toward Pakistan, a state that was close to China and had been helpful in arranging communications with Beijing. Doggedly viewing the South Asian conflict through the lenses of superpower conflict, Kissinger believed it was imperative to side with Pakistan, for example, by secretly providing military aid and by sending naval forces to the Indian Ocean. Such actions, he further believed, would bolter rapprochement with China by demonstrating U.S. resolve to contain Soviet influence in the region. Over the objections of CIA and State Department officials, Kissinger carried out the "tilt" policy in secret but it soon leaked to the press, to the dismay of Congress and public opinion, which leaned toward India and Bangladesh.(6)

This collection closes with a Kissinger briefing paper to help Nixon prepare for his "encounter with the Chinese" by acquainting him with the "flavor of their style." While acknowledging that the PRC leadership was "fanatic" and "totally disagree[s] with us where the world is going," Kissinger's overall appraisal was positive. Mao and Zhou were "pragmatic", "firm on principle" but "flexible on details." Unlike the Soviets, they "won't constantly press you for petty gains," haggle over details, or implement an agreement grudgingly. In brief portraits of Zhou and Mao, Kissinger observed that Zhou was truly impressive, a man with whom "one can have a dialogue," who shows that he has "done his homework", and who can be "extremely --and suddenly--tough." Kissinger had yet to meet Mao but Zhou had "made clear that Mao was the boss," and from all accounts could "be even more impressive" than Zhou. "They will make a truly imposing and formidable pair."(7)

IV. Haig's Visit and Final Preparations for Nixon's Visit

Document 24
Memcon, Haig and Zhou, 3 January 1972, Midnight, Great Hall of the People, Top Secret/Sensitive/Exclusively Eyes Only
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Security Council Files, box 1037, China - A.M. Haig January Visit Jan. 1972

Document 25
Memcon, Haig and Zhou, 7 January 1972, 11:45 p.m., Great Hall of the People, Top Secret/Sensitive/Exclusively Eyes Only
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Security Council Files, box 1037, China - A.M. Haig January Visit Jan. 1972

Document 26
“Haig’s Preparatory Mission for Nixon’s Visit to China in January 1972,” Diplomatic History Institute of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Xin zhongguo wenjiao fengyun [New China's Diplomatic Experience] (Beijing, Shijie zhishi, 1991), Vol. 3, pp. 71-82 (translated by Zhao Han, History Department, University of Virginia)

Document 27
Kissinger to Nixon, "Your Encounter with the Chinese," 5 February 1972, Top Secret/Sensitive/Exclusively Eyes Only
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, HAK Office Files, box 13, China

Those include links to the documents, and really, I could bury you with more cites, let alone documents, than would fill your house, let alone want to read, on what Nixon and Kissinger did by way of secret military cooperation with China.

Ask and ye shall receive. :-)

But you really wouldn't want that.

I'll give Kissinger credit for many things, including being a hell of a devious son of a b*tch.

Of course, there was the famous case of the Joint Chiefs spying back on Kissinger:

Over three decades ago on December 21, 1971, Richard Nixon approved the first major cover-up of his administration. He did so reluctantly at the behest of his closest political advisers, Attorney General John Mitchell, Domestic Counselor John Ehrlichman, and Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman. The public remains ignorant of this seminal event in Nixon's first term and journalists and historians have largely ignored it. The question is why? A recently released Nixon tape transcribed from an enhanced CD produced by the Nixon Era Center provides the clearest answer to this thirty-year-old Nixon secret.

On that December day Nixon agreed to cover-up a criminally insubordinate spying operation conducted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff inside the National Security Council because of the military's strong, visceral dislike of Nixon's foreign policy. In particular, the JCS thought Nixon gone "soft on communism" by reaching out to the Chinese and Russians, and they resented Vietnamization as a way to end the war.

As early as 1976 Admiral Elmo Zumwalt publicly made these military suspicions and resentment abundantly clear in his book, On Watch: A Memoir. "I had first become concerned many months before the June 1972 burglary," Zumwalt wrote, "[about] the deliberate, systematic and, unfortunately, extremely successful efforts of the President, Henry Kissinger, and a few subordinate members of their inner circle to conceal, sometimes by simple silence, more often by articulate deceit, their real policies about the most critical matters of national security." In a word, Zumwalt, like many within the American military elite, thought that Nixon's foreign policies bordered on the traitorous because they "were inimical to the security of the United States."

This atmosphere of extreme distrust led Admiral Thomas Moorer, head of the JCS, to first authorize Rear Admiral Rembrandt C. Robinson and later Rear Admiral Robert O. Welander, both liaisons between the Joint Chiefs and the White House's National Security Council, to start spying on the NSC. For thirteen months, from late 1970 to late 1971, Navy Yeoman Charles E. Radford, an aide to both Robinson and Welander, systematically stole and copied NSC documents from burn bags containing carbon copies, briefcases, and desks of Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, and their staff. He then turned them over to his superiors.

The White House became suspicious when Jack Anderson published a column on December 14 entitled, "U.S. Tilts to Pakistan." Such information logically could only have come from meetings of the Washington Special Action Group, December 3 and 4, which discussed the fact that Pakistan was being used as a conduit for the top secret negotiations the Nixon administration was carrying on with China - negotiations that would culminate in rapprochement with that Communist nation the spring of the next year. Clearly someone had leaked the minutes of the WSAG meeting to Anderson and the suspicion fell on the military.

The White House immediately ordered an investigation of this leak and Pentagon Chief Investigator W. Donald Stewart subsequently uncovered the JCS spy operation when Yeoman Radford "broke down and cried" during a polygraph test, indicating that he spied with the "implied approval of his supervisor" Admiral Welander. Stewart believed that it was a "hanging offence" for the military to spy on the president and Ehrlichman's assistant, Egil ("Bud") Krogh thought that it was the beginning of a military coup because of the interference it represented "into the deliberations of duly-elected and appointed civilians to carry out foreign policy." Radford's confession not only led to such dire evaluations, but also to the December 21 conversation among the president, Ehrlich man, Haldeman, and John Mitchell.

The most striking aspect of this tape is the passive role played by Nixon - the so-called original imperial president. First, he is out-talked by the others throughout this fifty-two-minute conversation. Toward the end of tape, the president can be heard saying to his advisers in a loud voice that the JCS spy activity was "wrong! Understand? I'm just saying that's wrong. Do you agree?" A little later he called it a "federal offense of the highest order." Up to this point, however, John Mitchell told the president that "the important thing is to paper this thing over" because "this Welander thing . . . Is going to get right into the middle of Joint Chiefs of Staff."

In other words, Nixon would have to take on the entire military command if he exposed the spy ring. Moreover, this expose would take place in an election year and when the president had scheduled trips to both China and the Soviet Union to confirm improved relations with these countries - which the military opposed. Taking on the military establishment with such important political and diplomatic events on the horizon could have proven disastrous for the president's most important objectives and revealed other back-channel diplomatic activities of the administration. Later in his memoirs the president said that the media would have completely distorted the incident and exposure would have done "damage to the military at time when it was already under heavy attack."

In contrast, at the time all three men agreed with Nixon about the seriousness of the crime committed by the JCS. Mitchell even compared it to "coming in [to the president's office] and robbing your desk." However, they advised him to do no more than to inform Moorer that the White House knew about the JCS spy ring, to interview Welander (who was later transferred to sea duty), and to transfer Radford. Moorer subsequently denied obtaining any information from purloined documents, fallaciously claiming that Nixon kept him fully informed about all his foreign policy initiatives. If this had been true there would have been no need for Moorer to set up a spy ring. Welander, for his part according to this tape, had initially refused to answer questions about the spying he was supervising on the questionable grounds that he had a "personal and confidential relationship" with both Kissinger and Haig.

Nixon became incensed when he heard this. "Just knock it out of the ballpark, stop that relationship," he told his aides on December 21. Subsequently in his first interview Welander admitted his role in the naval surveillance operation, and implicated then Brigadier General Alexander Haig, Kissinger's aide and liaison between the Pentagon and the White House, in this criminal operation. Haig ultimately prevailed upon his old friend and colleague Fred Buzhardt, general counsel to the Defense Department, to re-interview Admiral Welander and eliminate the compromising references to him. Still the existence of this first Welander interview continued to haunt Haig because he knew if the president found out there would be no more military promotions for him, let alone a future in politics and so he was determined to see that his role in this affair remained under raps.

Haig has succeeded in covering up his involvement down to the present day. For example, he told an interviewer in 1996 that the whole JCS spy ring was nothing more than the normal kind of internal espionage that goes on all the time among executive branch departments. Nonetheless, after he became Nixon's chief of staff, he went to great lengths to ensure that the various congressional investigations never concentrated on the Moorer/Radford affair, thus preventing exposure of his involvement in spying on the NSC while Kissinger's aide. When caught in the tug-of-war between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the White House, Haig's loyalties to the very end remained with the military.

This December 21 tape also indicates that Nixon did not trust either Kissinger or Haig. At one point he stated that "Henry is not a good security risk" and that he was convinced that "Haig must have known about this operation . . . It seems unlikely he wouldn't have known." Yet after Watergate forced the resignations of Haldeman and Ehrlichman, Nixon appointed Haig his chief of staff! Had the president chosen to ignore the advisce of his closest aides in December 1971 and follow his own instincts about exposing the JCS, Haig's culpability would have become evident and his career under Nixon would have ended and quite possibly prevented him from serving in both the Ford and Reagan administrations.

By covering up JCS spy ring (but letting the military know they knew about it) Nixon and his aides apparently deluded themselves into thinking they would have greater leverage with a hostile defense establishment. However, the JCS also knew that Nixon and Kissinger had been by-passing both Secretaries of State (William Rogers) and Defense (Melvin Laird) in making their foreign policy decisions and could have retaliated with the charge that civilian leaders had been deliberately ignored in the administration's back-channel processes.
This successful cover-up of the Moorer-Radford affair set the stage for more minor cover-ups ultimately culminating in the mother of them all - Watergate. As a result it should be considered the first and most important of the Nixon cover-ups. Had it not take place perhaps Nixon would have survived his second term in office.

Joan Hoff is Distinguished Research Professor of History at Montana State University and author of Nixon Reconsidered (Basic Books).

And so on.

I believe I've mentioned to you that I know a little about Nixon. :-)

Yeah, but the question was, if it's a.) moral and/or b.) beneficial to ally with dictators and human rights abusers. I think the answer is no.

Other examples would be US support for Iraq during the Iraq/Iran war, support for the Mujaheddin against the USSR in the Afghanistan war and support for Pakistan in general.

Yeah, but the question was, if it's a.) moral and/or b.) beneficial to ally with dictators and human rights abusers.
First of all, whose question was it? I don't see it in my post, and I wrote it. So whose question?

Second, of course it's not "moral" but we don't live in dreamland, so b is what's relevant. And in the long term, the answer is no. But meanwhile we live in the present, so the answer becomes: it's complicated and contingent, and subject to debate, but generalizing is not very useful unless we only live in Theory Land.

A previous poster brought up the question of morality, which you cannot simply dismiss as irrelevant.

As for your answer: ethical principles need per definitionem be general and tend to get watered down by "reality" soon enough anyway, so generalizing is not a bad thing per se, but rather a requirement if you want to stick to an ethical framework at all.

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