June 26, 2011
John McCain’s Dream A Nightmare In Cairo
As the temperature rose under Hosni Mubarak’s throne in early February, President Barack Obama found himself challenged by an unusual rival. Staking himself on the contrarian pro-Israeli/anti-Iranian platform, Senator John McCain made a preemptive decision to support Egypt’s revolution as ultimately beneficial for regional security. He even blamed Obama’s moderate stance on Iran’s aborted Green Revolution for encouraging authoritarian regimes to crack down hard.
"The American people, on a non-partisan basis, want to see this revolution succeed," McCain declared while preparing a resolution against Egypt’s former dictator. "The American people will live in a more secure world if this revolution succeeds."
The power of repetition cannot be underestimated within Washington’s tireless propaganda machine. On February 3rd, McCain and Senator John Kerry joined together in pressuring Mubarak to relinquish executive power to a transitional council. Less than two days before Mubarak would disappear into the night, McCain reiterated his support for Egypt’s revolution: “The voices of the Egyptian people are growing louder and more unified. I fully support the peaceful aspirations of the Egyptian people...”
Yet like most U.S. officials, McCain’s fragrant rhetoric wasn’t nearly as sweet after the initial aroma wore off. His resolution never called for Mubarak to resign, only transfer power to a council that included opposition elements. Telling CNN in late January, “We've got to be on the right side of history here,” McCain suggested no alternative once the Omar Suleiman contingency went into effect. At the urging of Israel and Saudi Arabia, the White House eventually approved its back-up plan to support Mubarak’s former intelligence czar, who doubled as his “torture chief.” The plan wasted no time backfiring as protesters easily saw through their scheme, and Suleiman was disposed from the vice presidency after 13 turbulent days.
The final two points of McCain’s resolution also demanded that Egypt reaffirm its peace treaty with Israel, and that the Egyptian government “will further the national security interests of the United States in the region.”
Under this insincere support for Egypt’s pro-democracy movement, McCain critiqued Obama for being “behind the curve” before and after Mubarak resigned. Although criticism of the White House’s slow response time is justified, the Senator should keep his attention in front of him. Relatively speaking, McCain has ridden side by side with Obama as Washington clung to a “peaceful and orderly transition.” This phrase, which remains in use in Syria and Yemen, has become symbolic of chaos and imperialism.
And no sooner had Mubarak resigned did McCain switch his tone, insisting, “This was obviously a very difficult decision for President Mubarak, but it is the right decision for Egypt. History will note that President Mubarak’s last action in office was in the best interest of the country he loves.”
Present polling of Egypt’s reaction to U.S. policy also notes a decisively negative trend. Only 20% of Egyptians held a favorable opinion of the U.S. government when polled in late March, with a mere 22% approving the Obama administration's response to their revolution. More recently, 88% of respondents told a June Gallop poll that they rejected America as a model for Egypt’s democracy.
“I expected it to be negative, but I didn’t expect there to be an overwhelming tsunami of negative opinions,” said Mohamed Younis, Senior Analyst with the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, when he presented the results to reporters in Washington.
Those very protesters McCain claims to support still can’t scream loud enough to wake him from his dream.
Now the Senator has returned to Cairo for the third time since Mubarak’s fall, hoping to salvage his credibility after a grueling battle between protesters and the ruling military council. McCain got his way in the end - “the army has to play the lead role,” he said in February - and he employed Kerry to help sweep his tracks. After meeting with Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s chief of the armed forces and de facto ruler, both senators, “expressed confidence that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces would hand over power to a civilian government after the election.”
"The field marshal [Hussein Tantawi] again indicated his absolute commitment to a transition to a civilian government at the earliest possible time after the elections have taken place," McCain told reporters in Cairo on Sunday. "It is in the United States national security interest to see a prosperous, growing, democratic and free Egypt.”
Many Egyptians don’t share his confidence, having been forced to rally on numerous occasions in order to back the military council down: on Mubarak’s trial, military trials for civilians, a snap election and constitutional amendments.
McCain and Kerry also missed the memo that a sizable majority of Egyptian distrust U.S. economic assistance, suspecting that Washington is feeding them carrots to manipulate their revolution. The June 8th Gallop poll found that 75% of respondents oppose economic aid, with 68% believing “the U.S. will try to exert direct influence over Egypt's political future.” After declining a loan from the World Bank “because it found the terms of the loan incompatible with the national interest,” Egyptian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Fayza Abul Naga corrected what she says was a misquote. Nevertheless, trust is sorely lacking between the opposition and Western financial interests.
Egyptians perceive Washington as trying too hard to buy their support.
So what does McCain do? He steps off the jet with Jeffrey Immelt (chief executive of General Electric), Jeffrey Johnson (President, Middle East, Boeing), Curtis A. Ferguso (President, Middle East & North Africa, Coca Cola), James R. Fitterling (Executive Vice President and President, Corporate Development, Hydrocarbons, Dow), and Andrew David Wells (Chairman and Managing Director, ExxonMobil Egypt, SAE).
McCain, of course, isn’t the only American official to attempt a hijacking of Egypt’s revolution. However his behavior fully represents Washington’s manipulation, a warm embrace on the outside and cold calculation on the inside. This pattern is playing out across the Middle East and North Africa, in revolutions that impact “the national security of the United States.” McCain again repeated this message in Cairo, seemingly destined to forever miss the grander picture: revolution exists to fulfill the aspirations of its own people.
U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East wouldn’t still be sitting “on the wrong side of history” if Washington accepted this reality.