The radical right-wing media is blaming Obama for losing Egypt.
Fox News anchorwoman Megyn Kelly, during her Jan. 31 program, stated: “There is concern today that Mr. Obama could go down in history as the president who lost Egypt, a critical ally of ours in the Middle East, some comparing him to President Jimmy Carter who saw a pro-Western government in Iran fall to radical Islamists on his watch.”
Dick Morris, in his Jan. 30 syndicated column, raised a similar question: “In the 1950s, the accusation ‘who lost China’ resonated throughout American politics and led to the defeat of the Democratic Party in the presidential elections of 1952. Unless President Barack Obama reverses field and strongly opposes letting the Muslim Brotherhood take over Egypt, he will be hit with the modern equivalent of the 1952 question: Who Lost Egypt?”
Setting aside simplistic historical comparisons, what I find revealing about the assertion that Obama lost Egypt is the blatant jingoism.
The phrase “Obama lost Egypt” assumes that Egypt somehow belongs to the United States and therefore can be lost.
But for one nation to lose another nation implies ownership. Just think how ridiculous it would have been after the 2008 U.S. presidential election if world dictators would have started asking, “Who lost the U.S.?”
To lose a nation denies the sovereignty of the nation that is possessed, unable for them to determine their own destiny. Only empires own other nations, and empires always face the threat of losing them.
Obviously, Egypt never really belonged to the United States. However, a codependent relationship did exist. The United States provided tens of billions of dollars in military aid ($1.3 billion in 2010) in return for support in the region. That aid helped keep Mubarak in power, which repressed Egypt’s people. Keeping an autocrat in power for more than 30 years, to the detriment of Egyptians, benefitted U.S. policies in the Middle East. Thus, our history of dancing with dictators when it benefits us continues.
And yet, the Egyptian people, dreaming of liberty in the form of a democracy, wonder why the United States has economically supported despots rather than the huddled masses yearning to be free.
The irony is not lost on them, nor should it be lost on us. The same right-wing media, which have constructed the false narrative of America sliding toward socialism since Obama, are the same folks now asking if Obama lost Egypt.
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I guess in their minds freedom is reserved only for Americans. Everyone else must live under dictatorial regimes so that U.S. economic growth can be enjoyed by an elite few.
Though I am no fan of the Tea Party, I support their constitutional right to assemble and politically organize to bring about change they can believe in. Likewise, we all – the political right and left – should agree that people who peacefully assemble to change their political situation, whether we agree with them or not, should be protected as they exercise sovereignty.
Trusting people with democratic ideals is risky and may not always be in the best interest of U.S. foreign policies. Yet, if we wish to propagate the rhetoric of liberty and justice for all, then we must be willing to stand in solidarity with all revolutionary movements that occur within autocratic regimes.
If the people who establish a new form of government express anti-American sentiments, maybe it can become an opportunity for us to honestly ask why. It might be because our military aid has maintained and sustained the oppression they suffered under authoritarian regimes.
But there is one way Obama might be able not to “lose” Egypt. He can pressure the military to unleash a bloodbath.
But let us hope that we, as a nation, are moving beyond the days when we considered independent nations as ours to own. Let us hope that the days of sending in the military to prop up nations (as was done through gunboat diplomacy) are over.
Let us hope that the days of the CIA overthrowing free and open democracies to install brutal dictators to secure stability (for example, Abenz in Guatemala, Allende in Chile, Mossadegh in Iran) are over.
I fear that the resurgence of neoconservatives and their rhetoric of exceptionalism prefer a United States that functions as an empire rather than the defender of global democratic movements. I fear that the “Obama lost Egypt” discourse masks a dangerous assumption concerning the imperialistic role desired by some (obviously not all) on the radical right.
Miguel A. De La Torre is professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.