The Egyptian people’s rejoicing over the armed forces’ overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood’s looming dictatorship was mixed with…anger at the American people – anger sure to trouble our relations with the Muslim world’s vital center; trouble which our foreign policy establishment richly earned by playing sorcerers’ apprentices in Egyptian politics. This meddling is neither new nor confined to Egypt. Breaking this half-century old destructive habit is essential to restoring our peaceful relations with the rest of mankind.
The Egyptian people have been mired in despotism and poverty since the 1950s. They might have done that all by themselves. But they did not. In 1953 our CIA helped a combination of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Army to overthrow the country’s British-backed constitutional monarchy. Thereafter the Army, under Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser, jailed and hanged the Brotherhood’s leaders and set up a ruinous dictatorship. In 1956, when Nasser seized the Suez Canal (property of Britain and France), excluded Israel from it, and prepared war against it, the US government saved him from Britain’s, France’s, and Israel’s invasion. That meddling resulted in Egypt becoming an ally of the Soviet Union for a generation.
When, in 1975, Nasser’s military expelled the Soviets as their grip was tightening around them, the US government treated what was an act of self-preservation as if it had been a favor to America and began to subsidize the Egyptian military to the tune of some two billion dollars per annum. The military dictators – Anwar Sadat followed by Hosni Mubarak – repaid us by merely refraining from only the worst anti American excesses. They continued to ruin their country, while giving their people the impression that their policies were guided by America. As anti Americanism grew in Egypt, military dictators who were suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood’s domestic activities tacitly encouraged the Islamic extremists to focus their hatred on America.
In 2011, when riots broke out in Cairo against the Mubarak regime, the US government had not learned to leave bad enough alone, and proceeded to make things much worse. Not knowing, or not caring that the previous half century of meddling had reduced the alternative in Egypt only between the Army and the Muslim Brotherhood, the US government encouraged Mubarak’s overthrow. When, despite pious US hopes to the contrary, the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi set about establishing a dictatorship, President Obama supported him publicly. The US Ambassador, Ann Patterson, actively campaigned to dampen popular sentiment against him. In the demonstrations that led to the coup, anti American posters were almost as common as posters denouncing Muslim dictatorship. Our government at work.
The point here is not that our foreign policy ought to aim at making America liked. The proper objective of foreign policy is to make one’s own country respected. No doubt however, sowing additional troubles in troubled nations and reaping anger at America is the very opposite of what our foreign policy ought to be doing. It sows trouble and reaps anger because our ruling class feels itself entitled to meddle in people’s lives from Tennessee to Timbuktu.
Consider: During the month of June, every US embassy in the world celebrated “Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender pride month.” This involves public appearances and publications by US diplomats to identify the United States of America with the cause of said groups in the host societies. There could be no deeper insertion of America into foreign societies’ most intimate parts, and no surer way of making America the focus of millions of foreigners’ anger. While the host country’s peoples are likely to differ on the substantive issues, they are likely united in asking who these Americans think they are to tell us how to live? In not a few countries, legal issues are involved. Pakistan, for example, has a law similar to ones widespread in the US until the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence v Texas, namely that sexual acts “against the order of nature” are punishable by two years’ imprisonment. What good can come from diplomacy defined as meddling?
Not least of the problems with focusing foreign policy on how other peoples govern themselves, i.e. on their business, is that it distracts our attention from that which concerns us: from our business, from securing other governments’ cooperation in matters that concern us. Changing the ways in which others live is impossible. Trying to do it is counterproductive. It is more productive – and safer – to focus on the legitimate ends of foreign affairs.