Thursday, May 26, 2011

U.S. Role in the Arab Counterrevolution

Keep formation; Await further instruction!

This is the fourth article in a series analyzing the Arab Revolution, written by M.R. Shalgooni, writer/analyst/activist with
Raah-e Kargar (Worker's Path). This installment focuses on the role played so far by the U.S. in relation to the Arab Revolution.
[The original article can be read, in Persian,
here. English translation of the first article in the series is available here, the second article is here, and the third here.]

Revolution and Counterrevolution in the Arab World - 4
by Mohammad-Reza Shalgooni / May 22, 2011

When any revolution starts, the ruling political system usually proceeds to turn to more violent and more widespread methods of oppression and crackdown. In other words, every revolution instigates a counterrevolution against itself, and it is in the process of this facing off, this struggle, that the fate of the revolution is determined. It is with reference to this reality that Antonio Gramsci says: Every revolutionary condition/situation is simultaneously a counterrevolutionary situation as well. Therefore, in order to analyze the horizons of a revolution it is not enough to look at who the revolutionary forces are and what they want; additionally, we must consider what forces constitute the counterrevolution and what their plans and capabilities are.

Now, let's look at the forces confronting the Arab Revolution. No doubt, at the moment, the ruling dictatorships and their [paid goons and thugs] as well as their social base are at the forefront of the fight [by counterrevolutionary forces]. However, in a larger frame of reference and on the regional level, American imperialism and its allies, especially Israel and the league of the Arab reaction too are against the revolution and are busy planning to defeat it. Previously (in the second article of this series), I reminded that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries under Saudi Arabian leadership constitute the main counterrevolutionary alliance in the Arab world. In view of the fact that most Arab dictatorships enjoy American support, and that these are regimes that would not survive long without that support, before anything we must look at the policies pursued by the U.S. in relation to the Arab Revolution.

American Public Policy on the Arab Revolution
The spark of the Arab Revolution and especially its speedy spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa took the U.S. too completely by surprise, and naturally has been very frustrating for them. This is because the Arab masses' rebellion has brought into question strategic calculations and strategies of the American empire at a very sensitive time and in a very sensitive region. We must not forget that the Middle East (according to Eisenhower) is "the most important strategic region of the world", and any threats against the American hegemony in the region can have very far-reaching consequences. Also, this revolution has started at a time when the U.S. does not enjoy favorable conditions. First, the global capitalist economic crisis, which started from the U.S. itself, and from under the wreckage of which the U.S. economy has yet to emerge, has created a lot of limitations for the U.S. government, which cannot engage in other interventions (military and non-military) in the Middle East. Second, in view of the increasing vulnerability of the U.S. influence in the Arab world -- especially after the Iraqi occupation and the defeat of the new Middle East plan by neo-cons -- a direct confrontation with the rebellious Arab masses can not only have highly disastrous and unpredictable consequences for the American empire, but will also create more favorable conditions for the radicalization of the Arab rebellions. Third, as a result of the reprehensible Iraqi occupation and after the Af-Pak war has turned into a quagmire for the American military forces, the degree of negative U.S. public opinion against war is currently quite high; however, as a consequence of a direct confrontation with the Arab revolution, this opposition to war would rise rapidly, and this is not something either of the political parties are willing to face, especially considering that the preparations for the 2012 presidential elections are starting up. Also, it must be noted that participation in the violent crackdown of the Arab revolution or overt support of the oppression can no longer be sold to the public opinion of the people in the U.S. or Europe under the old banners of "war on terror" or "fighting the spread of weapons of mass destruction" or "war of civilizations" because this time, the U.S. and its allies are facing mass non-violent movements that started with demands for freedom and against violent and corrupt dictatorships. And finally, we must not forget the role of the Obama administration, which came to power based on the [promise of] "multi-later approach" in foreign policy and promised to have a different approach to the Arab and Muslim world.

All the mentioned factors have forced the American political leaders to avoid as much as possible a policy of direct confrontation with the rebellious Arab masses, and to support indirect, more complex methods of taming [or leashing] the revolution. We saw the first trial of this policy in the Tunisian revolution: as soon as the army refused to obey Ben Ali's orders to shoot on the demonstrators, the political power cracked, and a few days later the Tunisian dictator found out that he had nowhere to hide but in Saudi Arabia. In less than a month later, the same scenario was repeated in Egypt: Hosni Mubarak, who was trying to escape Ben Ali's fate, was fiercely clinging onto his position that he would neither resign nor leave Egyptian soil. However, when the army pulled the rug from under him, and when he would not read his letter of resignation, the letter was given to his vice president to read it in his stead. All signs show that the U.S. government in both Tunisia and Egypt supported the military's moves.

Some believe that it was the [Tunisian and Egyptian] military's reluctance to stand against the Arab people that forced the U.S. to distance itself from Ben Ali and Mubarak. For example, it is said that the refusal by Gen. Rashid Ammar (the chief of staff of the Tunisian army) to obey Ben Ali's orders to crackdown on people was indicative of the differences between Ben Ali and the military establishment going back a long way; even, due to his fear of a military coup, it is said that Ben Ali conspired to sabotage a military helicopter that was carrying Gen. Abdelaziz Skik, then-chief of staff of army, as well as 13 other senior officers in the spring of 2002, causing their deaths [1]. Or, it is stated that military leaders in Egypt had been left out of the privatizations schemes and lavish investments by key factions of the Mubarak regime, and had especially been disgruntled and worried about monopolization of power by Gamal Mubarak (president's son) [2]. However, for a realistic assessment of the unfolding of events in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, we must pay attention to some points:

1. Any doubting of the novelty of the Arab Revolution would inevitably lead one to nothing but senseless conspiracy theories. There is not a shred of doubt that the explosion of the mass rebellions in the Arab world has put the U.S. in a very difficult and unfavorable position. Also, there is no doubt that in fact it was under the pressure of the revolutionary movements that the U.S. was forced to stop its support of these dictators, who had carried out the American policies in the region for decades. Therefore, even if the scenario regarding the conflicts between the Tunisian and Egyptian militaries and Ben Ali and Mubarak is completely true, that still does not explain the support given both militaries by the U.S.

2. It must not be forgotten that the U.S. government did not merely harmonize with the positions taken by the militaries of these two countries, but in both cases gave very clear signals that the continuation of Ben Ali and Mubarak governments was undesirable. Without these signals, it is not likely that they would have been taken down so quickly.

3. There are many indications that the U.S. government was cognizant of the brittle nature of the dictatorships under its protection in the Arab world, and was encouraging them to implement minor reforms and to observe and allow certain appearances of democracy. For example, let us not forget that even George W. Bush was putting pressure on Mubarak to open up the political atmosphere ever so slightly. Also, the Obama administration placed Ben Ali' regime on its 2010 list of regimes suppressing the press and the media. Or, take the speech by Hillary Clinton at the "Forum for the Future" of the Arab nations at Doha [at a regional development conference in the Qatari capital; Jan 13, 2011__ trans. note], exactly one day before Ben Ali fled, which expressed the U.S. government's position. At the same time that she would not even once utter the word "democracy"; while, in response to a direct question on Tunisia, she could not express a single criticism against Ben Ali, and while worshiping Bahrain's achievements in empowering the "civil society", she warned the Arab regimes that if reforms were not instituted, their foundations would sink into the sand! In other words, the U.S. support for a dictatorial regime does not necessarily mean that they consider it the most favorable regime possible for that country, and that they view all their interests [and options] to be beholden to the total support of those regimes.

4. The military establishment of both countries are so deeply intertwined with the Pentagon that it is unlikely that they would pull the rug from under the dictators without having the U.S. government's OK (especially while facing a mass revolution). Particularly the Egyptian military, which has such an important role in the strategic calculations of the Middle East that the U.S. government cannot stay indifferent to any serious shift of positions among its ranks. Another point is that the animosity between the Tunisian military and Ben Ali (even if totally true) cannot be applied to Egypt. Unlike Tunisia, in Egypt through all of the past 59 years, the political power has been effectively in the hands of the military, and Gen. Mohamed Hussein Tantawi (chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt) has been a close friend of Hosni Mubarak since his youth.

5. Most importantly, we can also see that in both countries the military establishment has generally proceeded in harmony with general U.S. policy vis-à-vis the Arab Revolution, and their main objective has been to prevent [or abort when possible] any radicalization of the revolution.

In view of what was said, it seems that in both Tunisia and Egypt it was not the case that the military establishment forced the U.S. to follow their lead and accept a fait accompli, but that rather it was the U.S. that decided to remove the military in both these countries from an all-out confrontation with the millions-strong masses of people, and to keep them intact [as institutions], to be preserved as levers for controlling the situation in the subsequent stages of the revolution. Of course, we must not forget that the start of the revolution and its escalation in Tunisia and Egypt were so sudden and accelerated that they caught Obama's administration completely by surprise. Due to reasons I have already explained, they [American leaders] knew that an all-out confrontation with the millions of rebellious people who have had enough would be hugely costly, and would jeopardize American long-term interests in this very sensitive region. Consequently, while pressing these dictatorships behind closed curtains to avoid blood baths on a mass scale, in the final analysis, they decided that in order to preserve the ruling regimes, they would sacrifice the dictators themselves.

[1] Amy Aisen Kallander : Tunisia’s Post-Ben Ali Challenge: A Primer, MERIP, 26 Jan 2011
[2] Hazem Kandil : Revolt in Egypt; New Left Review; March/April 2011 (No. 68)

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