As one American still ashamed by that comment, let me thank Egypt for such an amazing display of what freedom is about. Congratulations!
May it inspire those of us watching from America to reclaim our own democracy.
Back in 2008, David Rose had a fairly explosive article on Condi Rice and Elliot Abrams’ incompetent meddling in Gaza, which he compared to Iran-Contra. Here’s how I summarized its revelations at the time:
The story explains how the Administration pushed an election for the Palestinians, not seeing what every sane observer saw–that Hamas would win. Immediately after the election, Condi started pressuring Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve Parliament. When he refused, the Administration started backing the Fatah strongman, Mohammad Dahlan, in hopes that he could strengthen Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s security organizations–which had been devastated by Israel during the intifada–sufficiently to overcome Hamas. This set off a civil war between Fatah and Hamas. To end the bloodshed, Saudi’s King Abdullah brokered a national unity government, without warning the US he would do so. In response to Abdullah’s unity government plan, the State Department developed its own $1.27 billion plan, what Hamas considered “a blueprint for a U.S.-backed Fatah coup.” The US handed that plan to Abbas and had him adopt it as if it were his own. Hamas responded by taking over Gaza and capturing the Egyptian weapons intended to strengthen Fatah.
Central to the whole story is how the State Department could have been so stupid as not to see that Hamas would win a democratic election in Gaza in 2006.
Elections for the Palestinian parliament, known officially as the Legislative Council, were originally set for July 2005, but later postponed by Abbas until January 2006.Dahlan says he warned his friends in the Bush administration that Fatah still wasn’t ready for elections in January. Decades of self-preservationist rule by Arafat had turned the party into a symbol of corruption and inefficiency—a perception Hamas found it easy to exploit. Splits within Fatah weakened its position further: in many places, a single Hamas candidate ran against several from Fatah.
“Everyone was against the elections,” Dahlan says. Everyone except Bush. “Bush decided, ‘I need an election. I want elections in the Palestinian Authority.’ Everyone is following him in the American administration, and everyone is nagging Abbas, telling him, ‘The president wants elections.’ Fine. For what purpose?”
The elections went forward as scheduled. On January 25, Hamas won 56 percent of the seats in the Legislative Council.
Few inside the U.S. administration had predicted the result, and there was no contingency plan to deal with it. “I’ve asked why nobody saw it coming,” Condoleezza Rice told reporters. “I don’t know anyone who wasn’t caught off guard by Hamas’s strong showing.”
“Everyone blamed everyone else,” says an official with the Department of Defense. “We sat there in the Pentagon and said, ‘Who the fuck recommended this?’”
But a Wikileaks cable released by Aftenposten may explain why State was taken by surprised.
They may have thought the election itself wouldn’t happen.
On Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told attendees at a security conference that our torturer, Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman, should manage the transition to democracy in Egypt.
She backed off that stance yesterday.
On flight home from Germany, Secy of State Clinton says “we cannot and would not try to dictate any outcome” in Egypt.
Clinton says “I am no expert on the Egyptian constitution,” but if Mubarak resigns, presidential elections would have to be held in 60 days.
#SecClinton today: The transition to #democracy (in #Egypt and elsewhere) will only work if it is deliberate, inclusive and transparent.
Wisner is a lobbyist for Patton Boggs, representing the Government of Egypt.
PJ [Crowley] would have been better served to say somsething like, “having utterly failed in his mission for his country, Wisner has gone back to his day job pushing whatever policy his clients think, regardless of its benefit to America.”
Here’s Fisk’s explanation.
The US State Department and Mr Wisner himself have now both claimed that his remarks were made in a “personal capacity”. But there is nothing “personal” about Mr Wisner’s connections with the litigation firm Patton Boggs, which openly boasts that it advises “the Egyptian military, the Egyptian Economic Development Agency, and has handled arbitrations and litigation on the [Mubarak] government’s behalf in Europe and the US”. Oddly, not a single journalist raised this extraordinary connection with US government officials – nor the blatant conflict of interest it appears to represent.
Patton Boggs states that its attorneys “represent some of the leading Egyptian commercial families and their companies” and “have been involved in oil and gas and telecommunications infrastructure projects on their behalf”. One of its partners served as chairman of the US-Egyptian Chamber of Commerce promoting foreign investment in the Egyptian economy. The company has also managed contractor disputes in military-sales agreements arising under the US Foreign Military Sales Act. Washington gives around $1.3bn (£800m) a year to the Egyptian military.
The key to understanding Omar Suleiman’s statement claiming there is “consensus” in how to move forward in Egypt is to see how he redefines the crisis from being caused by legitimate grievances voiced by the “youth” involved in protests into a lack of security caused by the protests.
All participants of the dialogue arrived at a consensus to express their appreciation and respect for the 25 January movement and on the need to deal seriously, expeditiously and honestly with the current crisis that the nation is facing, the legitimate demands of the youth of 25 January and society’s political forces, with full consideration and a commitment to constitutional legitimacy in confronting the challenges and dangers faced by Egypt as result of this crisis, including: The lack of security for the populace; disturbances to daily life; the paralysis of by public services; the suspension of education at universities and schools; the logistical delays in the delivery of essential goods to the population; the damages to and losses of the Egyptian economy; the attempts at foreign intervention into purely Egyptian affairs and breaches of security by foreign elements working to undermine stability in implementation of their plots, while recognizing that the 25 January movement is a honorable and patriotic movement. [my emphasis]
This paragraph starts out by hailing the January 25 movement, but then says there is consensus that Egypt must both deal with the “legitimate” demands of the movement and “confront the challenges and dangers faced by Egypt as result of this crisis.” Fully half the paragraph lists the perceived threats to security “caused” by the uprising. Predictably, Suleiman doesn’t include police attacks on unarmed citizens among those threats to security.
In other words, Suleiman is saying, “The January 25 movement is honorable, but they have hurt the security of the nation, so the solution largely consists of responding to the threat to security they represent.”
This allows Suleiman to promise that no one will be persecuted for political activities–indeed, “prisoners of conscience” will be released.
2. The Government announces the establishment of a bureau to receive complaints regarding, and commits to immediately release, prisoners of conscience of all persuasions. The Government commits itself to not pursuing them or limiting their ability to engage in political activity.
Which would seem to be an attempt to convince protesters they won’t be prosecuted if they demobilize.
Except that Suleiman makes four different promises to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the alleged breakdown of national security (as defined by Suleiman, not by the protesters):
6. Pursuit of corruption, and an investigation into those behind the breakdown of security in line with the law
7. Restoring the security and stability of the nation, and tasking the police forces to resume their role in serving and protecting the people.
4. Supervisory and judiciary agencies will be tasked with continuing to pursue persons implicated in corruption, as well as pursuing and holding accountable persons responsible for the recent breakdown in security.
5. The state of emergency will be lifted based on the security situation and an end to the threats to the security of society
Along with an implicit promise to use the military to crack down on those who threaten national security.
In addition, all participants in the dialogue saluted the patriotic and loyal role played by our Armed Forces at this sensitive time, and affirmed their aspirations for a continuation of that role to restore of calm, security and stability, and to guarantee the implementation and of the consensus and understandings that result from the meetings of the national dialogue.
The key in all of this is bullet 5 quoted above: the “state of emergency” (and with it the emergency law that limits freedom of assembly and provides alternative legal processes) will only be lifted after “threats to the security of society” have ended. This is contrary to some of the reports that Suleiman had agreed to lift the emergency law that have come out of these meetings. Suleiman has described the protests as being part of the problem, and agreed to lift the emergency only after that problem has been investigated and held accountable. The one exception–his promise to liberalize the media–is limited by his depiction of foreign interference in Egyptian affairs, seeing to suggest foreign media will still be targeted.
In other words, having redefined the protests as the direct cause of the breakdown in security (even quoting Hosni Mubarak’s February 1 speech that did the same), Suleiman has all but promised to use the emergency law to prosecute those who caused that breakdown in security.
I guess that’s just about what we should expect from our torturer.
Update: Mohamed el Baradei has released a statement in response. He is not impressed.
Egyptian opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei slammed fledgling negotiations on Egypt’s future on Sunday and said he was not invited to the talks.
The Nobel Peace laureate said weekend talks with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman were managed by the same people who had ruled the country for 30 years and lack credibility. He said the negotiations were not a step toward the change protesters have demanded in 12 days of demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
“The process is opaque. Nobody knows who is talking to whom at this stage,” ElBaradei, the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton today signalled how far the US has swung its support behind vice-president Omar Suleiman and the transition process he is leading in Egypt.
Clinton was speaking at a security conference in Munich today, where the watchword on Egypt was the need for orderly transition.
In her most striking remarks, the US secretary of state said: “There are forces at work in any society, particularly one that is facing these kind of challenges, that will try to derail or overtake the process to pursue their own agenda, which is why I think it’s important to follow the transition process announced by the Egyptian government, actually headed by vice-president Omar Suleiman.”
This, just hours after Obama reiterated that “it’s not up to us” to determine the future of Egypt.
See the FT for an even more detailed description of Hillary’s address.
Meanwhile, our government appears to be the only entity–aside from Fox News–pushing a totally unconfirmed report that Hillary’s choice to lead Egypt’s “democracy” survived an assassination attempt the other day.
I first learned about the rumor when David Corn reacted on Twitter to a Fox reporter asking about it.
Q: Do you know anything about assassination attempt on #Egypt VP? G: I’m not going to get into that question.//Huh?
I found Robert Gibbs’ response (at least as Corn captured it–the WH has not released a transcript) fascinating. You would think if Gibbs knew the allegation was false, he’d say so in no uncertain terms. If he didn’t know about it, he’d tell reporters he’d get back to them on it. But instead, “I’m not going to get into that question.”
Which is not dissimilar from the way Hillary used this alleged assassination attempt in Munich. In spite of the fact that only Fox has reported it in the US, the German diplomat who at one point seemed to confirm subsequently retracted it, and an Egyptian official has denied it, Hillary used the alleged assassination to support her case that stability is key in the transition to Egyptian “democracy.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the conference that the news of the assassination attempt reflects the challenges of restoring stability in Egypt.
While I haven’t found a direct transcription of this yet, it appears that, like Gibbs, Hillary acknowledged the existence of an “assassination plot” that only Fox seems to know exists, without directly confirming it, and then used it to emphasize how the danger of such things demonstrates the need for our torturer to oversee a stable transition in Egypt.
I’m having a bit of deja vu this morning. Last time I remember these kinds of linguistic tricks, Dick Cheney and George Bush were using them to convince us to forcibly impose democracy on Iraq in 2002-2003.
As I noted in my last post, DiFi is accusing the intelligence community of having missed the potential volatility of Middle Eastern unrest because they’ve been paying too little attention to social media.
So I decided to check the WikiLeaks State cables to see whether DiFi’s complaint bears out.
Obviously, this is a totally insufficient test. Not only is State not the primary member of the intelligence community that should be tracking these things, we have no idea how representative the cables are of all State communication. (Though there are obviously intelligence community members working under official cover at the Embassy, and one would hope a good deal of our specialists on any particular country’s dialects are stationed in that country.) Nevertheless, it gives an idea of how attentively our Embassies track opposition viewpoints expressed in social media, and how they view social media as a source of information.
And DiFi may well be right.
There are just 14 WikiLeak cables in this database mentioning both Egypt and bloggers (out of 325 that mention Egypt) but just one–dated March 30, 2009–that talks in detail about the actual content of blogs rather than Mubarak’s persecution of them as a human rights issue. (This cable notes that bloggers and other journalists cover torture complaints and a few others refer to specific types of bloggers being persecuted.) The March 30 cable assesses,
KEY POINTS —
(C) Egypt’s bloggers are playing an increasingly important role in broadening the scope of acceptable political and social discourse, and self-expression. –
(C) Bloggers’ discussions of sensitive issues, such as sexual harassment, sectarian tension and the military, represent a significant change from five years ago, and have influenced society and the media. –
(C) The role of bloggers as a cohesive activist movement has largely disappeared, due to a more restrictive political climate, GOE counter-measures, and tensions among bloggers. –
(C) However, individual bloggers have continued to work to expose problems such as police brutality and corporate malfeasance.
(C) Egypt has an estimated 160,000 bloggers who write in Arabic, and sometimes in English, about a wide variety of topics, from social life to politics to literature. One can view posts ranging from videos of alleged police brutality (ref B), to comments about the GOE’s foreign policy, to complaints about separate lines for men and women in government offices distributing drivers’ licenses. One NGO contact estimated for us that a solid majority of bloggers are between 20 and 35 years old, and that about 30 percent of blogs focus on politics. Blogs have spread throughout the population to become vehicles for a wide range of activists, students, journalists and ordinary citizens to express their views on almost any issue they choose. As such, the blogs have significantly broadened the range of topics that Egyptians are able to discuss publicly.
It’s not clear whether anyone at the Embassy made an independent assessment of the blogs themselves; the cable is heavily reliant on the viewpoints of at least three different sources, as well as the comments of “two young upper middle-class bloggers” and one female political blogger not identified demographically.
Meanwhile, just 5 cables mention both Facebook and Egypt (two cables appear in both searches). Two of these cables simply count the growing number of Mohamed el Baradei Facebook fans. One of them–an April 16, 2008 cable titled, “Mahalla Riots: Isolated Incident or Tip of an Iceberg?” and reviewing the April 6, 2008 events–probably should have alerted US authorities to track Facebook more closely.
(C) April 6 brought together disparate opposition forces together with numerous non-activist Egyptians, with the Facebook calls for a strike attracting 70,000 people on-line, and garnering widespread national attention. The nexus of the upper and middle-class Facebook users, and their poorer counterparts in the factories of Mahalla, craeated a new dynamic. One senior insider mused, “Who could have imagined that a few kids on the internet could foment a buzz that the entire country noticed? I wish we could do that in the National Democratic Party.”
Though the reference to the “senior insider” complaining that Egypt’s NDP couldn’t foment as much buzz as “a few kids on the internet” suggests the assessment of the importance of Facebook to the movement may have come from Egyptians, not from any analysis conducted in the Embassy itself.
Just as tellingly, most of the 7 cables on Egypt and April 6 are among those that discuss social media (that is, State knew or should have known that social media was an important tool for the April 6 movement).
Meanwhile, it’s even worse for Tunisia. Just one cable (out of 81) mentions Tunisia and either blogger or Facebook–and that’s a report on the Embassy’s own use of Facebook!
At least in the case of Egypt, the Embassy had both warning that Mubarak’s government considers bloggers enough of a threat to persecute, as well as some sense that social media has served an organizing function.
Yet even with that warning, Embassy staffers don’t appear to have spent much time learning from social media.
That’s the question NSC spokesperson Tommy Vietor used yesterday to deflect Senate Intelligence Committee concerns that the Administration was taken by surprise by the events in Egypt.
Did anyone in the world know in advance that a fruit vendor in Tunisia was going to light himself on fire and start a revolution? No. But for decades, the intelligence community and diplomats have been reporting on unrest in the region that was a result of economic, demographic and political conditions.
That’s pretty much the answer Stephanie O’Sullivan gave to the committee as they grilled her yesterday (though without the snide reference to Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian whose self-immolation sparked the uprising there).
“We warned of instability,” said Stephanie O’Sullivan, who has been nominated to become the nation’s No. 2 intelligence official. The hearing was on her nomination to be principal deputy director of the Office of Director of National Intelligence. But, she added, “we didn’t know what the triggering mechanism would be.”
It’s also what Paul Pillar told Spencer about warnings of the Egyptian uprising.
“The ingredients of upheaval were there for a long time,” says Paul Pillar, who was the intelligence community’s top Mideast analyst from 2000 to 2005, “but it was impossible to predict in advance what particular catalyzing events would set stuff off.”
But that response doesn’t address three issues.
First, there’s DiFi’s complaint that the intelligence community was not monitoring open source resources to track the Egyptian opposition.
Feinstein set a skeptical tone at the opening of the hearing, saying Obama and other policymakers deserved timely intelligence on major world events. Referring to Egypt, she said, “I have doubts whether the intelligence community lived up to its obligations in this area.”
After the hearing, Feinstein said she was particularly concerned that the CIA and other agencies had ignored open-source intelligence on the protests, a reference to posts on Facebook and other publicly accessible Web sites used by organizers of the protests against the Mubarak government.
Speaking more broadly about intelligence on turmoil in the Middle East, Feinstein said, “I’ve looked at some intelligence in this area.” She described it as “lacking . . . on collection.”
Our intelligence community makes a great deal of effort to track the public internet communications of Islamic extremists. But DiFi suggests they’re not doing the same to track potential sources of instability around the world. In my next post, I’ll show that she may have a point.
In addition, the response that the intelligence community can’t predict when a fruit vendor will self-immolate and with it light up the whole Middle East ignores a point that Pillar admitted.
At the same time, the CIA is really, really close to its Egyptian counterparts. It relied on Egypt’s spymaster, now Mubarak’s vice president, to carry out a torture program against terrorist suspects. But Pillar denies that closeness led the CIA to rely on rosy pictures of a stable country provided by Egypt’s spies.“They take with grain of salt what [Egyptian spies] have to say,” Pillar says. “Anybody in the State Department or intelligence community following a country like Egypt is highly conscious of that as an occupational hazard. That doesn’t mean necessarily that they have great sources inside an opposition movement, but they’re aware of this as a potential shortcoming.” [my emphasis]
Pillar admits that we didn’t necessarily have great sources within the opposition movement. And he may be suggesting that that is because of our particularly close ties to Egypt’s intelligence services and thugs like Omar Suleiman. Particularly if DiFi’s complaint about not tracking social media is correct, that’s sort of going to make it hard to predict a revolution.
Finally (and this is a point as salient for the complaining Senators as for the intelligence community), what if we did know people were talking about a revolution? What would we have done?
Given the Administration’s caution about dispensing of its ally Mubarak (something I’m not terribly surprised about), what do the Senators really think we would have done, as a country, had we thought Mubarak’s rule was unstable? Egypt has been such a cornerstone of our foreign policy for so long, I highly doubt it would have changed our policy of gently trying to nudge Mubarak to reform without trying to offend him.
The WSJ has a fascinating narrative of how both the US and Mubarak’s government were utterly unprepared for a democratic revolution in Egypt. From a meeting two months ago at which Egypt again refused democratic reforms, after which Hillary declared Egypt to be the “cornerstone of stability and security in the Middle East and beyond,” to a meeting on Monday when when a Middle East expert asked Obama’s National Security Council, “Please tell me you have contingencies in case Mubarak’s regime collapses” (the NSC said they did not), our government’s certainty that it could depend on the status quo generally and Egypt specifically has utterly collapsed.
And it was not just the government generally; predictably, the intelligence services paid to anticipate such events had no idea it would happen, either. Just one week ago, the new head of Israel’s military intelligence, Major General Aviv Kochavi, echoed Clinton’s earlier certitude that Egyptian would remain stable.
…on January 25, the day when massive protests first erupted across Egypt, Major General Aviv Kochavi, newly appointed head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, told a Knesset committee that “there are no doubts about the stability of the regime in Egypt”…
And while he’s predictably using the observation to demagogue, Crazy Pete Hoekstra ascribes the surprise to same kind of group think that has long plagued our intelligence analysis.
We were blind sided on Egypt. Problem is group think and risk aversion in state/intel community!
Part of the problem may be that US intelligence services rely more on the Egyptian government than on talking to opposition figures directly.
For years, the US Central Intelligence Agency has worked closely with the Egyptian security establishment in the contentious context of Washington’s “war on terrorism”. But it is unlikely that the CIA has been as meticulous in developing trustworthy contacts inside Egypt’s fragmented but dynamic and energized Egyptian opposition. The latter, whether religious or secular, is naturally distrustful of American officials, whom it sees as longtime supporters of the dictatorial rule of President Mubarak, in the interests of what US Vice President Joe Biden has called “geopolitical interests in the region”.
But that’s definitely not the whole of the problem. As Wikileaks revealed, we know our government met with a youth activist in 2008, as well as other NGOs. Yet embassy officials deemed that activist’s assessment that the opposition would have to replace Hosni Mubarak with a parliamentary government before the 2011 elections to be “highly unrealistic, and  not supported by the mainstream opposition.” (Dismissing the activist’s claims so easily undoubtedly also made it easier to dismiss the suggestion that the US should pressure Mubarak “by threatening to reveal information about GOE officials’ alleged ‘illegal’ off-shore bank accounts.”)
It appears, then, that the US has met with some of these activists; it just apparently dismissed them as a bunch of naive youth.
This column by Robert Grenier is stunning not because of its content–I agree with just about all of it–but because of who Grenier is. As the CIA’s Iraq Mission Manager in 2002-2004 and then head of CIA’s CounterTerrorism Center in 2004-2006, he had to have been intimately involved with many US efforts in the Middle East (including, undoubtedly, partnering with Hosni Mubarak’s newly appointed Vice President, Omar Suleiman, on things like renditions and interrogation).
Events in the Middle East have slipped away from us. Having long since opted in favour of political stability over the risks and uncertainties of democracy, having told ourselves that the people of the region are not ready to shoulder the burdens of freedom, having stressed that the necessary underpinnings of self-government go well beyond mere elections, suddenly the US has nothing it can credibly say as people take to the streets to try to seize control of their collective destiny.
All the US can do is “watch and respond”, trying to make the best of what it transparently regards as a bad situation.
Our words betray us. US spokesmen stress the protesters’ desire for jobs and for economic opportunity, as though that were the full extent of their aspirations. They entreat the wobbling, repressive governments in the region to “respect civil society”, and the right of the people to protest peacefully, as though these thoroughly discredited autocrats were actually capable of reform.
They urge calm and restraint. One listens in vain, however, for a ringing endorsement of freedom, or for a statement of encouragement to those willing to risk everything to assert their rights and their human dignity – values which the US nominally regards as universal.
Yes, it must be acknowledged that the US has limited influence, even over regimes with which it is aligned and which benefit from US largess. And yes, a great power has competing practical interests – be those a desire for counter-terrorism assistance, or for promotion of regional peace – which it must balance, at least in the short term, against a more idealistic commitment to democracy and universal values.
But there are two things which must be stressed in this regard.
The first is the extent to which successive US administrations have consistently betrayed a lack of faith in the efficacy of America’s democratic creed, the extent to which the US government has denied the essentially moderating influence of democratic accountability to the people, whether in Algeria in 1992 or in Palestine in 2006.
The failure of the US to uphold its stated commitment to democratic values therefore goes beyond a simple surface hypocrisy, beyond the exigencies of great-power interests, to suggest a fundamental lack of belief in democracy as a means of promoting enlightened, long-term US interests in peace and stability.
The second is the extent to which the US has simply become irrelevant in the Middle East. [my emphasis]
As you’ll recall, Porter Goss and Jose Rodriguez fired Robert Grenier in early 2006, reportedly for being soft on torture. Grenier is also one of the CIA people who “remembered” details of the Plame leak after the fact, in July 2005, and testified at the Libby trial.
Not only does this column condemn many of the interventions in Pakistan, Iraq, and the Middle East generally in which Grenier was personally involved. But it suggests one reason behind his removal at the CTC may be a very American devotion to democracy.