Sunday, February 07, 2010

Flynt Leverett: Please never, ever express hope that Iran should follow the example of Egypt's Sadat again

It is an unfortunate reality that the US foreign policy establishment, from left to right, sees Egypt's dictatorship as a good thing. Good thing may not be strong enough. The US foreign policy establishment sees Egypt's pro-Israel dictatorship as possibly the most positive foreign policy outcome of its generation - certainly the most positive foreign policy outcome in the Middle East in recent history.

The over 60 million Egyptians who live under this colonial dictatorship with no leverage that could be used to hold their government accountable (Mubarak is accountable to Israel's AIPAC lobby through the US Congress but not to the people of Egypt) and all of whose civil rights are indefinitely suspended are of no importance compared to the security the dictatorship gives to a majority state for around 5 million Jewish people living in Palestine.

Barack Obama spelled this out clearly in June 2009. Flynt Leverett spells it out clearly in a discussion about Iran's domestic politics earlier this month: (In embedded video above.)
[13:01] Second argument I want to take on is that this government is too ideologically anti-American, or that more particularly, that there’s something about President Ahmadinejad, that he’s too ideological, too anti-Israeli, too hardline, too this or that to be a serious negotiating partner for the United States

[13:20] And we’re happy to talk more about Ahmadinejad and his views on foreign policy and why I think it’s going to be important to engage the system in Iran and that system is going to include its elected president

[13:37] But let me just end with another historical analogy.

[13:43] In the early 1970s Anwar Sadat was widely viewed, in Egypt as well as abroad, as an extremely weak, not very capable leader. He was widely derided in Egypt at the time of his succession as Nasser’s poodle, the wholly inadequate successor to the great man who had proceeded him as President of Egypt. He was in his attitudes anti-Israel. He could be quite anti-Semitic, rhetorically, and he launched an aggressive war in 1973 to avenge Egypt's defeat in the 1967 war.

[14:37] But Sadat was open to strategic realignment with the United States. And that realignment and the Camp David peace accord that facilitated it has been not just an enormous boon to the United States’ position in the region, it is the biggest boon to Israel’s position in the region since the founding of the state of Israel.

[15:02] It took Egypt out of the Arab Israeli military picture and made a generalized Arab-Israeli war of the of the sort that we had seen previously in '73, '67 and before that and has rendered that impossible.

[15:17] Think about what a US/Iranian breakthrough would mean for the United States. Think about what it would mean for stability of this critical region. And then ask yourself what you really know about Iranian domestic politics.
This segment was delivered in a presentation about evidence regarding the size and popularity of Iran's protesting opposition. As has been apparent for months now, the presentation further confirms that no evidence exists that the opposition has as much or more popular support than Iran's government.

But with Leverett expressing hope that Iran should, for the sake of Israel's strategic position - what he terms "the stability of the region" - follow the path of Egypt (which is of course, also the path of Iran's Shah), he reduces the differences between himself and his more virulent anti-Iranian colleagues in the US foreign policy establishment to mere tactical disputes.

Like Obama earlier, I'm stunned and for the same reason. Even if Leverett really feels this way, I'm shocked that he is so detached from what to me are the immediately obvious ramifications of his words that he could just deliver them casually as he does here.


lidia said...

Arnold, to told you the truth, I am still surprised that you could see things that Cole and Leverett could not! Of course, if one is PAID not to see some things...But there is more, much more. I know, as a Marxist, that it is called class interests and is a very logical behavior, but still...

Anonymous said...

You're being too tough on FL. The comparison with Sadat is apt. Egypt's shift was a strateigic boon for Israel. Similarly the US has the opportunity to redefine it's strategic relationship with Iran, which would be game changer on may chess boards. Flynt is urging the US establishment to seize this opportunity to change things in the US's own favor, not Israels. Such a move would as earth shattering on a global scale as Egypt's capitulation was on a local scale. It is a very smart comparison. FL also implies that such a shift, resulting in the US and Iran being on the same pages could result in decreased tension between Israel and Iran, however he wisely stops short of explicitly predicting this. I don't really see much of a chance of Iran abandoning it's friend in the Levant and Palestine, those relationships took a long time to forge and are much more valuable to it and the US/Israel won't have much to offer in return. However, Iran can play the same roll in those two areas as it is currently playing in Iraq and central asia, eg ensure solutions are kept in the political arena and don't bleed over to needless slaughter. As the logic of a one state solution becomes more compelling, the value of such a partner will become clearer to the West. But when you're trying to sell this policy to an audience sympathetic to Israel, it's best not to get bogged down in such minutiae.


Arnold Evans said...

Lidia: Thank you so much for how supportive you often are of this blog. Even when you find things I get wrong, you've been very encouraging and caused me to write more.

Masoud: My point is that the people of Egypt pay a heavy price for the strategic boon Sadat and Mubarak have given Israel and the US in its role as Israel's supporter.

To read Obama or Leverett talk about Mubarak or Sadat in terms as favorable as they do indicates a lack of concern about the far larger number of people who live under the Egyptian dictatorship that I find surprising and offensive.

Here's the thing. Sadat capitulated to US regional demands. (Did you hear the tone of sarcasm in Leverett's voice when claiming Sadat was called a poodle compared to Nasser the great man? Didn't that jar you, when he went on to describe the fullness of Sadat's capitulation to the US? How can Leverett not see how completely he's justifying the labels he describes for both Nasser and Sadat).

Anyway, now that Sadat capitulated and allowed the US enough influence to select Mubarak as his successor, Egypt will never have a fair election again if the US can help it. The US is always going to choose Egypt's leaders who will serve for life.

I find that shocking and outrageous when drawn parallel to what Leverett obviously would consider a good outcome (and good is not strong enough - historically good, one of the best outcomes in the region ever) for Iran.

I can not see how anyone can read that excerpt and not conclude that Leverett would advocate the restoration of the Shah or the imposition of an equivalent.

Since Leverett is a liberal, it shows the vastness of the distortion of Western perception of the region.

In 2010, when an Iranian deals with a mainstream American, regardless of where from in America's political spectrum, that Iranian is dealing with someone whose only problem with re-imposing a pro-US, pro-Israel dictator over Iran is that it is unfortunately not feasible.

I'm very disappointed when I see that.

lidia said...

Arnold, I found your blog very interesting and a jolt of frash air, and are glad to be of help. Everybody could mistake, but, as a classical Russian writer put it, one mistakes like 2+2=5, and another like 2+2= a stearin candle!
You are surely making mistakes of the first kind :)

Lysander said...

I too am a big fan of your blog and have been since the start. On this point you are quite right. The realists would love to have Iran governed by the Shah, but understand it isn't possible so they're ready to move on to plan b. Which, I think, is to gradually coopt the current Iranian government into a more pro western format. That may or may not be possible, but from the west's POV its worth a try.

In Egypt's case, I don't know if Sadat set off intending to surrender. He was looking at the perspective of Egypt, which was in dire economic conditions at the time (of course, it still is) and thought that a peace deal would be beneficial. He was mistaken. But I don't think he was anything like Mubarak is today.

Even Mubarak was not always Mubarak. In the 1980's he was much more independent than today. I suspect that was because the existence of the USSR gave him another plausible patron and therefore leverage against the US.

Which brings me to a serious difference between Egypt and Iran. The two countries are not in the same league. Egypt simply could not survive the economic sanctions that Iran can. It needs a patron for economic support. If not the US then the USSR or Saudi Arabia. Any president of Egypt would have to be aware of that.

Anonymous said...

Hi Arnold,

I can see how you can be dissapointed in FL. I agree with completely about Sadat and Mubarak(and El Baradei) being embarassments to Egypt. I don't know much about you, beyond what you write on these pages, but if I had to wager a guess i'd say we probably hold very similar views on a wide variety of subjects, so many in fact that enumerating our areas of agreement one be little more than an exercise in repetitive tedium. I hope my preference for compositional brevity isn't misinterpreted.

About the Leverts: my initial assumption about any employee or advisor to the US government is that any of them would in the bat of an eye murder every single Iranian man woman and child just to feast on the carcasses, if they beleived that it would be to the net benefit of the US or their personal interest group, and if they beleived they could get away with it. So the praise of Sadat(or more accurately, the subjugation of Sadat and Egypt to American and Israeli interests), doens't come as a shock to me. Maybe it's because I in no way identify as 'American' or 'Western', and have no expectation, however implicit of a basic level of in these people fairness.

People who's careers are dedicated to the advancement of American power, whether neo conservative, liberal, realist or anything in between, should be seen in the same light as most lawyers are: the question of whether or not they have a consicence is irrelevant, because if they ever did they've obviously trained themselves to supress or contain it, otherwise they would be in a different field. It would simply be unfair to expect anything less.

That said, it's important to acknowledge when one of these people comes up with an effective argument for a benefical(from a 'moral' point of view) outcome. And, taking the Leverett's main audience into consideration, FL has to be given credit for coming up with a wpper. It's not something you'd put forth at Fifth Socialist International, but it is something congressmen can put forth to the Christian-Zionist demographics in the upcoming midterm elections.

Keep up the great work,


Anonymous said...

Sorry about all the ridiculous typos. I really should get into the habit of proof reading my work.

Arnold Evans said...

Masoud: Thanks for all the feedback you give me. I'm sure this is a much better blog than it would be if you hadn't been here.