This week, television news has been filled with graphic images of violence and turmoil as Egyptians who want to toss President Hosni Mubarak out of office have clashed with pro-Mubarak supporters in the streets of Cairo.
Protesters riding camels and swinging clubs at the heads of opponents made the surreal scene seem a bit like Lawrence of Arabia meets The Running Man.
The whole dust-up has been coated with a vicious layer of anti-American sentiment. While American tourists fled for safety, American press poured in to cover the action (and then, untypically, joined the fleeing tourists).
Back home, television pundits and politicians took all those images to heart and worried aloud about the role the Muslim Brotherhood was playing in the violence in Cairo. Over and over again, Hosni Mubarak was described as a dictator running a totalitarian police state, but nevertheless “the devil we know.”
And therein lies the rub. The pattern of repeatedly dealing with the devil we know seems to be a glaring institutional flaw in American foreign policy.
The devil you know is still the devil.
History repeats itself
On August 3, 1969, Richard Nixon became the first American president to set foot on Romanian soil. He spoke glowingly of Romania’s president, Nicolae Ceausescu, and promised to open an embassy in Bucharest.
Nixon saw Ceausescu as a socialist who was independent of the Kremlin. The visit was an effort to advance Romania’s open-door policy towards the United States. The relationship with Ceausescu benefitted Nixon in fighting the Cold War and bettered relations with other Warsaw Pact countries.
Late in Nixon’s second term, he gave the Romanian president a Buick Electra 225 as a state gift.
The Nixon White House (and those that followed) ignored the fact that Ceausescu prospered while his people wallowed in poverty. His private police, the Securitate, were vicious thugs.
But Romania remained friendly to the United States. So, for two decades, our leaders politely ignored the fact that Ceausescu’s reign brought terror and suffering to the common people of Romania.
Twenty years after Nixon’s visit, in December of 1989, a popular revolt led to the overthrow of the government. Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were executed.
The Buick Electra was sold at auction in 1999.
There is something that needs to change here, and it is not just Hosni Mubarak. It is, in fact, US foreign policy. It is time for the United States of America to accept the fact that we suck at nation-building.
We cannot support countries led by despots whose actions would never be accepted by our own people and simultaneously expect the world to give credence to our rhetoric about freedom and democracy.
The United States needs to either: a) quit propping up every tin-pot dictator in the world on the false hope that purchasing American goods and services will make a difference in the lives of their oppressed people, or b) quit crying crocodile tears when groups like the Muslim Brotherhood incite victorious revolutions.
Egypt has been under a formal “state of emergency” since Mubarak came to power following the assassination of Anwar Sadat. This has allowed him to imprison his political opponents without any due process and restrict the personal freedom of Egyptians.
Americans would never put up with these restrictions. We would rebel. Why do we expect others to comply?
It should not be a surprise that Mubarak is going the way of Ceausescu … or the shah of Iran … or Noreiga … or Marcos … or …
And it should not be a surprise that the hypocrisy of American foreign policy continues to undermine our credibility around the world.
Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at book stores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny, has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.