“Democracy promotion” and regime change in the Middle East
The arrest and pending trial of foreign “democracy activists” in Egypt on charges they violated laws prohibiting funding by foreign governments of NGOs has caused an uproar in Washington. Secretary of state Hillary Clinton has publicly warned Cairo this endangers the $1.55 billion in aid the US is supposed to shell out this year, but the Egyptians don’t seem all that impressed. “The government will not hesitate to expose foreign schemes that threaten the stability of the homeland,” said Ms. Abu el-Naga speaking on behalf of the Egyptian government. Al Ahram, the state newspaper, reporting on this, added “she is betting on the true essence of the Egyptian people to come together during crisis.”
And they are making a very good bet, since the American government is widely reviled in Egypt for supporting dictator Hosni Mubarak all those years: indeed, the indignant Hillary supported him up until the very last moment, even as Egyptians of all persuasions were pouring into the streets demanding his resignation – and his head.
In America, restrictions on foreign funding of political groups and nonprofit institutions is even stricter than in Egypt. Nonprofits acting as conduits for foreign money in the US must register as agents of a foreign power, and detail their activities and all interactions with foreign nationals and governments.
In short, the US adheres to one standard within its own borders, but disallows those same standards when applied to itself overseas. This is typical behavior for Washington, and just one of the reasons why we’re hated everywhere we go. The State Department portrays the crackdown as an attempt by the military junta to cling to power in spite of a pledge to yield to a democratically elected government, and yet according to the New York Times even the “human rights” groups on the US dole say:
“[T]hey believe the ruling generals may genuinely suspect what they have described as ‘foreign hands’ stirring up trouble on the street. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the subject, a former general close to the ruling military council insisted that Washington was indeed seeking to destabilize Egypt by financing these groups.”
What if a foreign government decided that American election laws are “undemocratic” because, for example, they effectively disallow third parties, and are routinely manipulated by incumbents to ensure their reelection – and decided to massively fund a campaign to change those laws? They would be shut down quickly, of that there can be little doubt. To say nothing of foreign entities funding violent street demonstrations, as US-funded NGOs have done in the case of various “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. How many Muslim and Arab charities have been raided in the US, their leaders prosecuted on “terrorism” charges? Yet when the Egyptians did the same in their own country, the Americans pointed to this as an attack on “civil society.”
Under the rubric of the National Endowment for Democracy, and USAID, Washington ships billions of US tax dollars overseas to promote the work of government-funded NGOs, in effect creating the American equivalent of the old Soviet Comintern. With its agents ensconced in “civil society” all over the world, Washington uses these groups to pursue its foreign policy agenda of “regime change” in countries whose rulers are insufficiently subservient to American aims. We saw this during the Bush era, when various “color revolutions” from Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan were sparked by US-funded –and-trained groups. The US strategy is clearly to co-opt rather than oppose the revolutionary upsurge and use it as a means to advance American interests in the region, but this raises two questions:
1) Who and what are we backing, and 2) Is this a boon or a bane for those suffering under the dictatorship of, say, Bashar al-Assad of Syria? As Jacob Heilbrunn, writing in The National Interest, puts it:
“Apparently the State Department has financed Syrian groups and television programs attacking the Assad regime. U.S. diplomatic cables, the Post says, reveal that the State Department has disbursed at least $6 million to a group called the Movement for Justice and Development–a grouping of Syrian exiles living in London.
“The import of this move seems clear: President Obama is supporting, much as his predecessor, George W. Bush did, regime change in Syria. Regime change may, or may not, be in America’s interest. The Assad dictatorship, father and son, has been an ugly one. But what would replace it? Does Obama know? Does he have a clear read on the exiles in London (some of whom are apparently former members of the Muslim Brotherhood) that America has been supporting? The record of American assistance to such groups has not always been a happy one.
“Another problem is that by intruding into Syrian domestic politics, the administration legitimizes the regime’s claims that it is fighting foreign enemies intent on subverting the home land. For make no mistake: subversion is exactly what Obama is practicing. He is aiding a group that seeks to topple the current Syrian government.”
In the Western media, the Syrian narrative is all about how helpless protesters are being massacred by government forces, but the reality is quite different, as this report by the Arab League monitoring mission makes clear. Of course we didn’t hear much about this report when it was released: anything that goes against the Official Narrative is summarily dropped into the Memory Hole and never seen again. Pepe Escobar notes:
“The report is adamant. There was no organized, lethal repression by the Syrian government against peaceful protesters. Instead, the report points to shady armed gangs as responsible for hundreds of deaths among Syrian civilians, and over one thousand among the Syrian army, using lethal tactics such as bombing of civilian buses, bombing of trains carrying diesel oil, bombing of police buses and bombing of bridges and pipelines.”
The report itself states:
“The Mission determined that there is an armed entity that is not mentioned in the protocol. This development on the ground can undoubtedly be attributed to the excessive use of force by Syrian Government forces in response to protests that occurred before the deployment of the Mission demanding the fall of the regime. In some zones, this armed entity reacted by attacking Syrian security forces and citizens, causing the Government to respond with further violence. In the end, innocent citizens pay the price for those actions with life and limb.”
Who or what is this “armed entity not mentioned in the protocol” – or in many of the news reports on events in Syria? Where do they get their arms? Stratfor says mostly from Lebanon, but there is also the border with Turkey:
“Supply routes emanating from Lebanon are the most critical to the FSA, as they run closest to critical opposition strongholds in and around the capital and in the Sunni-majority cities of Homs and Hama. The porous Syrian-Turkish border is the safest for the FSA to cross. Ankara has already established several refugee camps for Syrians on the Turkish border and has been hosting the FSA and Syrian National Council leaderships. Foreign covert assistance to the FSA is also likely taking place on the Turkish side of the Syrian border, where stockpiles can be protected and Turkish armed forces can provide some cover for FSA rebels moving to and from Syria.”
Antiwar.com columnist and former intelligence officer Phil Giraldi is more explicit:
“Unmarked NATO warplanes are arriving at Turkish military bases close to Iskenderun on the Syrian border, delivering weapons from the late Muammar Gaddafi’s arsenals as well as volunteers from the Libyan Transitional National Council who are experienced in pitting local volunteers against trained soldiers, a skill they acquired confronting Gaddafi’s army. Iskenderun is also the seat of the Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian National Council. French and British special forces trainers are on the ground, assisting the Syrian rebels while the CIA and U.S. Spec Ops are providing communications equipment and intelligence to assist the rebel cause, enabling the fighters to avoid concentrations of Syrian soldiers.”
The Libyan “National Transitional Council” announced its support to the Syrian rebels, and sent 600 fighters to the Turkish border. Financed and supported by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, the “Free Syrian Army” is intent on sparking a sectarian war, pitting Sunnis against Alawites and Christians. Their “Abu Bakr Brigade, which originated in Libya, and is said to be recruited from Al Qaeda, is posting anti-Alawite videos as part of their propaganda operation. This group has claimed responsibility for various attacks on Iranian targets, notably blowing up an Iranian military aircraft carrying 302 soldiers in 2003. The rebels are especially angry over what they characterize as growing Iranian influence in Syria, another factor that frames their cause in sectarian terms.
As Egypt falls into the Muslim Brotherhood’s embrace, and the US backs purportedly “moderate Islamists” in Syria and elsewhere, the fate of Christians and secularists in the region is increasingly problematic. The Egyptians see what is going on in Syria, and are trying to prevent the US-sponsored chaos from spreading
Proponents of “soft power” often point to it as a peaceful alternative to the application of “hard power,” but the reality is that the former is just the prelude to the latter. “Democracy promotion” sets the stage for military intervention by first providing the rationale for regime-change and secondly providing the personnel. The Syrian rebel radio station, headquartered in London, has received millions of our tax dollars, while our spooks have been training and arming them. The line between “soft” and “hard” power is increasingly difficult to ascertain.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the US backed the Afghan mujahideen – dubbed “freedom-fighters” by President Reagan. This was the cradle out of which crept al-Qaeda. What new monsters are we creating in the Syrian crucible?
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