Republicans LOVE to bash Jimmy Carter. Ridiculing him as an “abject failure” has become sport on the Right. So much so that I took the time last year to write a column clearly demonstrating that, when you look at the numbers, NO ONE holds a candle to the abysmal failure that was the George W. Bush Administration. The only other two that come even close were his father and Gerald Ford, both of whom might have exceeded “Dubya” in the amount of damage done had they of only served a second term. Carter was well on track to having one of the most successful presidencies (see link) before Iran exploded into violence and the “Islamic Revolution” revolted against the American-installed dictator: the Sha of Iran.
Today, we are seeing something very similar shaping up in Egypt. The people are in open & violent revolt against U.S. backed “dictator” Hosni Mubarak (he calls himself “President”, but allows no elections), one of America’s chief allies in the Middle East. Under Mubarak, Egypt has kept Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel, supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, and has generally (and now ironically) served as a calming influence towards the United States in that region of the world.
The Obama Administration is walking a fine line between taking sides in the Egyptian revolts. If we “demand Mubarak step down”, not only do we risk being seen as meddling in Mid-East politics once again and possibly “installing” another puppet dictator, there is also the possibility Mubarak survives this uprising, so any “demand” for his ouster could seriously backfire, costing us an important ally in the Middle East.
On two separate Sunday shows yesterday, neither House Speaker Boehner, nor Senate Minority Leader McConnell were willing to criticize the Obama Administration’s handling of Egypt this past week… which I’m sure they would of loved to have done in an election year… painting President Obama as “naive” or “inexperienced” on the subject of National Security. But they couldn’t because the obvious follow-up would of been, “What would you do differently?”, which opens up a HUGE can of worms for Republicans this electoral season.
So just what must we look out for in the coming weeks in Egypt? First and foremost, the danger of a total collapse of stability in that country. President Mubarak called out the police to quiet the revolts, and the protests turned bloody. Angry mobs turned on the police and sent them packing, so right now there is essentially no police service in Cairo. To make matters worse, a series of mass jailbreaks took place across the country amid the chaos, freeing as many as three thousand inmates from four separate prisons across Egypt, all due to a lack of guards to secure them. People have taken to defending their own homes, storefronts and neighborhoods from looters, and there are almost no police for anyone to call in an emergency. “Martial Law” is not an option because the military appears to be on the side of the protesters. They were called out to keep the peace after the police were driven out, but greeted with cheers and applause. Why? I’m not 100% sure, but my guess is that, as with just about every other small-to-midsized nation on Earth, the bulk of the military is made up of “mandatory service” personnel. Unlike the police where people apply to work for the government “by choice”, immediately upon graduation, every able-bodied Egyptian male between the ages of 18 and 30 are conscripted into the military. So while the danger of “Martial Law” is almost nil, the possibility of a “military coup” is great. Washington knows this.
(It should be noted at this point that the great bulk of American society at both ends of the political spectrum supports the Egyptian people in their protests for a more Democratic government… with only a few minor exceptions from the far Wingnut Right.)
There is a definite possibility “The Muslim Brotherhood” might force out Mubarak and play a lead role in deciding who the next leader of Egypt might be should Mubarak be removed. The BBC’s Katty Kay pointed out on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that that might not necessarily be a bad thing. “The Muslim Brotherhood”… the worlds oldest and largest political opposition group in most Islamic states (founded in 1928), which has (“publicly” at least) denounced violence and condemned Osama bin Laden and the attacks of 9/11, recently chose Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed Elbaradei to be their lead spokesman. Elbaradei is popular in Egypt, but his clout has waned in recent years for having spent so much time outside the country. The backing of him by “The Muslim Brotherhood” could add tremendous clout for his recently declared presidential aspirations. Elbaradei… best known as the former head of the IAEA and the UN’s lead nuclear weapons adviser before, during & after the invasion of Iraq, is also friends with the United States and would almost surely continue Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.
The downside is that the “MB” is also strongly anti-American, wants a return of rule by Islamic & Sunni principles, and has, in recent years, reportedly been turning from its strict “no-violence” roots to becomes a more hard Right fundamentalist group (including reports of MB involvement in some Israeli-Palestinian conflicts). This is to be expected of any group where the median age of the population is only 24 with a growing lack of connection to the past.
In 1979, the U.S. threatened Russia (and eventually followed through) with a grain embargo over its continued support of Iran while it held Americans hostage. Russia, decimated by the embargo, retaliated with its own embargo of crude oil towards the U.S.. The result was that world oil prices “skyrocketed” to an unheard of $25 a barrel, and gas prices jumping to near $1/gal (figures that seem quaint by today’s standards), up from about $12 a barrel and 75cents a gallon. The resulting shock to the economy was devastating. The cost of everything went up as the price of shipping went through the roof. High prices and decreased spending reversed three years of falling unemployment, shooting up nearly 2 points in just one year. And the daily drumbeat reports of the “Iranian hostage crisis” made the Administration look impotent and incapable of protecting its citizens.
The “Iranian hostage crisis” was a result of President Carter giving refuge to the Sha of Iran (I believe that timeline to be correct). After being denied safe harbor by country after country, the ousted ruthless dictator and long-time ally of the U.S. was allowed to seek refuge in the United States. This outraged the Iranian people, who retaliated by storming the U.S. Embassy in Iran and took the few remaining Americans there hostage (It should be noted that on Sunday’s Meet the Press, host David Gregory repeatedly tried to get SoS Clinton to say whether or not the U.S. would offer safe-haven to Mubarak should he flee his country. Clinton refused to say, but if they are any study of history, the answer should be a firm “No”). Yet even after the Carter Administration forced him to leave, Iran continued to hold the Americans hostage “until we returned him” for execution in Iran. The Sha eventually landed in… yep, you guessed it… Cairo, where he died of lymphatic cancer in 1980. (I won’t go into evidence suggesting the Reagan Campaign negotiated with Iran behind the back of the Carter Administration to hold on to the hostages to help Reagan defeat Carter, and upon being sworn in as President, release them… which they did. But it exists. Can you say “Iran/Contra”?)
So, what the Obama Administration must do now is avoid a repeat of history. Simply the outbreak of protests in Egypt caused world oil prices to jump on Friday (up to nearly $100/barrel again). And I argue that $148/barrel oil and $4/gal gas was the beginning of the end for the Bush Administration and the start of the worldwide Recession we are living with today. High oil prices once again spiked unemployment, which inadvertently sparked a flood of home foreclosures as people were unable to make the payments on their homes. Mortgage rates spiked and everyone learned the dangers of “Adjustable Rate Mortgages” and “banking deregulation” the hard way. The consequences of Bush’s “saber-rattling” in the Middle-East, destabilizing the entire region and the resulting spike in oil prices got us where we are today. And four years on, we are still dealing with the consequences. (The economic disaster unleashed by the Bush Administration quickly went global. High unemployment in Egypt is a key factor fueling the riots there… giving you some idea of the scale of the problem President Obama is facing. Is it any wonder, given the size of the problem, that unemployment has continued to rise two years on, and how little power any one single country has to fix this problem on its own?)
If the chaos that started in Tunisia and has since spread to three other countries… Egypt being the largest so far… spreads to any oil-producing nations, the chances of $5/gal gasoline by mid-Summer is a very real possibility, and any fragile recovery that might have begun under the Obama Administration would be wiped out in an instant. The fact the Obama Administration is taking advice from President Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski gives me pause. I only post this video as an oddity in how history plays out. I do not share Kristol’s views or opinion:
Let’s just all hope and pray that Kristol isn’t right. Fortunately, his record making predictions isn’t very good.
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