The following (abridged) exchange took place on the ABC's Q & A last night between Lydia Khalil (described simply as a Middle East politics and security analyst) and John Pilger, prominent Australian journalist, filmmaker and author:
Lydia Khalil: You know, I think people in the Middle East have been completely frustrated with these 30- year dictatorships and the repression and stagnation that they've faced. They're not thinking about the United States. They're thinking about their own conditions. When you watched the coverage of those protesters, they didn't mention the United States once. They talked about themselves and their own conditions. Now, to say that the Unites States didn't support democracy promotion in Egypt is false. There was actually a number of...
John Pilger: What? Oh, come on... They held up tear gas canisters... saying made in the USA. I mean the... regime in Egypt. It's very important [to recognise] this was kept in place by over almost $2 billion, most of it military aid from the United States... year after year.
LK: No, but there's another... side to the story. There were hundreds of millions of dollars that were put forward by the United States that helped these nascent movements go forward. Now the US has two different needs, so to speak, in the region. They need stability and yet at the same time they're trying to promote democracies that can be long-lasting allies for them and sometimes those two conflicting needs can be confused. But to say that wholesale the US did not support democracy in the region, I think is false...
JP: Where in the Arab world has the US ever supported democracy? Where in the Arab world?... Saudi Arabia, it's a major client state, right through to Jordan, Egypt - all of these are dictatorships, most of them created by the British and shored up by the Americans.
Pilger, of course, as a principled and independent observer of US intervention in the Arab world, an intervention that has only escalated since the CIA coup against the democratically-elected Mossadegh government in Tehran in 1953, is talking about the big picture, the fundamentally anti-democratic, anti-people nature of US empire-building in the area. Khalil, however, is speaking as a faithful servant of the US empire, and her reference to something called democracy promotion reflects that - a subject I'll return to later in this post. For Khalil to truly understand what Pilger is talking about would require nothing less than a complete mental and moral makeover. A quick scan of her CV shows why:
"LK has worked at home and abroad for the US government, international organizations, private companies and think tanks on a variety of international political and security issues. She specializes in Middle East politics and international terrorism. Lydia was recently appointed as an international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is also a lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, for the Centre on Policing, Intelligence & Counterterrorism. She is also a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute as part of the West Asia Program focusing on the Middle East. Prior to her appointments in Sydney, Lydia was a counterterrorism analyst for the NYPD focusing on international terrorism trends and terrorism cases in the Middle East, Africa and europe. Previously, Lydia worked in Iraq as a policy advisor for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad where she worked closely with Iraqi politicians on political negotiations and constitutional drafting. Prior to her assignment in Iraq, she was appointed to the White House Office of Homeland Security as a graduate fellow. She is also a senior policy associate to the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) which examines and advocates the development of genuine democracies in the Middle East. Ms Khalil holds a BA in International Relations from Boston College and a Masters in International Security from Georgetown University. She has published extensively on issues relating to Middle East politics, terrorism and insurgency. Her current research involves extracting lessons learned for fighting insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. And she is also working on a book examining the challenges facing this current generation of Middle East youth and how the solutions they come up with transform the region. She was born in Cairo and is a native Arabic speaker." (huffingtonpost.com/lydia-khalil)
Now, to see what US-style democracy promotion is really all about, check out this hugely entertaining extract from the US State Department's Daily Press Briefing of 14/2/11. My comments, joining the dots, etc are in square brackets:
Question: The State Department started sending direct messages to Iranians in Farsi yesterday. Can you talk about that, and is this a new social media initiative from the State Department?
[Assistant Secretary] PJ Crowley:... It's a key element of our plan to - and our strategy to engage people-to-people around the world. As the Secretary has made clear, we do engage governments, but we also want to engage people directly. And as we use social media, we're also employing - using languages in key parts of the world. So last week we began Tweeting in Arabic, and this week we began Tweeting in Farsi.
Q: Are these the only two foreign languages?
PJC: Well, not necessarily. I think also embassies around the world have their own Twitter accounts. So I won't - we do employ a number of languages. But obviously, this is a little more targeted. [Hm... from around the world to a little more targeted.]
Q: So you're trying to create...
Q: There's your own language.
PJC: My own language [?]
Q: Are you trying to create a revolution then in Iran?
PJC: Well, that [is your inference] - what has guided us throughout the last 3 months and guides us in terms of how we focus on Iran is the core principles - the Secretary mentioned them again today - of restraint from violence, respect for universal rights and political and social reform.* There is a - it is hypocrisy [the pot totally calls the kettle black here] that Iran says one thing in the context of Egypt but refuses to put its own words into action in its own country.
Q: How about other [pro-American] countries - Bahrain, Yemen, or Algeria or Jordan? Why are you not talking about those countries but condemning what is happening in Iran?
PJC: Well, actually, in the other countries there is a greater respect for the rights of the citizens [Yeah, just like there was in Egypt, right?]. I mean, we are watching developments in other countries, including Yemen, including Algeria, including Bahrain. And our advice is the same. As the Secretary made clear in her Doha speech, there's a significant need for political, social and economic reform across the region, and we encourage governments to respect their citizen's right to protest peacefully, respect their right to freedom of expression and assembly, and hope that their will be an ongoing engagement, a dialogue between people in governments and they can work together on the necessary [re]forms. Now those reforms will not be identical. They'll be different country to country. But clearly, the people in the region, emboldened by what's happened in Tunisia and Egypt and well connected through social media, are gathering together, standing up, and demanding more of their governments. [Hm... so it's active intervention in Iran, but only watching, advice, encouragement, yadda yadda yadda elsewhere.]
Q: Can I have just two follow-ups on that? One, are you, in sending these Twitter messages to Iranians, are you also sending a message to the Government of Iran?
PJC: Well, we always give Iran our best advice (Laughter) They seldom follow it.
Q: In Egypt -
Q: Are Egyptians also - have you Tweeted directly with the Egyptians as well?
PJC: Well, that's [another matter entirely] - last week we expanded our use of social media, including Twitter, to communicate in Arabic. And obviously - I don't have the numbers in front of me, but they're growing very significantly in both the Arabic Twitter and the Farsi Twitter.
On the likes of Lydia, yo might like to read the James Petras' quote in my 23/11/10 post Behind the ASIO Assessment]
[* "WikiLeaks cables... released today by the Daily Telegraph, detail the Bush and Obama Administrations were providing training to Egypt's secret police, the SSIS, which cables and human rights NGOs have repeatedly cited for routine torture of detainees." (Made in America: Mubarak's most brutal thugs trained with FBI, Jason Ditz, antiwar.com, 9/2/11)]
PS (17/2/11): The dirt on democracy promotion in Egypt: "The US has given Egypt a lot of money over the years. How much? More than you probably think. Since 1979, US assistance to Egypt has averaged about $2 billion a year, according to a new Congessional Research Service (CRS) report on US-Egyptian relations. That adds up to a whopping $64 billion. In that period, Egypt has been the second-largest foreign recipient of US cash. (Israel is No. 1, in case you're interested.) In part, that's a legacy of the Camp David Accords. The United States promised generous aid packages to both Egypt and Israel in return for their making concessions to each other in a peace pact... Here's another distinguishing thing about US aid to Egypt. The vast majority of it is earmarked for the military. In recent years Egypt has received about $1.3 billion in military aid annually. Of that, about one-third goes to weapons maintenance, one-third to weapons upgrades, and one-third to weapons purchases, according to CRS... What about aid to Egypt intended to promote democracy? Oh yeah, that. It's been cut in recent years, and since 2009 has sat at about $20 million annually. Most of that has gone to Egyptian-approved goverment-to-government projects. The bottom line here is that the impact of US democracy efforts in Egypt 'has been limited', in the words of a recent State Department Inspector General report." (US aid to Egypt: What does it buy? Peter Grier, csmonitor.com, 15/2/11)