Sometimes one has to wonder whether words have lost their meaning when used by neoconservatives. Yesterday’s Washington Post featured an op ed by Robert Kagan of Brookings and Michelle Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment. Together, the two are co chairs to the Working Group on Egypt. The op ed headline in the printed edition was “What can we do for Egypt – The US can support democracy without directing its course.”
Normally when I see the Kagan byline I move on without reading, but the “without directing its course” caught my attention. The authors wisely reject introducing a “made-in-American democracy” and recommend instead that the focus be on economic assistance, debt forgiveness, and trade agreements. Sounds good, but then the whiff of an agenda emerges: “Sens. John McCain and Joseph Lieberman recent returned from Egypt with a clear message: the Egyptians need and want foreign companies to come and invest in their country.” But it still sounds harmless enough until Kagan and Dunne get to the next recommendation: “Appoint a special Middle East transition czar. To oversee all these efforts the administration is going to need a high powered individual at the White House…”
Let us assume for a moment that Kagan-Dunne-McCain-Lieberman want the Egyptians to establish a successful democracy that does all the right things from their perspective. But the very fact that Kagan and Dunne co-chair a Working Group on Egypt and are writing op eds explaining what must be done suggests that they want to use their superior wisdom to help guide the process. They recognize that a heavy hand will not bring that about, so it seems to me that what we are looking at is a way to use soft power to direct the Egyptians whether they like it or not. If they don’t behave, the investments in their economy will not be forthcoming. It is certainly more subtle than the Bush Doctrine but the proposed appointment of a czar implies that there are certain interests that have to be aggressively protected by the White House. I actually don’t have a problem with recognizing and promoting US interests in the region, but my concern is, inevitably, that it will turn out to be all about Israel yet again given the conjunction of McCain, Lieberman, and Kagan.
Unfortunately there is a long history of US meddling just about everywhere. In an interview a couple of weeks ago, Madeleine Albright stated that the National Endowment for Democracy is already hard at work in Egypt. That will mean more shenanigans similar to the faux color coded democracies that emerged in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. The Egyptians should rightly be concerned about any American show of support or offer of assistance as they will undoubtedly be agenda driven.