All Commentary
Wednesday, February 2, 2011

“Losing” Egypt

Not ours to lose.

Egyptians have taken to the streets to demand the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, the U.S.-backed leader who came to power after the assassination of Anwar Sadat nearly 30 years ago.  We can be sure that sooner or later someone will condemn Barack Obama as the president who “lost Egypt.” Such mutterings, in my view, would border on delusion. The world is not a chessboard on which the U.S. government can move the world’s people around, expecting them to obey. And yet the illusion continues.

After generations of backing dictators who flout their people’s interests, the obvious question is, Why do American political leaders repeatedly follow the same path even though such actions fit Einstein’s definition of insanity”: doing the same thing over and over expecting different results?

My answer is that for more than a century, Americans have been inundated with the Religion of Progressivism, which is based on a belief that governments hold the keys to happiness and prosperity, and that Really Wise People with the proper educational and professional “credentials” are the Keepers of the Secret. The Progressives of a century ago held that commerce without the guiding hand of the “wise” State ultimately debases all of life, and that the economy should serve the greater interests of America. This was naturally extended to foreign affairs.

Today, modern American institutions, from corporations to education to churches, use such beliefs as core organizing principles, and both “liberals” and conservatives fully have embraced this secular faith. The policy elite sees the United States as a singular organic interest and believes the interests of everyone else on earth need to be brought into line with the American agenda.

Bribery and Force

Many Americans seem to think that the arrangement pushed on the rest of the world must be kept together by a combination of bribery and sheer force. American troops are stationed all over the globe and presently are fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, neither of which is going very well. (And no one should be surprised that occupied people fight back.)

For more than three decades, the United States has used bribery with Egypt. (It is the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, behind Israel.) Such aid has not only propped up Mubarak’s government, but it also has relieved it of the need to liberalize the economy because no matter how much wealth it wastes, the United States is there with its big checkbook.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the individuals at the top of Egypt’s governing structure are the main beneficiaries of this bribery, while ordinary people are forced to live in poverty. Mubarak’s interventionist economy has made some moves toward liberalization in recent years, but it has a long way to go to being free and fully market-oriented. The people protesting in the streets understand that U.S. financial aid props up the corruption and oppression.

No, they don’t “hate us for our freedoms.” They hate a U.S. policy that, in the name of “stability,” works against freedom. This is where Progressivism has led.

  • Dr. William Anderson is Professor of Economics at Frostburg State University. He holds a Ph.D in Economics from Auburn University. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.