Egypt’s president, the brutal general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is currently in the US and receiving a warm welcome from Donald Trump. This is not surprising but that Trump is a ghastly president should not result in us viewing the past with rose-tinted glasses. But some media are doing just that, suggesting that this visit shows how different he is from his predecessor. But the main distinction between Trump and Obama is that the latter, like many Democrats, maintained a façade of keeping a distance while actually supporting el-Sisi away from the cameras.
As Glenn Greenwald writes, liberal commentators who are painting this visit as yet another sign of Trump’s unique awfulness are overlooking the fact that the US has, under both Democratic and Republican presidents, cozied up to brutal right-wing military dictators and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were no different.
What neither Krugman or Diehl ever once mention – either because they’re unaware of it or want to conceal it from their readers – is that the U.S. has been supporting, funding and arming the Sisi tyranny for years under the Obama administration. In March, 2015, as Sisi’s human rights abuses intensified, Obama personally told the Egyptian tyrant in a call the good news that he was lifting a ban “on the delivery of F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles, and M1A1 tank kits” and – in the words of the White House – “also advised President al-Sisi that he will continue to request an annual $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt.”
Prior to Sisi, the U.S. – under Obama and multiple administrations before that – spent decades propping up the most savage tyranny in Egypt in the form of funds and weapons to Hosni Mubarak. Recall Hillary Clinton’s 2009 proclamation that “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family,” while Obama ensured that the flow of money and weapons to Mubarak never ceased.
While it’s true, as Eltahawy notes, that Sisi had not been invited to the White House until now, the U.S. has hardly been shy about lavishing the tyrant with all forms of support. In 2014, as Sisi was crushing dissent and the state was issuing mass death sentences, Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Cairo to meet Sisi and publicly praised him – the leader of a military coup – for “transitioning to democracy.” Indeed, the year earlier, Kerry praised the Sisi-led military coup against Egypt’s first elected president, depicting it as an attempt to protect democracy.
Greenwald says that what is new is that Trump is exposing this bipartisan ugliness for all to see if they want to see it.
What Trump is achieving by opening the White House doors to Sisi is not ushering in a new policy but rather clarifying and illuminating a very old one. This Trumpian effect – unmasking in all its naked ugliness what D.C. mavens prefer to keep hidden – is visible in multiple other areas.
Exactly the same thing happened last week when Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, announced that the U.S. would no longer condition transfers of arms to the regime in Bahrain on human rights improvements. The outrage over this announcement utterly masked the fact that Obama continued to lavish the same Bahraini regime with all sorts of weapons and other forms of support even as it imprisoned dissidents and violently crushed protests.
But in the case of Egypt and Bahrain, the only new aspect of Trump’s conduct is that it’s more candid and revealing: rather than deceitfully feign concern for human rights while arming and propping up the world’s worst tyrants – as Obama and his predecessors did – Trump is dispensing with the pretense. The reason so many D.C. mavens like Diehl are so upset with Trump isn’t because they hate his policies but rather despise his inability and/or unwillingness to prettify what the U.S. does in the world.
The real target of this rhetorical human rights pretense – this propaganda designed to prettify U.S. action – is not the oppressed people living under the thumb of those U.S.-supported dictators but rather Americans themselves. It’s all designed to allow U.S. citizens to believe the myth that their country stands for Freedom and Democracy in the world, and shuns tyrants like Putin or the Iranian mullahs, even though propping up the planet’s most savage dictators has been, and continues to be, central to U.S. policy for decades. The beloved-in-Washington Henry Kissinger built his career on this mentality, and is loved because of it, not despite that.
And that’s the reason so many in Washington – who never met a pro-U.S. dictator they weren’t willing to arm and fund – are so upset by all this. Sisi isn’t someone you invite over to your house for dinner; he’s someone you send money and weapons to in secret after you give your pretty speeches in front of American flags about human rights and freedom. What Trump is violating is not any Washington principles or ethics but Washington propaganda tactics.
Yep, Greenwald nails once again the media’s propping up of a self-regarding US fantasy. Is it any surprise that many in the so-called ‘liberal’ establishment hate Greenwald with a passion and that some have even accused him of being a Russian agent?