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Enough of America’s hypocritical foreign policy

by Doug Bandow

The U.S. backed military regime in Cairo is killing more supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. Yet Washington continues to proclaim its inability to see a coup, so America’s aid money still flows. The Obama administration is turning hypocrisy into an art form.

The great foreign policy illusion in Washington is that the U.S. government controls international events. Thus, the administration proclaims that it must continue to hand $1.55 billion annually to the generals in Cairo to preserve its influence. Yet when did America ever exercise influence in Egypt?

Washington has provided almost $75 billion in foreign “aid” over the years, most of it since the 1978 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. The peace has been kept, but Egypt always had the most to lose from another war with Israel.

Beyond that, Cairo has consistently ignored American advice. Presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak made no pretense of promoting democracy or protecting human rights. When the revolution upended Mubarak, the administration successively backed the dictator, urged a negotiated departure, and supported his overthrow.

U.S. President Barack Obama unsuccessfully counseled President Morsi to be inclusive and military commander Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi not to stage a coup. Since then Washington has urged the military ruler not to target the Muslim Brotherhood and risk driving it underground. He responded by shooting even more pro-Morsi demonstrators.

Yet, explain administration officials, if U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged the obvious — that a military coup had overthrown an elected government — and applied the law, which requires the cutoff of U.S. aid, al-Sisi might ignore American advice. Oh, right.

It would have been better years ago had American officials shut up and done nothing. No money would have been wasted. Washington’s impotence would not have been demonstrated. The U.S. would not be complicit in decades of military rule.

Alas, Egypt is not the first time when the U.S. government looks stupid while spending a lot of money. In fact, that is far more the rule than the exception for Washington.

For decades the U.S. government has given tens of billions of dollars a year in economic assistance. Recipients continued to wreck their economies by following dirigiste policies. Washington was the largest single contributor to the World Bank and other multilateral development banks, which routinely underwrote the most monstrous regimes, such as Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania and Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Ethiopia.

A lot of foreign “aid” was walking around money for the secretary of state, as in Egypt. Hand the local despot a fistful of cash and he was supposed to do whatever you asked. However, governments in Washington’s pay quickly learned that U.S. officials hated to admit failure and end assistance. Thus, recipients simply ignored aid conditions.

During the Cold War, Washington had more than a few dictators on its payroll. U.S. officials cheerfully talked about the importance of democracy while ostentatiously backing autocracy.

The policy continues today, though the hypocrisy is not quite so flagrant or widespread. For instance, the Obama administration lauded the “Arab Spring” while supporting repression in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and now Egypt.

Washington’s plans for Iraq were even more fantastic. America was going to fight a war for democracy by installing as that nation’s president a corrupt Iraqi exile with no domestic support. The Sunni nation was expected to become a long-term U.S. client, providing military bases for use against next door Shiite Iran. War architects planned to impose American values and mores on another people in another land.

Much ink recently was spilled about preserving American credibility after Obama suggested that Syrian use of chemical weapons was a “red line” for intervention. Yet Washington has spent years insisting that it was absolutely unacceptable for North Korea and Iran to acquire nuclear weapons—even as their programs have, it seems, proceeded apace. U.S. diplomats circle the globe issuing instructions here, there and everywhere, only to be routinely ignored.

Washington’s delusions have proved particularly grand when addressing significant powers. American officials lecture China and Russia what to do regarding such nations as Iran, North Korea and Syria, without effect. Although the U.S. is a notorious fiscal wastrel, the Obama administration has publicly instructed the Europeans how to fix their economies.

Will U.S. officials never learn?

The answer apparently is no. Just look at Egypt, where American policy combines equal parts hypocrisy and futility.

The U.S. remains wealthy and powerful, but still cannot micro-manage the globe. Every new administration, irrespective of party, ignores this reality. The outcome is always the same: values sacrificed, money wasted, credibility lost, reputation damaged.

If President Obama wants to leave a positive foreign policy legacy, he should do and say less abroad.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.

  • ff

    The only hypocrisy in US foreign policy is this: Who are we to go invade other countries, and lecture them when we are trillions of dollars in debt, we have a crumbling infrastructure, a flawed education system, a
    war mongering foreign policy, and a morally bankrupt society. We should clean up things here at home, before we go lecture people on their own homes.

    • robertwgordonesq

      Well…that’s exactly why one invades other countries…it distracts people from the problems at home.

  • Eagle

    The US now is the sole superpower in the world. As history shows all superpowers’ days are numbered. Then a new superpower will take their place and we’ll get another kind of hypocrisy. Who would be the next? China? Are we getting something better?

    Eventually we are always getting that kind of hypocrisy from all other countries
    and some of them are equally if not more dangerous. We just don’t realize that in time in cases when the given country is happen to be small and insignificant. Would not be an excuse for the US, though.

    I don’t think the US is worse than any others – I’d say even better – but just a big one and if they hurt it will hurt more.

    • Christopher-trier

      With China things won’t be better, but they also won’t be worse — just different. The Chinese have some qualities than Americans sorely lack such as restraint in exerting force, staying out of the problems of other countries, dealing with disputes diplomatically and financially rather than through military aggression etcetera. At the same time, Americans are also far more generous than the Chinese in sending aid to those in need. Whenever there is a natural disaster the USA sends aid and assistance, for example. The US also helps with reconstruction in disaster zones.

      • Eagle

        I am not so sure about it (what you wrote about China). The biggest difference between the U.S. and China is, that Chinese are terribly secretive, so we know very little about them and can have very moderate insight.

      • Christopher-trier

        China has a long history and many, many written records. The Chinese are quieter in how they do things, but it is possible to learn how to read the tea leaves and figure out to an extent what is really going on. For the Chinese it is easier to co-opt and buy-off local governments than it is to fight them, it is far less complicated to gradually make countries dependent on China for their economic viability than it is to invade them. Far less bloody and costly for China, too. Even when China does go to war, as was the case in Vietnam in 1979, the point was to damage Vietnam enough that it would have to stop fighting in Cambodia, not to defeat the country — that was not in China’s interests.