Missionary Creep in Egypt
Published on: July 11, 2013
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  • Pave Low John

    I have a question for Dr. Garfinkle concerning the official stance of the U.S. government to countries that have had a recent “coup”. Is our policy a reaction to past incidents, such as the removal of Diem, Allende and other leaders during the Cold War? Once upon a time, the U.S. was quite willing to work with governments that came to power through violent means.

    I would wonder, then, if our current “democracy fetish” is just simply an over-reaction to past events that our current leaders are trying to atone for, in a way. Your thoughts?

    • That’s some of it. Of course we still work with non-democratic governments like we always did, because we have no choice. But it is true that the intrusion of the Legislative Branch has grown in this area, unfortunately, and some of that is in reaction to Cold War-era patterns. You have an analogue here with the War Powers Act. Same goes for the avalanche of unfunded annual reporting requirements the Congress has laid on the State Dept: the HR Report, the TIP Report, the Religious Freedom Report, etc. All these mandates are stupid; they take thousands of man-hours, their rollouts are not flexible so they cause all sort of unnecessary trouble; they make us sound like the mother-in-law of the world; and they accomplish nothing positive.

  • Jim

    To what extent can we draw lessons from democracy-building efforts during the Cold War?

    • Good question, but too good to be manageable for me in a reply here. Suffice it to say that outside of places we occupied after WWII, Germany and Japan mainly, democracy-building was not a high-priority Cold War portfolio. Actually, the most important agent in building democratic attitudes and institutions, in my view, was not anything the government did, but the international division of the AFL-CIO, led by Lane Kirkland. Labor unions are great pedagogies for democratic mobilization. Unfortunately, neither the unions not the NED take this seriously nowadays. Nor does DRL in the State Department, or any recent administration. A real missed opportunity in my view.

  • Nathan

    Thank you for the article. It was a good read.

    Without disagreeing, I’m wondering how you think this applies (or doesn’t) to the post-surge, pre-withdrawl era in Iraq. As I understand things, it would be an error to say that democracy was almost working there, but they did have non-sectarian candidates winning elections and, at any rate, Iraq’s democracy looked better then than it does now. Was that progress over-hyped, or do you think that (under the extraordinary conditions of the time) something was actually working?

    Not that I would advocate doing another Iraq as a democracy promotion project…

    • Iraqi democracy, so-called, was built on a foundation of institutional and attitudinal sand. It was never going to last long, and recent events suggest that, as J.K. Galbraith put it about the great crash of October 1929, “The end had come, but it is not yet in sight.”

  • WigWag

    You make an extremely interesting point about Kirkland. Not only was Kirkland a devoted labor leader but he was profoundly anti communist. Kirkland was a staunch defender of the Vietnam Nam War, he was a close personal friend of Henry Kissinger, he was a member of the “Committee on the Present Danger” and he was a proud son of the South (born in South Carolina). It is said that he frequently called the Civil War the “War of Northern Agression.”

    Before going to work for the AFL-CIO, Kirkland graduated from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. it is said that he created a bridge between the AFL-CIO and the CIA to hinder the work of communist inspired labor movements in Europe and Latin America. It’s not surprising that Kirkland was a favorite of Ronald Reagan despite their differences over the PATCO strike.

    While leftist despised Kirkland and his predecessor, George Meany (some of the more leftist oriented unions in the former CIO actually tried to have the CIO secede because they so disliked Meany and Kirkland) Kirkland was a great Democrat and a great democrat. Adam is right, Kirkland’swork in building democratic institutions outside of the United States is under appreciated.

  • J.M.

    Adam (Mr. Garfinkle? Dr. Garfinkle?),

    It’s always a pleasure reading your and WRMs essays and thoughts, tends to be a much needed antidote to the drivel coming out of the mouths of our politicians and the ‘news’ these days. It absolutely floors me how little the people who are supposed to be making intelligent foreign policy know. Beyond that, it depresses me even more how little they seem to be able to effectively manage, finding people who know the region and are able to effectively communicate knowledge to our lawmakers and administrators. Reading your description of Sen. Levin only reinforces it, even if he is more genial than some of our other more regrettable lawmakers. It doesn’t seem like any of them are interested in learning what is actually going on on the ground and figuring out how to best contribute to it and to American interests (or even deciding what those interests are) rather than trying to score cheap political points. I feel like sometimes the biggest criticism one can level against the current administration is how they try and use foreign policy almost solely to further their domestic policy agenda or so thoughtlessly create it so as to focus on that domestic policy. It doesn’t help that the Bush administration has seemed to kill any ability to think critically and well about foreign policy on the other side of the aisle as well.

    It also makes me wonder where exactly people can go to learn these things. I sincerely doubt most people attending institutions of higher education are going to be looking for this kind of learning, finding it, or even having it available to them. It seems like these days we need people are just better educated. Places like Egypt that are regionally important but not well understood seem to be multiplying everywhere and the ability of our foreign policy elite or even midlevel management to try and react is growing worse and worse.

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  • Peter Barlow

    Dr Garfinkle has given us a masterly analysis of many subjects, rolled into one essay.

    As a long-time resident of the Middle East, I would concur with every point he makes. He says what I have always thought, and has enabled me to think more clearly on the subject.

    As to whether or not people all over the world want “democracy”: I would agree with Dr Garfinkle that they do not necessarily want it. However, long exposure to Egyptians, Syrians and others has proved to me that they all want fairness and dignity, a decent standard of living, houses, and to be able to feel proud of their countries and societies.

    Ask an Egyptian of any class or religion, and he will tell you quickly and logically what is wrong with his country. He may be wrong on some of the causes, through his perspective on things, but he knows very well what is wrong (e.g., farms are unproductive, or government clerks expect bribes). He may not be right about the solution (e.g., the suggestion that Morsi could resolve the problems), but he knows that a solution is required. And he knows better than us what is wrong.

    It is irksome when politicians from the US and Europe visit the country where I live and after two days of being glad handed around the place start pontificating about human rights, representation and similar matters. Such politicians may not be wrong entirely in their conclusions, but they may not be aware of the context.

    As Dr Garfinkle says, America is a democracy because the American people wanted, or want, to be governed that way. They believe that representative democracy can assure them dignity, security, food and opportunity. We do not know exactly how the Egyptians want to be governed, and I am not sure that even they know precisely. It seems we look at their discontent and assume it is because they do not have democracy. Are we using the word “democracy” as a kind of collective name for dignity, fairness, security and other common wants?

    Imagine for a moment that the Austro-Hungarian Emperor had visited the United States between 1861 and 1865. He probably would have said “What you need is a monarchy, just like mine. That will put you right. How about I come here and teach you?” I suspect that even the farm boys wounded in battle on both sides would have used that time honoured Americanism “Nuts” in reply. And make no mistake. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was, at its height, extremely successful, rich and powerful, and its people enjoyed a measure of dignity, freedom, security and opportunity that some of them did not have again from 1914 to about 1990. But would it have brought the same benefits to America? Given about 200 years, possibly.

    • Well, that makes my day. Don’t for a moment think I’m about to disagree with you.

    • John Burke

      Hmmm…far be it from me to suggest that Vienna wasn’t a classy place to live in 1865, but I don’t think we need to go as far as endorsing the Hapsburg monarchy as somehow equally admirable as American constitutional democracy on the assumption that the good Volk werd down with the Emperor. That 19th century period was one of more or less continuous political tension and turmoil driven by both nationalist and democratic movements — at least from the 1848 revolutions and right up to 1914 when Serb nationalists plugged the Archduke. Interestingly, the guy who landed in America was not, of course, the Emperor but Kossuth after he was forced to flee. And Kossuth was feted by Americans like a second Lafayette in keeping with the American penchant, still with us today, for cheering on democrats and rebels.

  • Michael McCallion

    Dr. Garfinkle; thank you for the awareness enhancing information.It is encouraging to realize there is a continuity of reflective thought over and above the battle of political courtiers striving for the gold ring of gold rings.

    I did lose some focus however in reading the comments of what appear to be an agglomeration of acolytes. Surely this is a group with a style awareness necessary to pass through the political filters of properly educated and politically in tune.

    My comment is the tossing aside of the common people in Egypt and once again throwing Hobbes under the bus. (I do appreciate the possibility the Hobbesian reference could be taken as a positive only it would devolve into a mistake because the Egyptians would be incapable or possibly not ruthless enough to handle a domestic civil war)

    The quick drive by reference to Canada, my background, as self educated and correspondence redundant with colloquiums, was a missed opportunity to bring a democracy based on POGG (peace, order, and good government) into your review. An opportunity many ordinary Americans who are close friends would have recognized.

    Sometime a Hobbes comment on his courage, intelligence, and original thought would I believe refocus the thinking of the political class of America.

    Possibly this comment is solely because my family attended a theatre presentation of “Lady Windermere’s Fan”. I so love the American non coastal people and fear the end has happened and is not yet recognized..

    Sincerely yours; Michael McCallio Sr.

    • Our filters are pretty porous. My use of Hobbes as an adjective was pretty conventional. I don’t understand most of what you’re trying to say about that usage, sorry. But we’re fine with letting you try to say it.

  • Peter

    Garfinkle whines about the proper — and justified — cut off of military aid to Egypt but neglects to mention what that aid actually is.

    Specifically, professor, what does a rag tag country that can’t come close to even feeding itself need with F-16s and other advanced weapon systems? Is it to help their self-esteem?

    And anyway, who are the foreign enemies that the corrupt Egyptian military need to defend the country from? Who? And please, don’t be foolish and grasp for the bogyman of Iran just to sound ‘strategic.’

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  • William Feldmann

    Excellent essay Dr. Garfinkle. Thank you for expending the time and energy to compose it.

    Although I agree with your essay’s central premise, I am very fond of our current cultural mythology of scientific progress and benign Protestantism. I remain optimistic that we can and eventually do respond to (sometimes noxious) stimuli. Our mythology contains an intrinsic element of self-correction, the scientific method.

    • I’m fond of it too, and I think I said so. We have no choice in most respects but myth, so might as well pick a winner.

  • John Burke

    “the beauty of our Protestant-originated civil religion is that it lets everyone into the room to play—even Catholics and, amazingly, Jews”

    This is an insightful point. As an Irish Catholic who’s been invited to play, I’ve always recognized that a whole lot of the ascendant Protestant leadership of the nation from the Founders’ generation up to and including 20th century “reformers” were suspicious of Popes and bishops, distainful of catholic doctrines and rituals, and more than a little contemptuous of rough hordes of Irish peasants with their rosary beads. Still, all my forbears had to do was to buy into the key tenets of the American civil religion and they could join the club.

  • denis fodor

    Adam Garfinkle`s piece is a tour de force. Its views on the situation in Egypt and how it affects the region are dead on.
    The elaboration on the merits and relevancies of the US
    political reflex to all this is, at very least, very well thought out. Thanks.

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