Do I single out the New York Times? No, it is a microcosm of the thinking, planning, and assumptions of US Imperialism, itself having invariably a Janus-faced position, looking and acting simultaneously outward and inward, mounting a global framework of political-economic-ideological hegemony abroad, unimpeded capitalism and widening class-differentials at home. One cannot, and this includes The Times, compartment the two, being “progressive” in one sphere of government activity, reactionary in the other—and the same goes for those who write about or otherwise analyze it. US policy making is an integrated whole, possessing a capitalist core and militaristic tentacles.
What has this to do with current events in Egypt, the massacre of the unarmed carried out by those with arms supplied by the United States? I have answered my own question, the enormous military subvention of dictators carried on over many years, for reasons as complex as geopolitical strategy in the advancement of American capitalist commercial and financial penetration of global markets, to those quite simple: love of militarism for its own sake, and seeking out militaries both as ideal companions and those willing to do US bidding. Think School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., as consummating a marriage of the like-minded, trained to kill in cold blood. (Obama missed that education, yet seems perfectly capable of vaporizing civilian populations through armed drones for targeted assassination.) So, it hardly surprises that with news of the ongoing massacre in Egypt, America dawdles, “threatening” (deserving quote marks because a slap on the knuckles, accompanied by the usual wink) suspension of a program which directly ensured democratic life would find inhospitable ground.
Will American foreign military aid ever be scrutinized, let alone stopped? We sit on our hands as a nation, while the slaughter continues—yet unctuously proclaim to the world our adherence to democratic principles, obviously coded to stand for market fundamentalism and global counterrevolution—a bipartisan consensus, whatever the differences bruited about (largely to conceal that consensus) by the major parties.
Let’s look more closely, Egypt in the last 48 hours (Aug. 14-15), as of this writing. The assault begins. We owe much to the reporting of David Kirkpatrick, light-years away from the response of the Editorial Board (my point, such frontline accounts of Times investigative reporters makes the more inexcusable the gap that exists between the editorials and the news-gathering, especially that coming from its own people). Kirkpatrick writes, in this early account: “Egyptian security officers stormed two encampments packed with supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, on Wednesday in a scorched-earth assault that killed hundreds, set off a violent backlash across Egypt and underscored the new government’s determination to crush the Islamists who dominated two years of free elections. (Italics, mine) He reminds us this was “the third mass killing of Islamist demonstrators” since Morsi’s ouster by the military. “But the scale—lasting more than 12 hours, with armored vehicles, bulldozers, tear gas, birdshot, live ammunition and snipers—and the ferocity far exceeded the Interior Ministry’s promises of gradual and measured dispersal.” One does not have to elaborate on his writing. What stands out is the sustained nature of the heavy assault. “At least one protester was incinerated in his tent. Many others were shot in the head and chest [location of wounds is always telling, here no intention to disperse, but to kill, reminding me of accounts of our own Great Railway Strikes of 1877], including some who appeared to be in their teens, including the 17-year-old daughter of a prominent Islamist leader, Mohamed el-Beltagy.” The assault on peaceful sits-ins was undertaken in the full knowledge that whole families would be encamped.
Still, Aug. 14, we read from another vantage point, Kareem Fahim and Mayy El Sheikh’s account in The Times, where again it was clear that this was disciplined, methodical mass murder, now seen through the eyes of a young mother: “Hayam Hussein had gone to sleep, with her infant daughter by her side, after early-morning prayers. One moment, silence. Then, the sound of war.” The writers continue: “Tear gas canisters fell from the sky. Sirens announced the arrival of armored cars. There were screams of panic and pain, and frantic warnings of snipers roaming on rooftops and bullets raining down on the encampment in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. She ran for cover with her daughter, toward a mosque in the center of the protest camp.” She and the other Morsi supporters expected an attack, and “they built barricades of bricks, sandbags and steel,” and “gathered sticks and rocks.” Yet, when the attack came, “shortly after sunrise on Wednesday, they appeared stunned by its fury.” The army and police, with “heavy armor and deadly weapons,” swept into their encampment, “the third mass killing of civilians since the military took power on July 3.” The initial warnings included safe passage for women and children, to which the reporters write: “This was nothing like that.” Like the earlier killings, “the government gunmen appeared to strike their victims with terrible accuracy, the head and chest.” Snipers attacked the few yards of open space before hospitals—more deaths, more heart-wrenching scenes at the makeshift morgues.
At home, still the 14th, we find Mark Landler and Michael Gordon’s coverage of the President’s vacation, under the heading, “U.S. Condemns Crackdown but Announces No Policy Shift,” the latter speaking volumes about Obama’s cold-hearted cynicism and cunning, and Washington’s general commitment to favorable militaristic solutions. Edgartown is far removed from Cairo and Egypt generally (as repression continues to spread throughout the country). This is before suspension is announced, although certainly the massacre already evident should have warranted the cut-off at the very least (one cannot expect this or any administration to order a full-scale critical review of foreign military spending with a view to termination—for otherwise America would not be America, given its historical-structural-ideological policy framework of hegemonic demiurgic monopoly-capital). The reporters: “The Obama administration on Wednesday condemned the Egyptian military’s bloody crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters, but showed no signs of taking any tough steps, like suspending American aid, in response.” That they did, finally, after the article was published, suggests their hand was forced or, as usual, damage control when the rest of the world was outraged. Kerry was point man, while Obama, “vacationing here on Martha’s Vineyard, had no public reaction. As his chief diplomat was speaking of a ‘pivotal moment for Egypt,’ the president was playing golf at a private club.” It seems like his Martha Vineyard vacations “put Mr. Obama in an awkward but familiar place”—last time, in 2011, it was Libya. This time, on Wednesday morning, he was briefed by Susan Rice, “[b]ut he appeared determined not to allow events in Egypt to interrupt a day that, besides golf, included cocktails at the home of a major political donor, Brian Roberts.” We were assured, however, that POTUS was keeping tabs of the situation. (As of this writing, even the joint military exercise with Egypt, Bright Star, scheduled for next month, has not been cancelled.)
With this background, The Times Editorial Board, fully mindful of the preceding day’s dispatches from the front (and the Vineyard), we see its editorial, “Military Madness in Cairo,” appreciating the military violence yet unwilling to condemn future military support—suspension, not termination. Nor does The Times question foreign military aid as such. The editorial begins on a somewhat promising note: “With yet another blood bath in the streets of Cairo Wednesday, Egypt’s ruling generals have demonstrated beyond any lingering doubt that they have no aptitude for, and apparently little interest in, guiding their country back to democracy. I say “somewhat” because, despite conducting a “blood bath,” the generals far from being butchers are instead tone deaf, lacking aptitude and interest. The result, it warns, could be “a murderous civil war,” and itself “a foreign policy disaster for the United States,” because “Egypt is the most populace and influential country in the Arab world,” and also, “Israel’s most strategically important neighbor.” Although The Times doesn’t say so, it has put its finger on why the US must go slow in criticizing the generals–no matter how bloody the situation gets. As usual, the paper lectures Obama on what he should do (making demands, of course, is bad form, coming out in opposition, worse still): He “must make clear his unequivocal opposition to the Egyptian military’s conduct,” via suspension of military aid and canceling the military exercises. Sounds good, except that it adds, “these steps can be reversed if the generals change their ways,” at best, an irresolute gesture, which generals the world over, in response, may or may not make cosmetic changes to fundamental repression whenever caught in the act. (Egypt, by The Times’s admission, has been receiving such aid, implementing military rule, “for decades,” although with hardly a murmur on its part, or more generally, wherever generals govern, as in several fascist settings, silence remains golden.) In one breath, the editorial acknowledges that “[h]undreds of peaceful demonstrators were killed Wednesday when military and police units used helicopters, snipers, bulldozers and tear gas to evict” them, and “a monthlong nationwide state of emergency” was proclaimed, while in another, Obama is left off the hook, also as usual, on the grounds that “Washington’s influence on Egyptian public opinion generally is limited.” Essentially, take the money and run.
Then, the same day as the editorial appeared (Aug. 15), we see the article by Kirkpatrick, still in Cairo, and Alan Cowell, from London, entitled “Death Toll in Egypt Clashes Climbs to 525,” repeating the charge of a “scorched-earth assault by security forces to raze two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo” on Wednesday. Now Thursday, the Brotherhood urged followers “to take to the streets,” the “violent backlash across Egypt,” because of the assault, expected to generate “the new government’s determination to crush the Islamists who dominated the free elections over the past two years.” What was added to the earlier account was a scene of devastation and anguish: “At one landmark mosque, relatives stood over the bodies of up to 240 dead, shrouded in white and laid out in neat rows. The ice keeping the bodies chilled was melting as household fans played over the makeshift morgue. Many of the bodies seemed to be badly burned. One man slumped against a pillar, his face contorted in grief. By Muslim tradition, the deceased are usually buried within 24 hours of dying.” In addition, we see the wider response: “The violence was almost universally criticized by Western governments. Obama, not among the critical voices, merely, his spokesperson saying, the violence contradicts pledges made by the interim government, and the US “would continue to remind Egypt’s leaders of their promises and urge them ‘to get back on track.’” Prime Minister Erdogan, of Turkey, wanted an early Security Council meeting “to discuss what he labeled a ‘massacre.’” President Hollande, of France, called in the Egyptian ambassador to condemn the violence and “demand an end to the repression,” language neither Obama nor The Times would use. General Sisi—scorched earth assaults; Obama—targeted assassinations, to which can be added, the scorched earth assaults on privacy, dissent, truth-in-government, due process of law, through a maniacal policy of surveillance.
Late footnote: Mark Handler, “In Rebuke to Egypt, Obama Cancels Joint Military Exercises,” (NYT, Aug. 15), the self-evident happens, a skillful display of disapproval at the murderous binge of the Egyptian military, largely financed by the US, while, on close reading, Obama does everything to minimize the import and effect of the decision. Obama: “While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual while civilians are being killed in the streets.” No, indeed—as he takes a-pox-on-both-your-houses attitude, in order to exonerate the military, saying, “the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop,” presumably implicating the Muslim Brotherhood as equally culpable. He did not cancel the usual military aid. Landler shrewdly observes: “But while Mr. Obama condemned the violence, which has left more than 500 demonstrators dead and thousands wounded, he emphasized that the United States did not intend to abandon its broader partnership with the Egyptian military, which has spanned three decades.” (Italics, mine) His Defense Secretary, Hagel, also seems adept at mouthing the right words, as in speaking to Sisi that the Egyptian government (aka, military) “must refrain from violence, respect freedom of assembly, and move toward an inclusive political transition”—failure to do any of which is hardly likely to rupture the military friendship and collaboration between the two countries. And Obama, for his part, refused to say whether or not Morsi’s ouster by the military was a coup, which by the terms of the legislation would terminate military aid. Four little letters, c-o-u-p, would be an excellent test of Obama’s integrity and US intentions. Have no fear, Bright Star, an ambitious plan to integrate the Egyptian military into the so-called coalition forces, is not in a state of eclipse.
My New York Times Comment (Aug. 15) on the editorial about military repression follows:
“Suspending assistance to Egypt’s antidemocratic military”: Why suspension? Why not unconditional termination? Why military aid in the first place? NYT cannot make a clean break with dictatorship. Period. If this were Tienamen Square, we’d never hear the end of it. But brutality and repression receive a “temporary suspension” only, when the military works with us, and frankly, Israel. This ugly bloodshed is tolerated because of the fundamental animus toward all things Islamic–Morsi was not the authoritarian monster portrayed. Yet democratically-elected leadership, no matter how self-serving the theme in US foreign policy when it is the good guys who get elected, is tossed in the garbage can when we don’t agree with the results AND when we have a military to work with. Call it the militarization of American consciousness, or whatever; for aid will be resumed the moment a face-saving device is found.
Meanwhile, Egypt is bleeding, thanks to US dollars to the thugs.
Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University. His new book, Eichmann on the Potomac, will be published by CounterPunch/AK Press in the fall of 2013.