Dictators abroad and austerity at home

Dictators abroad and austerity at home

“Our partnership guarantees there can be no resumption of overt Arab-Israeli war and also provides valuable US military access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace.” Wikileaks document

The fall of Mr. Mubarak has important lessons for Americans concerned about the future of our young democracy.

As events unfolded in Egypt, troubling questions – primarily in independent media sources – were raised closer to home. Why had the US government, across Democratic and Republican administrations, supported a dictator for decades with $1.3 billion of annual military aid? How could the highest ranking US government officials shake hands and pose for pictures with a man who was known to hoard stolen wealth and to govern without regard for human rights?

The facts are clear: In return for support of Israeli apartheid and access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian air space, the US government was a willing accessory to the crimes of the Mubarak regime. This is not the first time the US government has favored dictators over democracy. In a country that has supported authoritarians from General Pinochet in Chile to the royal family of Saudi Arabia, such a trade-off is standard operating procedure.

In the case of Egypt, top US government officials made a calculated policy choice to channel arms to Mr. Mubarak because his regime served the interests of US multinational corporations and the global hegemony of the US military. The power of Israel – an important client state of the US since its founding in 1948 – remained stable with Mr. Mubarak as an ally. Additionally, the Suez Canal was open for US business and Navy warships. And, with US military access to Egyptian airspace, Washington was able to confidently project its interests in the most prolific oil producing region on the face of the Earth. The real politicking is plain as day: The alliance with Mr. Mubarak secured the strategic interests of American Empire: US industry was ensured access to inexpensive energy, a safe environment to invest capital, and advantage over competitors.

At the same time, US arms manufacturers and defense contractors were subsidized with tax-payer money; the nearly $40 billion dollars Mr. Mubarak acquired through Foreign Military Finance over the years of his reign was used to purchase weapons from US suppliers. As Egyptians worried for the safety and well being of their families living under a tyrannical regime, a handful of American investors reaped financial benefit.

Never mind human rights or democracy or the emergent threat of climate crisis. For the US ruling class, all decent human values to protect life – and the basic sanctity of persons – are out the window when short term profit margins and the efficient exploitation of Middle East oil reserves are at stake.

The same cold rationale is applied to domestic affairs. Whether arming dictators like Mr. Mubarak or sending occupying military forces to Southwest Asian nations, politicians have bought Empire at the expense of economic security for working people. The bloated war budget that runs (conservatively) over $700 billion in FY2011 – the United States government spends as much on military research and development as China budgets for its entire defense – is paid for with reductions in funds to educate our children, house our elders, heal the trauma of our veterans, and help ordinary American families through hard times.

In other words, the CEOs of US arms manufacturers got richer while the rest of us saw another thread pulled out of an already tattered social safety net. While millions of people are out of work, Washington remains home to a bipartisan determination to make ever deeper cuts to critical services. While public employees face layoffs, attacks on their unions, and a steep reduction in their standard of living, billions of US tax dollars are consumed to fund weapon purchases by undemocratic governments with ties to the US military and defense contractors.

Using conservative assumptions, the Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard economist Linda Bilmes estimate more than $3 trillion will be spent in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. How can we afford to pour that much scarce public resource into fighting abroad during a deep recession? Apparently Washington has found at least a partial solution: As soldiers continue to labor far from their families in dangerous environments, the Navy Times reports politicians are discussing cuts to military retired pay.

If you happen to have millions of dollars in your bank account, you could probably care less about whether or not there is enough in the public treasury to pledge Social Security, or Medicare, or unemployment compensation for current or future generations. For the rest of us, the trade-off between military and social spending is a matter of life and death.

Weapons for dictators abroad – austerity for poor and working people at home – is the agenda of unaccountable elite who place profits ahead of all other moral principles. While Uncle Sam worries about how to satisfy the greed of the richest people in our county, the rest of humanity struggles to put roof over head, find honest work, and feed hungry mouths. At the end of the day, patriotic Americans have more in common with Egyptians who ventured into the streets for freedom from Mr. Mubarak than the people occupying the halls of the White House and Capitol Hill.

The task now is to follow the example of our Egyptian brothers and sisters into a more just future. It will not come simple, or without sacrifices – nor do most things in life worth having.

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This entry was posted in Background & Analysis, Human Rights, Imperialism, Military, US Economy, US Foreign Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

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