The last time I tried to write a critical post of the former Secretary of State, my computer crashed…crackpot conspiracy theorists could have a field day with that!
There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of the manner in which the Obama Administration handled the Arab Spring, a series of popular democratic uprisings against authoritarian and undemocratic regimes across the Middle East.
Many condemned the administration for waffling over its support of majoritarian, always initially peaceful, idealistic protesters. You could be understandably frustrated with the fact that for too long the administration allowed arms deals, the whispers of the sadists in the security state, and long U.S. alliances with brutal dictatorial leaders to stand in the way of popular protesters who spoke the language of democracy both fluently and passionately, and who looked to the U.S. as an example.
From both a moral and practical standpoint, the administration lost out by standing by the dictators for too long, both because those dictators felt more free to use violence against protester when they knew they had the tacit support of the U.S. and because, when democracy won the day in many cases, people remembered that the U.S. had refused to support their cause—a cause which we like to claim as our own.
In other cases, the U.S. stood mute as authoritarian, fundamentalist monarchies like Saudi Arabia helped dictators in neighbouring states like Bahrain put down protests with dramatic violence.
So while there are many reasons to be displeased with the response of the U.S. to these democratic risings—which when they grew ugly often did so because of violence which could have been avoided if the U.S. had sided with people against their rulers—then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is being creative in her criticisms of the administration.
According to the Guardian, Clinton “includes herself among an old guard of cautious realists such as vice-President Joe Biden, national security adviser Tom Donilon and defense secretary Robert Gates who were at odds with a younger generation of White House aides ‘swept up in the drama and idealism of the moment’”.
The paper described how “[Clinton] pushed for Hosni Mubarak to transition power to his successor but was overruled by President Barack Obama”. The final decision to withdraw support from Mubarak was one of the good calls by the otherwise paralysed President, trapped as he was between the demands of most Egyptian citizens on the one hand and the anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian Congressional GOP and key cabinet officers like Clinton.
Allowing Mubarak—a brutal dictator in control of a vicious secret police—to set the terms of the transition would have made a mockery of democracy. The Guardian cites as potential evidence for Clinton’s claim “the turbulent path [Egypt] has taken since Mubarak stepped down amid violent street protests more than three years ago”. But that turbulence is partly a product of the refusal of Egypt’s military—armed and backed by the United States—to respect the results of the election that followed Mubarak’s ouster, and the military’s deliberate generation of violence and uncertainty.
What I think Clinton and the Guardian are trying to say, but are struggling with, is that the former Senator and Secretary of State, while in office, was a good friend to and strong advocate for vicious dictators and murderous thugs, and worked to undermine the success of the organic and democratic uprisings that shook much of the Middle East during the Arab Spring.
Clinton is trying to explain, in that special, mangled way that she and her husband have when working overtime to re-write the record, that all of her rhetoric about human rights and democracy is so much rubbish as compared to her substantive record, according to which she is one of the foremost advocates of the foreign policy conventional wisdom which has for so long dominated our country. That conventional wisdom has locked the U.S. and much of the world in a ceaseless and unproductive cycle of violence and pitifully pits the citizens of our country against people in other nations who want, far more often than not, nothing more than to aspire to the same kinds of rights and representation that we take for granted at home.
When her memoir comes out next week we will undoubtedly learn more about the contradictions and hypocrisy at the heart of Clinton’s political machinations on behalf of wealth and power around the world. But this episode makes clear that if the Secretary of State had her way, the Arab Spring would never have come and that the Middle East would remain even more firmly in the wintry grip of the region’s “Good Old Boys”, a group of degenerate autocrats who maintain their power to a large degree thanks to moral and material support from the United States, once the arsenal of democracy, today the arms bazaar for the world’s ruthless regimes.