Friday, January 28, 2011

Another Pillar Crumbles?

On New Year's Eve, 1978, President Jimmy Carter and his wife Roslyn were enjoying a posh celebration in Tehran, Iran, hosted by Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. It was a glorious evening of elegant dress, fine food, and a modest amount of drink. When Carter had first become President earlier that year, he tried to promote a more humane foreign policy by publicly criticizing the brutal Iranian dictator for his repressive policies. By the end of the year, a chastened Carter allowed pragmatism to prevail, and American fear of a growing Islamic movement in Iran had brought the President of the United States to sup with the "King of Kings."

Said the American President in his New Year's toast: "Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world."

"We have no other nation on Earth who is closer to us in planning for our mutual military security. We have no other nation with whom we have closer consultation on regional problems that concern us both. And there is no leader with whom I have a deeper sense of personal gratitude and personal friendship."

In less than a year, the Iranian Revolution had overwhelmed the "island of stability." By January 1979, the Shah fled Iran. The American strategic masterplan known as the "Twin Pillars" -- relying on Iran and Saudi Arabia to contain Soviet influence in the Gulf -- evaporated into nothingness overnight.

On PBS tonight Vice President Joe Biden said of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak: "I would not refer to him as a dictator." Two days ago, SecState Hillary Clinton described Mubarak's rule as "stable." Once again, the wise, seasoned overseers of American foreign policy side with the despots, fearing the alternative. A lesser set of pillars -- Jordan, Egypt, and (still) Saudi Arabia -- have become our "longstanding" Arab allies in the Middle East. What a losing trifecta of broken monarchs and despotic strongmen! The sad truth: the Obama foreign policy preferences in the Middle East are not one iota different from those of George W. Bush. Biden and Clinton will regret their comments of late January, 2011, just as Carter, that feckless champion of human rights, must now regret his toast on New Year's Eve, 1978.

Mubarak has learned a thing or two from his Iranian neighbors (remember, it was to the Egypt of Mubarak's predecessor that Pahlavi initially fled). One thing Mubarak learned from the open revolt against the Iranian government in the summer of 2009 is that the internet and its freewheeling forms of social communication can serve as powerful megaphones for revolutionaries. So tonight, in anticipation of tomorrow's "Gathering Day or Rage," the 4 major ISPs of Egypt (2 jointly owned with European telcos) went dark. See this fascinating analysis of Egyptian DNS traffic from earlier today, with a dramatic graph showing the sudden dropping off the grid of this country of 80 million people at 2234 UTC. 

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