Neocon Operatives in Egypt

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Walking along a Moscow street, in 2006, a man picks up a rock and carries it away: nothing about that is suspicious in itself, now is it? Except that the rock was fake, a hollowed out simulation that contained electronic equipment: it was the equivalent of a u201Cdrop boxu201D in which Russian agents of British intelligence were able to download information from a hand-held device — likely a mobile phone — and provide it to their British handlers operating out of Her Majesty’s Embassy. One of the individuals secretly filmed by the Russian security bureau retrieving messages was the British official responsible for making disbursements to Russian u201Chuman rightsu201D organizations. When the Russians examined the contents of the fake rock, they found it contained information on illegal payments made to Russian individuals working for u201Chuman rightsu201D NGOs. Although the Brits denied it at the time, Jonathan Powell, a former chief of staff to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, admitted to the scheme in a recent four-part BBC series on Putin’s Russia.

The admission came at an inconvenient time: during Russia’s tumultuous presidential election, in which the Russian opposition was accusing Vladimir Putin of stealing the vote, and Putin, in turn, was characterizing the opposition as paid tools of Washington. The Americans did nothing to disabuse Russians of this charge: indeed, when the new US Ambassador to the Kremlin, Michael McFaul, arrived in Moscow, he met with leaders of the Russian opposition on his second day in town. As Eric Kraus, a Moscow-based fund manager, put it:

u201COne should first ask what the reaction would have been in the United States if the British ambassador to Washington began his mandate by throwing an open house for ‘Occupy Wall Street’ — it would have been considered a hostile act. Why is Russia any different? Russia is a sovereign state, not a protectorate, and the job of any ambassador is to facilitate state-to-state relations, not to become a player in domestic politics.u201D

But of course the US is indeed involved in the domestic politics of practically every nation on earth, and it even has an official agency in charge of such meddling. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is a u201Cpublic-privateu201D institution that receives direct grants of US tax dollars, which it then funnels abroad via its four main constituent parts: the National Democratic Institute (NDI), affiliated with the Democratic party, the International Republican Institute (IRI), a division of the GOP, the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), sponsored and partially funded by the AFL-CIO, and the Center for International Private Enterprise, affiliated with the US Chamber of Commerce. Founded in 1984, NED played a key role in undermining the Nicaraguan government at a time when the US government was illegally funding the so-called u201Ccontras,u201D who were carrying out a terrorist campaign against the authorities in Managua.

In 1985, it was revealed the NED had been financing two groups in France, of all places: the National Inter-University Union (UNI), and Force Ouvriere (FO), a labor organization. UNI was an offshoot of the Service for Civic Action, an extremist right-wing terrorist group that had killed several people in the south of France and engaged in drug smuggling. UNI scored $575,000 from NED. FO was in a pitched battle with left-wing unions for supremacy in the French labor movement, and the US funding via NED — to the tune of $830,000 — was seen as an attempt to undermine Francois Mitterand’s socialist government.

In 1989, when Nicaragua’s Sandinista government was being challenged by the opposition — led by newspaper publisher Violeta Chamorro, and her United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO) — Congress passed a $9 million appropriation for the NED to get involved in the Nicaraguan election. It passed with one restriction, however: none of the money was to be used to help one particular party. In reality, however, almost all the funding went to the UNO. In tandem with the flood of millions of dollars into the opposition, the US unleashed the contras, inflicting unprecedented violence on civilians and wrecking the economy.

The Endowment has been a vital instrument in the deployment of u201Csoft poweru201D to further US interests, acting as a conduit for funding the u201Ccolor revolutionsu201D that were sparked by US-funded activists in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. It is, in short, a weapon in the US arsenal designed to effect u201Cregime changeu201D in countries deemed insufficiently enthusiastic about becoming — or staying — a US protectorate.

Although the u201CArab Springu201D looks to have taken the US by surprise, Washington moved quickly — via the NED and USAID — to coopt the movement. It appears, though, that the Egyptian government — which has just elected a majority Muslim Brotherhood parliament — is having none of it: Cairo recently put NED activists, including the son of the US Secretary of Transportation, on a u201Cno flyu201D list, and announced it will prosecute a number of individuals, including 19 Americans, for engaging in illegal activities. Washington is outraged, and its amen corner is already mobilizing in support of the u201CCairo 19.u201D

Egypt, like the US, has strict controls on foreign interference in its internal politics: foreign-funded organizations must register with the government, and give a complete accounting of their activities. The US has even stricter controls: foreign contributions to electoral activities on American soil are forbidden by US law, and, in addition, groups receiving funding from foreign governments must register as foreign agents. The penalty for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is five years in prison and a $10,000 fine — roughly equivalent (except for the fine) to the penalty faced by the u201CCairo 19.u201D

Neither IRI nor NDI ever registered with the authorities in Egypt: the claim is that they didn’t do so because u201Cthe laws required licenses that were almost never grantedu201D and u201Cexerted government control over foreign contributions.u201D Of course, the New York Times reporter who wrote this neglected to inform his readers that the US absolutely bans any foreign intervention in the electoral process on its own soil. That’s the Americans’ signature stance in the world: one standard for me, and another for thee….

It’s hard to believe anyone with the least bit of objectivity would blame the Egyptians for reacting to interference in their politics the way they have, but Harper’s Scott Horton has stepped into the breach with a polemic that is as unconvincing as it is arrogant.

Horton blames the Muslim Brotherhood for u201Ccoddling the military,u201D and seeking to cement its power by refusing to investigate corruption in the barracks. He writes that the Brotherhood’s pact with the military brought on the prosecution:

u201CUnder attack are the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute — two venerable, congressionally funded organizations linked to America’s two political parties, each with a solid record of accomplishment in the global struggle for democracy.u201D

From funding the French extreme right to overthrowing the Sandinistas by means of terrorism — that’s a u201Csolid record of accomplishment,u201D alright, except it has nothing to do with u201Cthe global struggle for democracyu201D and everything to do with advancing Washington’s global ambitions. For Horton, naturally, there is no difference between these two goals — but the inhabitants of the countries whose politics we are meddling in may see it differently.

While speculating the Egyptians could actually u201Cbelieve that organizations dedicated to promoting democracy are actually working to overthrow the Egyptian state in the interests of some foreign power,u201D he dismisses this out of hand because u201Cplacing the blame for domestic problems on the unseen hand of a foreign foe is an ancient and sometimes effective strategy for a government in extremis.u201D

Given the NED’s long record of manipulating the internal politics of nations we’ve targeted for u201Cregime change,u201D is it really all that unreasonable for the Egyptians to suspect something is amiss? Oh, but no, according to Horton:

u201CWhether they occur in Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Hungary, or Israel, attacks on NGOs, especially those focused on democracy advocacy and human rights, are the hallmark of illiberalism. In Egypt, they demonstrate how the revolution has run off course. And they show the country’s deep-seated suspicion of the United States. The Obama Administration is right to treat these developments with alarm. So should the Egyptians still protesting at Tahrir Square.u201D

If it’s u201Cilliberalu201D to resent and oppose foreign interference in domestic politics, then one looks forward to Horton’s call for the abolition of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and similar legislation.

Apart from that, however, a far more important point is Horton’s definition of illiberalism as a refusal to allow such interference: implicit here is the idea that the US government is the agency of a u201Cliberalu201D ideology which it is duty bound to export abroad. Washington, in this view, is the embodiment of u201Cliberalism,u201D just as Moscow embodied Leninism in the cold war era. To oppose the activities of the NED and its international affiliates is u201Cilliberalu201D in the same sense opposing Communist subversion in, say, the Americas, was considered u201Creactionaryu201D by the Kremlin and its American apologists. The NED is the American version of the old Third International: the obedient instrument of US foreign policy. To question its right to intervene anywhere is to align oneself with the forces of darkness.

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Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.

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