Egypt 2011 — America, 2012?

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When they’re not beating people in the streets or hauling them off to be brutalized and killed, plainclothes thugs from Egypt’s Central Security Services are looting private businesses. Egyptians not employed in the coercive sector have responded by creating private anti-looting patrols. This is a wonderful illustration of the fact that government police agencies are designed to pillage, rather than protect, and the emergence of spontaneous cooperative order may be a hopeful augury for the future.

However….

The discrediting of Egypt’s police organs may actually enhance the stature of the military. Writes Steve Coll of The New Yorker: “There have been reports that protesters are relieved to see the Army in the streets; no doubt, as in many other like countries, the Army has more credibility than the corrupt and often torture-prone police. The sense among generals and line officers that they have popular standing may influence the choices they now make.”

That observation brings to mind Brig. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap’s essay “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012,” which was published in the Winter 1992–93 issue of the U.S. Army War College journal Parameters. Dunlap used the literary device of a smuggled prison letter composed by “Prisoner 222305759,” who had been condemned to death for “treason” by the American military junta of Gen. E.T. Brutus. The junta assumed control after a series of military disasters overseas and domestic crises at home led to the disintegration of the civilian government in Washington.

In the decades leading up to the coup, the “Prisoner” recalled, “The one institution of government in which people retained faith was the military.” Even as the public lamented the corruption and profligacy of Big Government, they had nothing but bottomless respect for the Regime’s chief instrument of death and property destruction. The military retained its prestige in spite of the fact that its structural defects — made painfully visible by a long, bloody, and futile war in the Gulf —  left it “unfit to engage an authentic military opponent.”

While the military was no longer well-suited to fight and win wars, its subtle integration into every element of domestic life made it perfectly suited to carry out a coup: “Eventually, people became acclimated to seeing uniformed military personnel patrolling their neighborhood. Now troops are an adjunct to almost all police forces in the country. In many of the areas where much of our burgeoning population of elderly Americans live — [military dictator] Brutus calls them ‘National Security Zones’ — the military is often the only law enforcement agency. Consequently, the military was ideally positioned in thousands of communities to support the coup.”

It’s possible to see how a situation of this kind could materialize in Egypt, and how the current upheaval could result in an undisguised military junta (an outcome that would not disappoint Washington). And it’s just as easy to imagine a similar scenario playing out in America, with Tea Party Republicans — for whom the military (which in our system includes our own “torture-prone” police) is sacrosanct —  eagerly welcoming a military coup as “liberation” from Big Government.

1:40 pm on January 29, 2011