Dictators abroad and austerity at home

By Nathan Paulsen
Jun 17, 2011

“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 long standing US government alliance with Mr. Mubarak has important lessons for Americans concerned about the future of our young democracy.

As the Arab Spring shined a new light in Egypt, troubling questions 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 American officials shake hands and pose for pictures with a man who was known to govern without regard for human rights?

Although the dots are not often connected in the major media, the logic of American Empire in Egypt under the Mubarak regime is not hard to uncover.

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.

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. In other words, as Egyptians worried for the safety and well being of their families living under a tyrannical regime, a handful of American investors reaped enormous financial benefit.

And that, ultimately, is the glue that held together the affair with Mr. Mubarak all along - the strategic interests of a wealthy elite. With a friend like Mr. Mubarak, America's military muscle was strengthened in the region and could ensure US industry access to relatively inexpensive energy, a safe environment to invest capital, and advantage over competitors.

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

And, of course, the suffering meted out by the wealthy elite on the poorer masses of humanity is not confined to people living outside our borders. The people who govern our country are as willing to trade our lives to put a few more million bucks in their wallets as they were ready to trade the lives of Egyptians for the benefit of the multinational corportations they manage.

To put words to the obvious, public funds are not unlimited. A dollar spent on dictators is one less dollar available to meet human needs at home, like education, or health care, or unemployment compensation, or police, or fire fighters. In the world of real politicking, if Empire can only be bought at the expense of economic security for working people, then so be it.

For the super rich and the politicians who back them, it simply does not matter that every penny spent by Mr. Mubarak on weapons to repress Egyptian citizens was one less penny available to educate our children, house our elders, heal the wounds of our veterans, and help ordinary American families through hard times. And why should it matter to them? If you have a seven or eight digit figure in your bank account, the last of your concerns is whether or not there is enough in the public treasury to provide for the common good. You're mind is on bigger and more private things, like buying your next mansion, or going for cocktails at your exclusive country club.

For the rest of us - say, 90% of the population - using tax money to support dictators is a price too high to pay. It is our familes, our children, our parents, our neighborhoods and communities that suffer for lack of public services. It is our standard of living that is attacked when tax money is used to send arms abroad to unruly strongmen. With Mr. Mubarak on the team, US industry got cheap oil and the CEOs of US arms manufacturers got richer - the rest of us saw another thread pulled out of an already tattered social safety net.

Weapons for dictators abroad - and 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.

Which leads us to the main lesson: 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.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

I have worked in human services for much of the past decade; during that time, I acquired an intimate viewpoint on the suffering that structural violence causes in the everyday life of our nation. In writing for War Times, I am particularly concerned with how the United States military machine – consuming hundreds of billions of tax-dollars on an annual basis to wage war and export death – has left us with fewer resources at home for health care, public education, affordable shelter, living wage jobs, domestic violence shelters, and other critical social needs.

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