James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Friday File: Americans Out of Egypt

by James M. Lindsay
March 2, 2012

An Egyptian human rights worker sits outside a non-governmental organization in Cairo. (Courtesy Reuters) An Egyptian human rights worker sits outside a non-governmental organization in Cairo. (Courtesy Reuters)


Above the Fold. The six Americans charged with violating Egypt’s civil-society laws finally got to come home last night. The National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute posted more than $4 million in bail to get the travel ban that the Egyptian government had on their employees lifted. (Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation posted another half a million dollars in bail to get its two employees out of Egypt.) The accused all pledged that they will return to Egypt in April when their trial on charges of failing to register their NGO with the Egyptian government and taking money from a foreign entity is scheduled to resume. Fat chance that happens.

The Americans’ release should curtail the mounting calls on Capitol Hill to cut U.S. aid to Egypt. But it likely won’t do much for America’s image in Egypt. The Americans aren’t coming home as the result of the normal workings of the Egyptian legal system. Instead, the Obama administration put the squeeze (justifiably so) on Cairo with an implicit threat to block IMF aid for Egypt until the Americans were freed. With Egypt’s hard currency reserves spiraling downward toward zero—Egypt’s political turmoil has killed its tourism industry—the Egyptian government recognized that discretion is the better part of valor and blinked. The Muslim Brotherhood, typically seen as a hostile to the United States, helped strike the deal that led to the lifting of the travel ban by publicly endorsing the work the NGOs had done.

With Americans now gone, however, Egyptian officials are pointing furiously at each other. Nobody wants to take the heat for capitulating to Washington, and everyone wants someone else to take the fall. The Muslim Brotherhood has even demanded an investigation into who decided to lift the travel ban. All this finger pointing should be familiar to Americans; the politics of blame avoidance is part and parcel of democracy. So perhaps Cairo’s blame game is a sign of political progress. But it is also a warning of just how fraught U.S.-Egyptian relations are. Washington may not want to remember its three-decades-long support for Hosni Mubarak, but most Egyptians can’t forget. And so the United States and U.S. policies are going to be a political football in Egypt’s politics for years to come.

CFR Event of the Week. American troops have left Iraq, but what kind of country did the United States leave behind? CFR’s Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow Ned Parker, who spent a big chunk of the last decade reporting from Iraq, took on that question when he participated in CFR’s Religion and Foreign Policy Conference Call series. He didn’t hit many optimistic notes. Iraq is “incredibly weak,” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is becoming more “authoritarian,” and many Iraqis believe that “the United States has ruined the country.” If you missed the call, you can listen in to the audio now.

Blog Post of the Week. Steven Cook looks at the limits of diplomacy in Syria as well as the agonies of intervention. I remain a skeptic on the wisdom of military intervention in Syria. The impulse to act against evil has to be paired with a strategy for success, and I’m still waiting to see one for Syria that has a snowball’s chance of passing political muster. Forging ahead with a “best-we-can-get” plan would be especially unwise. History suggests that half-measures are a primary ingredient of full-blown failures. But Steven is working hard to persuade me that benefits of intervening in Syria will soon outweigh the costs.

Poll Question of the Week. Who do Americans blame for rising gas prices? Pretty much everyone. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 18 percent of Americans (33 percent of Republicans) blame President Obama; 14 percent blame oil companies; 11 percent blame Iran and Middle East unrest more generally, 9 percent blame “government” or Congress, and 4 percent blame speculators on Wall Street. Just 4 percent of Americans point the finger at themselves for buying gas-guzzling cars and trucks.

Chart of the Week. Child mortality is a problem throughout the developing world. One in eight children in sub-Saharan Africa dies before the age of five; the comparable average for the industrialized world is one in 167. As the chart below shows, the good news in that bad news is that in most developing countries the child mortality rate has fallen substantially over the past four decades. Haiti, sadly, is the one notable exception.

Chart Source: The Economist

Too Good Not to Note. Liz Economy thinks that Chinese politics is fun again. Elliott Abrams looks at the elections being held around the globe over the next week. David Rohde thinks that Obama’s drone war is backfiring. Spencer Ackerman notes that Congress wants the larger navy that the U.S. Navy doesn’t want. TheWeek.com provides a handy recap of what happened on previous Super Tuesdays. Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie think that President Obama is vulnerable on foreign policy come election time; Jeremy Rosner and Stanley Greenberg say that Rove and Gillespie have it all wrong. Derek Thompson has President Obama’s economic case for re-election in thirteen charts. Ruy Teixeira thinks that 2012 is going to look a lot like 2008.

Perils of Prediction. “The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a ‘mouse.’ There is no evidence that people want to use these things.” John C. Dvorak, technology writer for the San Francisco Examiner, 1984. Turns out that people kinda liked that experimental-pointing-device thing.

Quote to Ponder. The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” William James.

A Reason to Smile.Suprasensorial” at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum.

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