John McCain Advocates For Democracy In Egypt: "We Need To Be On The Right Side Of History"

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Sen. John McCain exemplifies the thin line that United States foreign policy must tread and the careful selective memory we must employ in terms of what's happening in Egypt.

Choosing to mimic the careful parsing earlier offered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr. Sunday Talk Show Circuit voices support for the Egyptian people (not the Egyptian rioters, not Mubarek, not El Baradei, just the generic people of Egypt). But he also ignores the irony of both our myopic foreign policy and our own international reputation:

I think one of the lessons here is that we need to be on the right side of history in these countries and we need to do a better job of emphasizing and arguing strenuously for human rights. I understand how important -- and I hope we all understand how important Egypt is as an ally, as a center of culture. And one out of every four Arabs in the Middle East live in Egypt and how important they are. But it was clear for a long time that the kind of repressive regime sooner or -- that Mubarak controls, sooner or later there is going to be great difficulties.

Yes, let's talk about the importance of human rights when the Egyptians know only too well our killing of hundreds of thousands Iraqi civilians and displacement of a million more; our stealth war in Pakistan, killing wedding parties with drone strikes; our refusal to even count how many Afghan casualties we're responsible for; our blind eye to the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Yemen, etc. Especially since we've been using the repressive aspect of Egypt's government to do our dirty work with rendition and torture, something that is not unknown to the general citizenry. Yup, we're really on the right side of history for this one. It's also hard for the Egyptian people to forget that we've enabled that repressive regime for 30 years, as Crowley points out:

CROWLEY: And -- but we are talking about other U.S. allies in the area who we have joined forces with and they are not exactly democracies -- Jordan, Saudi Arabia, places like that. Now what?

I mean, on Capitol Hill you all have the ability to cut aid to these countries, but Egypt is number two in foreign aid after Israel.

At least McCain is making lip service to aspiring to a free and fair democracy for Egypt. John Bolton and Rep. Thaddeus McCotter don't even pretend to care about it, demanding that the US unconditionally support Mubarak.

Transcripts below the fold

CROWLEY: Joining me now in Washington, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. We are at the point in foreign policy where our values are just running headlong into our strategic interests. I asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who do we back? Do we back Mubarak or do we back the people on the street. She said, well, we back the Egyptian people which was a little different to her from the people on the street.

Is it time to cut him loose?

MCCAIN: Not cut him loose, but also I think one of the lessons here is that we need to be on the right side of history in these countries and we need to do a better job of emphasizing and arguing strenuously for human rights. I understand how important -- and I hope we all understand how important Egypt is as an ally, as a center of culture. And one out of every four Arabs in the Middle East live in Egypt and how important they are. But it was clear for a long time that the kind of repressive regime sooner or -- that Mubarak controls, sooner or later there is going to be great difficulties. Good news I think is that the army is playing a very constructive role. So I think what we need to do now is to lay out a plan for Mubarak to lift the state of emergency, announce that elections -- free and fair -- will be held in September, which were already planned, allow an open and free democratic process, which I think we could have some confidence if it was an open process that you would see a free and fair election and that we make sure that the aspirations of the Egyptian people are realized finally.

And it's fraught with danger, as you earlier guessed: the Muslim Brotherhood, the Iranian example and others, but there is also a good chance for a real functioning democracy and arguably the most important nation in the middle east.

CROWLEY: But, you know, for 30 years Republican and Democratic presidents have publicly at times, most privately as we saw in some of those leaked WikiLeak cables from the diplomatic cables, they said, you have to do something here, you can't be an authoritarian. It didn't work. It was 30 years of -- I mean, he'd do something and we'd say, okay, thanks and then we'd sort of retreat.

So what else could have been done? Isn't he too important to us?

MCCAIN: Madeleine Albright and I sent a letter before the last election saying allow observers in. Russ Feingold and I sponsored a resolution calling for more respected human rights. You can't -- you cannot over -- isn't it a lesson of history you cannot have autocratic, regimes last forever. And the longer they last, the more explosive the results. And that's a lesson we have to learn that all of these rights that individuals have is not confined to the United States of America and our allies.

And so I still think we have a real opportunity to see a democratic transition. And by the way, could I also mention, Jordan is a very serious situation. Yemen is a country that's fraught with more problems than we can take the time to describe on this program. Even as far away as Libya.

So this is a very critical time.

MCCAIN: What happens in Egypt will directly and dramatically effect what happens in these other countries. There is a real awakening going on.

CROWLEY: And -- but we are talking about other U.S. allies in the area who we have joined forces with and they are not exactly democracies -- Jordan, Saudi Arabia, places like that. Now what?

I mean, on Capitol Hill you all have the ability to cut aid to these countries, but Egypt is number two in foreign aid after Israel.

MCCAIN: Yes. And I think that we have to say that everything is on the table and encourage and help and assist, you know, a process that leads to a free and fair election.

I have confidence in the Egyptian people that they are not going to elect an extremist. They are not going to allow an extremist group to hijack their country and that can be prevented if we have a fair, open process beginning now between now and September, you could have the rise of political parties. You could have a real democratic process that could be celebrated throughout the region and a model for the rest of the region.

The other is, of course is hang on, more demonstrations. The army turns one way -- there is all kinds of bad scenarios here and really only one good one. But I would say I think the president's statement was correct. Now we need to take it a step further and we've got to be on the right side of history here.

CROWLEY: I guess the problem is that if we have been at them for 30 years to change, I wonder why they would listen to us now -- why Mubarak would listen to us now?

MCCAIN: Well, obviously he's in an extremist position. The army is now the critical institution. The police, as we all know, have disappeared. It's the only real stabilizing force in the country right now. Fortunately, we have had close relations with the Egyptian military. There are a lot of very good, strong people there.

So -- and also I think that President Mubarak, he knows what's going on in his own country. It's up to the United States to be a helpful, assisting but insisting partner. And by the way, we cannot afford a Tiananmen Square in Cairo.

CROWLEY: And that's the question, I guess. When you look at these streets throughout Egypt, not just in Cairo, do you see a group willing to wait until September to get rid of Hosni Mubarak?

MCCAIN: I think that the group -- and I don't know the sentiment on the street, but it seems to me logic if Mubarak said, I'm not going to run again. I am turning over this government to a caretaker that you can trust probably with the army involved, they are not going to have any further political aspirations and we'll set up a process for a free, open, transparent election in September. I think you could do that.

But this is a narrow window of opportunity. The longer the unrest exists, the more likely it is to become extreme.

CROWLEY: Tell me how you think the president has done so far. Sounds like you think he's done pretty well. And what do you want him to do next?

MCCAIN: I think the president should get a little bit more out ahead. I think his statement that he made day before yesterday was good.

CROWLEY: How? Ahead of...

MCCAIN: Well, I think in other words lay out a scenario of what we think the Egyptian people should have every right to expect, the kind that I just described. The past performance of this administration hasn't been great. They cut off some of the money for democratization, et cetera. But we can review that at a later time. The important thing is I think the president made the right statement. I think that the secretary of state made a good presentation to you. I just want to see her go a little bit further. And let's get out in front on this issue on behalf of the things we have always stood for and believed in.

And every time we have been on the right side of history it's usually turned out okay.

CROWLEY: What is your -- I asked Negroponte and Walker before you, what do you fear the most watching this? Because there is so much uncertainty right now that we really don't know which way it's going to go.

MCCAIN: My great fear is, obviously, a radical Islamic extremist -- the Iran scenario versus the Philippines or other scenario. That's all of our greatest fear, but the longer this unrest, the more likely the radicals see openings to take power -- the Lenin scenario.

So that's my greatest fear. My second greatest fear, of course, started in Tunisia. Egypt, we see problems in Yemen; Jordan, our dearest, most important -- very important ally. This could be a really seminal moment in history of the Middle East.

And the question is, is does that turn out good or does it turn out to the advantage of radical Islamic extremism? And I don't know the answer yet.

CROWLEY: I don't know either...

MCCAIN: Egypt will be key though.

CROWLEY: We will have you back when the answers become clearer. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

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