Shadow Government

Why Egypt says nothing about Obama and 5 other thoughts about the revolution

When drama fills the headlines, reason deserts the pundits. Here are just a few thoughts:

1. Egypt says nothing about Obama. The United States had no control over events in Egypt. It is silly to proclaim that events in Egypt proved Obama either feckless or brilliant in his foreign policy. All he could do is watch, make carefully-moderated public statements, and place a few private phone calls. Making that a test of his foreign policy acumen is like judging the Super Bowl by the coin toss. Obama's foreign policy mettle is tested on issues in which he actually has a role to play, like the war in Afghanistan.

2. If Obama gets any credit, so does Bush. Obama rightly sided (albeit cautiously) with the protesters. His pro-democracy rhetoric would have been stupendously hypocritical and opportunistic if George W. Bush hadn't given Obama legs to stand on. Bush reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by publicly criticizing Egypt and Saudi Arabia for their political oppression. Obama sounded more plausible as a result when he threw Mubarak under the bus and reached out a hand to the protesters.

3. Despite the basic goodness of people rallying against autocracy and corruption, their movement won't seamlessly usher in a golden age of good governance. Recent pro-democracy movements across the developing world are largely discouraging about the long-term effects of such popular outbursts.

  • The Georgian government never succeeded in exercising full control over its territory after the 2003 Rose Revolution. Disputes with breakaway regions helped trigged the 2008 war with Russia, which hobbled Georgian sovereignty.
  • Six years after the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine toppled Viktor Yanukovych for corruption and fraud, Ukrainians reelected him.
  • The 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon created an ephemeral sense of national unity that vanished in 2007. The national assembly couldn't agree on a President, the office went vacant, violence erupted in Beirut, and the country veered towards civil war. A national unity government was patched together in 2008. It collapsed last month.
  • The 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan installed Kurmanbek Bakiyev as President on a platform of reform and clean government. Bakiyev was as bad as his predecessor. He faced down violent protests in 2007, rigged his reelection in 2009, and finally caved to more protests and violence when he fled the country in 2010.

4. Be careful what you ask for. Every day I expected The Onion to run the headline, "Egyptians Demand Military Rule," because that, for now, is exactly what they have got. Democracy is possible, contrary to cultural determinists who think Arabs are barred by the laws of history from self-government -- but neither is it inevitable, or even particularly easy. The eventual emergence of good government and democratic elections would be a better test of Obama's handling of Egypt than parsing his utterances of the last month.

5. No one knows how the Muslim Brotherhood will react, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Elections have a track record of blunting the hard edge of some revolutionary, illiberal movements (the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), and empowering others (the Nazis). The Brotherhood's greater freedom of action in the post-Mubarak Egypt is something to watch closely. The Brotherhood's choices in the coming months and years will be more important to Egypt and the Middle East than the toppling of one autocrat. They may be a bellwether for political Islamist movements across the world.

6. James Clapper should resign.


Shadow Government

Iran's man in Ecuador

Last October, Ambassador Roger Noriega, former Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere during the George W. Bush Administration, exposed Hugo Chávez's efforts to aid and abet Iran's illegal nuclear weapons program, including its efforts to obtain strategic minerals such as uranium and to evade international sanctions.

Documentary evidence now suggests that Hugo Chavez's junior partner in Ecuador, Rafael Correa, is apparently forging his own dangerous alliance with the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regime, raising troubling questions about whether Iran continues to expand its global efforts to obtain uranium and other strategic minerals that are critical to Teheran's rogue nuclear program.

According to sensitive official documents provided to me by  knowledgeable sources in Ecuador and other countries and published here for the first time, Iran and Ecuador have concluded a $30 million deal to conduct joint mining projects in Ecuador that appears to lay the groundwork for future extractive activities. The deal, which was apparently finalized in December 2009, "expresses the interest of the President of the Republic [of Ecuador] and the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum to boost closer and mutually beneficial relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran on a variety of fronts, among them mining and geology."

The deal calls for the establishment of a jointly run Chemical-Geotechnical-Metallurgical Research Center in Ecuador [Laboratorio Químico-Geotécnico-Metalurgico] and "to jointly implement a comprehensive study and topographic and cartographic analysis of [Ecuadorean territory]."

What is most concerning about developing Ecuadorean-Iranian ties in the mining sector is that, like Venezuela, Ecuador is known to possess deposits of uranium. In August 2009, Russia and Ecuador signed a nuclear agreement that included joint geological research and development of uranium fields, as well as building nuclear power plants and research reactors. In March 2009, the International Atomic Energy Agency also unveiled plans to help Ecuador explore for uranium and study the possibility of developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. 

Granted, Ecuador's mining agreements with Iran make no mention of uranium, or any other mineral, and Ecuador has the same right as most nations to develop nuclear energy or harvest uranium. But doing so in a way that consciously aids Iran's illegal program puts it on the wrong side of international restrictions. United Nations sanctions expressly prohibit Iranian investment in activities such as uranium mining and ban Iran from pursuing "any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons."

This is not the first time the Correa government's shadowy deals with Iran have been exposed to public scrutiny. In a December 2008 deal, the Export Development Bank of Iran (EBDI)  offered to deposit $120 million in the Ecuadorean Central Bank to fund bilateral trade. EDBI, however, was sanctioned in October 2008 by the U.S. Treasury Department for helping to finance Iran's weapons of mass destruction programs.  

As a result, in February 2010, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a multilateral organization that combats money laundering and terrorist financing, placed Ecuador on a list of countries that failed to comply with its regulations. In another high profile case, the country's top trade official and a close Correa advisor, Galo Borja, was forced to resign after it was revealed his private mining and export company was doing brisk business with Iran, a flagrant violation of conflict-of-interest laws.  

The U.S. government obviously is aware of Iran's provocative activities in our own neighborhood. As far back as 2006, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, State Department officers were asking all the right questions about Venezuela's uranium riches.  Unfortunately, U.S. diplomats either have failed to monitor Iran's suspect mining activities in the Western Hemisphere or have failed to connect the dots about the dangerous game being played by Iran and co-conspirators in Venezuela and Ecuador.

President Obama has an excellent opportunity to turn this situation around and raise the issue of Iranian activities in Ecuador and Venezuela when he visits the region next month. In stops in the capitals of two regional heavyweights, Brazil, and Chile, he should privately press both countries to be more engaged in understanding and responding to the dangers to regional and international security of the escalating Iranian presence in our neighborhood. The president should also take the case to Latin American audiences that no good can come from collaboration with Iran and they risk immersing their countries in international disputes of the highest order in which they have absolutely no interest. 

If the administration fails to act on its own accord, the U.S. Congress must press for more effective measures to investigate whether Iran, Venezuela, Ecuador, and any other nation may be violating United Nations sanctions. Presidents Correa and Hugo Chávez are knee-jerk enemies of the United States. However, if their actions are found to constitute a threat to international peace and security, they must be made to pay the price.