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15 February 2011


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There's this odd assumption that because democracies can be inefficient, autocracies must be more efficient. Certainly they can be, but that rather depends on who's in charge, since the quality and character of government is in very large part going to be determined by the people at the top of the hierarchy. The problem of course being that if you discover the person in charge is greedy, corrupt, cruel, vainglorious, delusional or stupid, there's not a lot people can do about it, and there's not a lot preventing the will of the particular autocrat from being realized.

It's worth pointing out for example that Mao also thought China was going to produce more steel than the UK at the time through wood fired backyard furnaces. Anyone who knew about metallurgy could have told him it wasn't going to work, anyone who was amongst the first to go out and try it could have told him it hadn't worked, but they went ahead and did it anyway, denuded the countryside of wood and scrap iron and wasted countless hours of what could have been productive labor.

This is not to suggest that democracies don't do stupid things, just that Mao is not an entirely good example of the superiority of authoritarian government.

Barry Kelly

It's somewhat mysterious to me why you're writing about the US's attitude to Egypt at all. This is Egypt's situation; it's rather imperial for a USian to be wringing his hands about what his country thinks of Egypt.

As a non-USian, the US has historically held a moral high ground through being perceived to operate a principled defense of values it proclaimed to be universal. The US is hated in MENA in proportion to how it betrays this perception; and in its reaction to 9/11, it betrayed, and to a substantial degree continues to betray, this perception in the eyes of the rest of the world. But the broad thrust of what you write seems like an indirect apologia for supporting dictatorship, in some kind of faux objective mask that tries to disguise its paternalism ("they really don't want freedom, you know, they're better off with something non-democratic").

Of course people prefer economic prosperity and security to a threadbare democracy, but this dichotomy isn't even false; governments whose legitimacy doesn't derive from the people derive it from elsewhere, by force or by patronage, and these derivations favour the old, who've had time to build their networks. MENA demography makes these things unstable; democracy very probably is the better option.

Certainly, MENA democracies may not be friends of the US, or they may even follow policies that are actively harmful to US interests. But they would be preferable to US friendly - and supported - autocracies, because such support is short-sighted, and creates longer-term problems. AQ doesn't hate the US's freedom; it hates the government of Saudi Arabia and the US's support of it. 9/11 was more or less a direct result of a paternalistic dismissal of the prospects of democracy in MENA.

The US's interests are ultimately best served in being right rather than being strongest or most feared. Ironically, that means one must be vulnerable to achieve the highest safety.


Excellent Reading...Thoughtful..

Patrick Lang

Barry kelly

Well, Barry me boy, if you had some "skin in ths game" I would be more intrested in your opinion. As it is you are just another anti-American Brit. pl

Patrick Lang


"There's this odd assumption that because democracies can be inefficient, autocracies must be more efficient."

Where do you find this assumption, the quotation from George Kennan. Both Sale and I know that 3rd workd governments are all inefficient. Democracy has nothing to do with it.

I find it amusing that so many of you cling to the inculcated nonsense of the poli sci world. People are all the same, yes, sure, of course they are... pl


What I got out of this Article is the thought that
our american media CNN for example...Immediately Promoted what happened in Egypt as a "Liberty" and "Freedom" Movement for the Egyptian Protesters in the same sense that we Americans understand our own Revolution and Liberty...with what articles are Now in Our Constitution..in Mind..
The Point to me is that we
in America..really understand very little about the Cultures and politics and factions all over the middle east..as ali has tryed to explain in his very informative article..
i for One...appreciate my deprogramming I get here from the CNN machine..and realize there is so much more to the story..
'CAUTION "is the right word.. I realize now..how little I really know..I just wish everyone well..and Pray for Peaceful outcomes..


Colonel and Richard Sale,

Yes, Egyptians, Americans or Israelis are different than the English. But, there are many more similarities than differences. We are all human beings. All of our ancestors came out off Africa less than 60,000 years ago. Modern medicine works the same in all four countries. What is different is culture, language and beliefs. Human beings can communicate, if they have a common language. The Colonel’s correspondents are proof of this point. Chemistry works the same in all four countries even in their native language as long as the principles of science are followed. Only beliefs cannot be transmuted. Yet, since we are human, a Jewish, Muslim or Christian True Believer is remarkably similar.

The US Media treated Egypt as a glorified rugby scrum. As a life and death conflict it was riveting. What is more important the Protestors used the media and the internet to make it an international revolt against a tyrant.

If China or India are so inefficient, why are all the American jobs going there?

The millions and millions of American Losers will learn from the Egyptian example and will escalate their protests against a government that could care less about them. We shall see who has the best national security apparatus; Iran, Bahrain, United States or China.

Patrick Lang


You were in VN and you still believe that we are all the same? Your attitude negates the value of area knowledge. The attitude "we are all the same' is the neocon creed. We went into these two wars with that predominate idea and have fought for ten years against men who did not believe that. That idea fits very well with the whole "America is the future of the human race" concept. This proceeds from the certitude provided by my Calvinist Puritan ancestors in their New England "City on the Hill." I suppose you believe in "American Exceptionalism" as well? You should back Pawlenty for president. pl

Clifford Kiracofe


In the age of Internet, one can read foreign media to understand foreign perspectives. Why bother with US MSM except for sports, entertainment, and local and national news?

The pro-Israel US MSM is breathlessly hoping for "democracy" in Egypt. Part of this may be a sincere interest in the Egyptian people. Others may be delusional enough to think that democracy in Egypt is "good for Israel" because democracies "love peace" and "never go to war against each other."

Leaders of the youth movement, old politicians of the regime, and old politicians jailed by the regime are unanimous that the US stay out of Egyptian politics.

Egyptian public opinion is not "anti-American" in the sense it is against the American people. But it is most definitely anti-American in the sense that it disapproves of our Israel-centric foreign policy.


PL: For whatever it's worth, I don't think people are the same, and have no issue with the thesis that local governing institutions institutions will and should reflect local character.

I did get the impression however, that that quote from Keenan was referring to the efficiency of authoritarian governments. Aside from pretty clearly stating that authoritarian governments were better able to improve the lot of the average person there's this:

"He also asks the question as to whether “the great masses of the people of the world as oppose to its restless intellectuals, prefer democracy to prosperity and economic security?” He thinks not. "

The implication I got from that is that democracy is less able to deliver economic prosperity, or a decent standard of living than an authoritarian regime.

Yusuf  Al-Misry

Maybe I could not understand everything Mr Sale wanted ti say. But laws,values,traditions and thoughts have never been a static set of a group's characteristics. They change constantly and one of the agents of change is learning from other groups. That is more obvious in today's world as its groups (nations) get closer than ever.
A set of laws ,values constitution..etc is in a way social contract between the people and their government. John Adams spent sleepless nights thinking of how to close any possible whole that could be used by a future tyranny. Some Egyptians are doing exactly that right now. They do not run to copy the American constitution and say that is it.
But all this means that what happened in Egypt is not "basically a coup and at the moment there is no law". If the social contract has changed on the ground it means it will definitely change in its written forms. Compare simply with a coup in Congo or wherever when an arrogant General topples another arrogant General. That is not the case in Egypt. The intervention of the arrogant Generals came after an uprising centered on one major demand:Freedom.
The whole balance between the people in one side and its rulers has been altered. Such things can not be reversed. And if the are it will be for a short time. This is not a coup. And the absence of laws is not the issue here. The situation has changed once and for all.
Freedom is indeed not an American invention. The Americans were able to give every body else a major contribution in how humanity should do to avoid tyranny. Once this was done it ceases to be American. It becomes ours all wherever we are. This American system was not a storm in a clear sky. it benefited from every bit of relevant ideas everywhere else, particularly in Europe. It came out different simply because of what Mr Sale said.
Egypt will take its course. And it is obvious that something has changed once and for all. And it is something big. Could that be a coup?


"The millions and millions of American Losers will learn from the Egyptian example and will escalate their protests against a government that could care less about them."

If protesting worked so well in Democracies the US would not have invaded Iraq. Maybe if they decided to vote at something more than 63%. (It's even lower in priary of down ballot elections)they could have a more immediate impact on their representatives' conduct.



Thanks for putting down the idea of American Exceptionalism, and the naivete' of Americans who think all human beings are alike. That might be true to some extent biologically, with nearly identical genes. But it's the cultural memes, to use Richard Dawkins coined word, which make things hard to understand. Like evolution of genes, evolution of memes occurs over a very long time.

George W. and his neocons would have done well to have taken Cultural Anthropology 101, in school. We just might have averted the disasters that have occurred by the naive, Utopian idiots' beliefs that we are all the same, and America knows best.



I was not an 11 Bravo but 76Y40. I kept my nose clean and didn’t get to much harassment because one never knew in Vietnam when you would have to rely on the cooks, supply specialists and mail clerks to back you up.

It is the nature of war. Paul Fussell in “Doing Battle” describe his experiences fighting as a young lieutenant in Southern France and how pissed off he was once the war was over how the Germans changed suddenly changed overnight from the savages he fought to allies.

My mailman is Vietnamese. We were talking a while back. He asked if I had been to Vietnam. I said yes a long time ago. He said “I thought so. You look like you were in the Army”.

I used to believe in the “City on the Hill” because that was how I was raised. I used to think I was moderate. I voted for Republicans, from Dan Evans to Bob Ehrlich. But, the Iraq Invasion was flat out crazy. The Iraqis will fight the foreign invaders forever. We are almost 8 years in on forever. This is basic human nature. The best description from the American view point is the movie “Red Dawn”. Also, relegating millions of Americans for decade or more of unemployment by cutting government spending now is crazy.

Yes, I am chauvinistic. All humans are. But communication and understanding are better than war and greed.


Col: what I enjoyed most about your interview on Kiwi radio was the lack of sentimentality by your questioner. Maybe NZ's remote location helps them avoid our chronic navel gazing.



I should have added my belief that the neocons used the argument for democracy being the best for all people, to hide their true goal, which is to keep America at war, somewhere, all the time, because their military/industrial complex makes for creating fortunes for them all.

Paul Escobar

Some of you clearly skim when you read.

I though this article was pretty clear:
"I suspect it’s features are likely to be unfamiliar or even hostile to an American like me. The point is we can still live with it. "

Here is a man willing to respect the Egyptian people for who they are.

Contrast that to these media cheerleaders whose respect is conditional.

If the Egyptian people ever do have their way, and men still aren't allowed to strip for a living, Anderson Cooper will demand we intervene. Richard Sale will not.

The beaver


OT (in a sense related)
Things are not going well in Bahrain - so far 3 deaths within a day. No reaction from Hillary and yet the Navy 5th Fleet is based there and if the kingdom topples (long shot), double whammy for the strike on Iran (Dennis Ross must be sweating LOL)

Patrick Lang


Well, you would be wrong. I know them and you do not.
They are motivated by their stupid "we are all the same" ideology, not by the rather primitive economic piracy thing that you want to believe. Actually, in spite of the misnomer they have deep left wing roots. pl

Patrick Lang


"Based" is a misnomer. 5th Fleet has a forward headquarters there. The US Navy is largely based at sea in forward areas. pl

Patrick Lang


Yes I thought Mary Wilson, the interviewer had a remarkable sang foid about the whole thing. pl

Roy G.

Could it be said that it all depends on who is considered to be 'we' and 'they' and that the media is trying to hijack the 'meaning of it all?'

I think there is a big difference between the implicit sympathy that many human beings have when they see others subjugated to tyranny, and finally breaking through, and the syllogistic application that leads to the conventional wisdom that 'they want American style democracy.' The former seems to be something organic, while the second is synthesized to create an appearance of support, while actually reinforcing American Exceptionalism.

Regarding 'we' and 'they,' isn't it obvious by now that when the Power Elite and their media mouthpieces speak of 'we,' they mean their fellow elites? This ties together personal elitism with old and new money, realpolitik, and the Straussian neocons, all of whom like to operate in secrecy, using the royal 'we' as a cloak and a shield.

I'd also like to point out the flip side, as I see it, to Mr. Sale's argument: the same media establishment that is now promoting the idea that 'we' are so similar to the Egyptians, are the same organs who have been eagerly pushing the differences between Americans.


The attitude "we are all the same' is the neocon creed. We went into these two wars with that predominate idea and have fought for ten years against men who did not believe that.

I didn't trust the neocon's rhetoric, felt more like power-politics glossed over with public relations.

But should we really return to late nineteenth century crowd psychology, and/or the time's perspective on physiognomy, psychology, and the culture of race of Gustave Le Bon? I don't know his The psychology of Crowd, but I assume for him the Arabs or e.g. the South Americans are more likely to be mobbish than e.g. the Americans in the North. No?

But since I am interested in images of "the Arab" in the West, I may well have a look at both books to find out:


Gustave Le Bon, La Civilisation Arabe / The Arab civilization, c 1884 / The Arab civilization, Chapter: 1. The idea of race according to the latest science (my really fast translation, pdf-link, book I + II, page 62-67)

Human settlements scattered over various parts of the world have been classified into a number of groups to which were given the name of race. This term implies that once between these human groups the differences were smaller than those found between the various groups of animals known as species. But the progress of modern science has proven that the various races of men are separated by characters as different as those of the diverse species, thus, we must consider today the word race when applied to humans as a synonym of the word human species. One can easily define agglomerations of individuals with specific sets of common characters that are regularly transmitted by inheritance.

2. The importance of the psychological character in studying race.

chapter ends on: in the study of their character we find the reason of both their greatness and their decadence.

3. Origin of the Arabs

Various considerations primarily based on their language have led to the classification of one family, called Semitic, these diverse populations: Arabs, Jews, Phoenicians, Hebrews, Syrians, Babylonians, Assyrians, who occupied and occupy even Arabia and Asia Minor to the Euphrates.

Ah, the central thing is the psychological character, which makes some more "mob-like", or semi-barbarous, a term he uses slightly above my quotes. Arabs are "Semites"? Now, that of course explains it, they must be just as bad as the other "Semites", the Jews.

Patrick Lang


Ah! Always with the accusation of anti-Semitism, always.

As for your distrust of the rhetoric of the neocons. YOU ARE WRONG!!! They believe their own crap implicitly and thoroughly. Perhaps now you will love this secretive vanguard party. Long live Edmund Burke! Down with Jean Jacques Rousseau! ( a touch of humor, but true ) pl


Who do the peasants and agricultural labourers support?

Are there any agrarian reform issues to motivate them one way or the other?

If push comes to shove, is the Army capable (in the fullest sense of the word) of liquidating or cowing all these supposedly educated and internet enabled, hip, savvy, way cool, connected young urban dudes that did that revolution thing? (Pardon the sarcasm).

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