Newsweek’s Nostalgia for Arab Dictatorships

If you feel like there hasn’t been enough attention paid to the fact that the democratic movements in the Arab world are undermining the power of U.S. elites to have troublemakers tortured and/or killed, rest assured that Newsweek‘s Christopher Dickey has you covered this week (6/12/11):

Among American spies there’s more than a little nostalgia for the bad old days. You know, back before dictators started toppling in the Middle East; back when suspected bad guys could be snatched off a street somewhere and delivered to the not-so-tender mercies of interrogators in their home countries; back when thuggish tyrants, however ugly, were at least predictable.

It’s not a philosophical thing, just a practical one. Confronted by the cold realities of this year’s Arab Spring, many intelligence and counterterrorism professionals now see major dangers looming near at hand, while the good news–a freer, fairer, more equitable and stable Arab world–remains somewhere over the horizon. “All this celebration of democracy is just bullshit,” says one senior intelligence officer who’s spent decades fighting terrorism and finds his job getting harder, not easier, because of recent developments. “You take the lid off and you don’t know what’s going to happen. I think disaster is lurking.”

Dickey uses Egypt as one example, explaining that at one point dictator Hosni Mubarak was making plans to hand over power to feared intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. The U.S. supported that idea, but Egyptians weren’t especially keen on handing over power to Mubarak’s torture chief. Losing this vital link is apparently bad news for U.S. policymakers–though Dickey undercuts the point when he recalls this history:

The “rendition” program continued in close cooperation with Suleiman after 9/11, but the Bush administration evidently pushed hard for the kind of intelligence it wanted rather than the kind it needed. One captured Qaeda operative, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, was tortured by the Egyptians until he confessed there were operational links between his organization and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, although in fact there were no such links. “They were killing me,” al-Libi was quoted as telling the FBI later. “I had to tell them something.”

The premise of the article is that maintaining close ties to Mubarak and his ilk is vital to U.S. interests, and that the current upheaval is bad news. This example would seem to offer rather compelling evidence to the contrary.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.