America’s feudal friends

As the saying goes, a man is known by the company he keeps. President Obama’s choice of Frank Wisner as his special envoy to Cairo shows that corruption has become so deeply institutionalized in Washington that it cannot be exposed — it is so commonplace, so much regarded as an inherent dimension of politics that politics and corruption are indivisible. The fact that bundles of unmarked bills in brown paper bags are rarely exchanged for political services is not evidence of a clean political system. On the contrary: it is evidence that corruption has been legalized.

Robert Fisk writes:

Frank Wisner, President Barack Obama’s envoy to Cairo who infuriated the White House this weekend by urging Hosni Mubarak to remain President of Egypt, works for a New York and Washington law firm which works for the dictator’s own Egyptian government.

Mr Wisner’s astonishing remarks – “President Mubarak’s continued leadership is critical: it’s his opportunity to write his own legacy” – shocked the democratic opposition in Egypt and called into question Mr Obama’s judgement, as well as that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The US State Department and Mr Wisner himself have now both claimed that his remarks were made in a “personal capacity”. But there is nothing “personal” about Mr Wisner’s connections with the litigation firm Patton Boggs, which openly boasts that it advises “the Egyptian military, the Egyptian Economic Development Agency, and has handled arbitrations and litigation on the [Mubarak] government’s behalf in Europe and the US”. Oddly, not a single journalist raised this extraordinary connection with US government officials – nor the blatant conflict of interest it appears to represent.

Mr Wisner is a retired State Department 36-year career diplomat – he served as US ambassador to Egypt, Zambia, the Philippines and India under eight American presidents. In other words, he was not a political appointee. But it is inconceivable Hillary Clinton did not know of his employment by a company that works for the very dictator which Mr Wisner now defends in the face of a massive democratic opposition in Egypt.

So why on earth was he sent to talk to Mubarak, who is in effect a client of Mr Wisner’s current employers?

Patton Boggs states that its attorneys “represent some of the leading Egyptian commercial families and their companies” and “have been involved in oil and gas and telecommunications infrastructure projects on their behalf”. One of its partners served as chairman of the US-Egyptian Chamber of Commerce promoting foreign investment in the Egyptian economy. The company has also managed contractor disputes in military-sales agreements arising under the US Foreign Military Sales Act. Washington gives around $1.3bn (£800m) a year to the Egyptian military.

Mr Wisner joined Patton Boggs almost two years ago – more than enough time for both the White House and the State Department to learn of his company’s intimate connections with the Mubarak regime. The New York Times ran a glowing profile of Mr Wisner in its pages two weeks ago – but mysteriously did not mention his ties to Egypt.

Nicholas Noe, an American political researcher now based in Beirut, has spent weeks investigating Mr Wisner’s links to Patton Boggs. Mr Noe is also a former researcher for Hillary Clinton and questions the implications of his discoveries.

“The key problem with Wisner being sent to Cairo at the behest of Hillary,” he says, “is the conflict-of-interest aspect… More than this, the idea that the US is now subcontracting or ‘privatising’ crisis management is another problem. Do the US lack diplomats?

“Even in past examples where presidents have sent someone ‘respected’ or ‘close’ to a foreign leader in order to lubricate an exit,” Mr Noe adds, “the envoys in question were not actually paid by the leader they were supposed to squeeze out!”

While the rationalization provided by so-called political realism ascribes US support for Mubarak to the need for “stability” in an unstable region, he also belongs to the class of leaders America has always preferred to support: those unburdened by ideological affiliations whose insatiable greed makes them dependable US allies. In other words, the US government likes rulers who are so rotten they can be trusted — which is to say, trusted to serve US interests.

What does this tell us about American values and the American view of the world?

That every man can be bought — it’s just a matter of finding the right price.

It’s not a mentality one would hope to find in the cradle of modern democracy but hardly surprising to be seen prevailing in a nation built on slavery.

There is of course nothing uniquely American in this mentality — it’s the way imperial powers have always extended their reach, but as Barack Obama said on the day of his inauguration, “the world has changed and we must change with it.”

Indeed. But, if his response to the Egyptian revolution provides a reliable measure, we have yet more evidence this president lacks the will to become the agent of such change.

Salwa Ismail writes:

There is a lot more behind Hosni Mubarak digging in his heels and setting his thugs on the peaceful protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square than pure politics. This is also about money. Mubarak and the clique surrounding him have long treated Egypt as their fiefdom and its resources as spoils to be divided among them.

Under sweeping privatisation policies, they appropriated profitable public enterprises and vast areas of state-owned lands. A small group of businessmen seized public assets and acquired monopoly positions in strategic commodity markets such as iron and steel, cement and wood. While crony capitalism flourished, local industries that were once the backbone of the economy were left to decline. At the same time, private sector industries making environmentally hazardous products like ceramics, marble and fertilisers have expanded without effective regulation at a great cost to the health of the population.

A tiny economic elite controlling consumption-geared production and imports has accumulated great wealth. This elite includes representatives of foreign companies with exclusive import rights in electronics, electric cables and automobiles. It also includes real estate developers who created a construction boom in gated communities and resorts for the super-rich. Much of this development is on public land acquired at very low prices, with no proper tendering or bidding.

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8 thoughts on “America’s feudal friends

  1. Renfro

    Yep…….corruption has been legalized and institutionalized by our government.
    Hopefully there is a revolt in our future.

  2. DrFrogg

    Patton Boggs reminds me of the law firm in the movie, The Devil’s Advocate.
    Obama is no different than his corrupt, pay to play predecessors. He just denies it, and keeps repeating the tape loop that he doesn’t/won’t play with lobbyists. He said that before he was elected and the WH had to create a waiver factory for all the lobbyists they brought in. When the waiver factory was overwhelmed, they resorted to to worthless non-disclosure statements. Unless you can bring money, don’t expect to get any face time with your elected representatives in Congress either.

  3. Norman

    Contrary to what appears to be the intent here, lessons are to be learned from this expose of the kleptocracy in Egypt, as well as other M.E. countries, especially ones that the U.S, supports. Even right here in the U.S. One fact is certain, when the sh-t hits the fan here, the leaders behind the curtains wonk be naive, nor will they not be prepared. As these events should be seen by every country that treats its people as just collateral for the benefit of the few, they should take heed that they too will feel the wrath of uprising. If anything, we now know where the leaders in the U.S. stand too.

  4. Ian Arbuckle

    The more I see of this the more I think Mubarak’s wish to die on Egyptian soil was perhaps more prophetic than he thought. The longer things go on the more likely this revolution is to degenerate to extreme violence. That would mean the people would call for Mubarak’s blood.

  5. Christopher Hoare

    It’s likely that the Obama’s inept and vacillating handling of the revolution in Egypt is not specifically caused by incompetence but by trying to find a way between two opposites — ensuring that the present kleptocracy in America’s client states is maintained while pretending to be champions of the people.

    Right, the US power was founded upon slavery and the murderous eviction of the original owners of the continent — only a fool would believe Washington’s facade of democratic ideals is genuine.

  6. dickerson3870

    RE: “Mubarak and the clique surrounding him have long treated Egypt as their fiefdom” – Salwa Ismail
    FOR EXAMPLE: “The regime of Hosni Mubarak appears to have taken some sort of bribe to send substantial natural gas supplies to Israel at a deep discount.” – Juan Cole, 02/03/11, Source – http://www.juancole.
    FROM ESAM AL-AMIN, Counterpunch, 02/01/11:

    (excerpt)…Likewise, both of Mubarak’s sons and their families left to London in their private jets. The head of the Cairo International Airport also announced that 19 private jets owned by the richest families in the country left to Dubai on Saturday. One of these corrupt billionaires was Hussein Salem, a former intelligence officer and a close confidant of the president. Dubai airport officials declared that they seized over $300 million in cash from him.
    Salem was the head of a private energy company that teamed up with an Israeli conglomerate to secure a long-term contract to sell natural gas to Israel. In June 2008 Les Afriques reported that Egypt was subsidizing Israel with hundreds of millions of dollars every year in energy purchase. By January 2010, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz exposed the secret and reported that Israel was in fact receiving natural gas from Egypt at a 70 per cent discount.
    The scandal was swept aside by the former Egyptian prime minister who refused to divulge to the parliament the terms of the contract. Subsequently when the government was sued, a judge ruled against it and invalidated the contract, which [judgement] the government totally ignored.

    SOURCE –
    ALSO SEE: ‘Egypt may buy back gas from Israel’, by staff, 08/24/10
    Egyptian paper reports that Cairo officials could lose $12b. on deal.

    Anonymous sources told al-Shaab that internal discussions at Egypt’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources decided that over half of the natural gas sold to Israel under the deal would have to be repurchased at $14 billion, even though it was sold for $2 billion.
    Cairo officials had previously blamed the gas deal with Israel as the main reason for the increase in power outages experienced by Egyptians since 2004, as less natural gas is provided for use by domestic power suppliers, AFP reported last Sunday.
    Egypt’s ruling party has been embarrassed by the increased power cuts to the population and ensuing fights between government officials over who bears responsibility for the problem, according to the independent daily al-Shorouk report cited by AFP.
    The issue may become an important one as the fight to succeed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak gains momentum.

    SOURCE –

  7. scott

    Ian, I don’t think bloodshed is bad except for the innocents, I’m all for Mubarak swarma–eat the elite! Norman, I’m not sure there is much wrath any of these kleptocrats ever feel if they aren’t lynched by their people. That’s why I support their violent and torturous overthrow. A state, and people should lean towards mercy, but these fuckers have in no way earned our mercy.

  8. Paloma

    We still havn’t got the message. As long as we let the couragous egyptian and palestinian people struggle for their freedom in their isolation, they would not overcome to these worldwide concerted conspiration by the western government complicities of the ongoing atrocities . Mass arrests by the Mubarak/Suleiman regime are already taking place near Tarhir place. Again protesters disappear. Bodies of protesters were found in the morgues of Cairo and Alexandria. Everyday protesters in small towns are killed and arrested, while Suleiman pretend to “discuss” with the opponents. Only mass demonstrations and strikes ( economic fall out) in the west in solidarity with our brohers and sisters in Egypt can provoke a deep political shift and bring back the dignity for all of us. Let’s cultivate solidarity, otherwise slavery will be garantued for all of us.

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