The military coup in Egypt provides a fascinating insight into the mindsets of the national-security establishments in both Egypt and the United States. After all, don’t forget: It has been the U.S. national-security state that has, over the decades, funded, built up, fortified, trained, and closely worked with the Egyptian military-intelligence establishment. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the mindsets of those who manage these two massive national-security state structures in both countries are similar to each other.
In ousting the democratically elected president of the country, Mohamad Morsi, the Egyptian national-security establishment sent a powerful message: That when it comes to determining what constitutes a threat to national security, the national-security branch of the government — i.e., the military and intelligence forces — not the president or the legislature — is the final determiner. If the national-security establishment determines that the elected president is a threat to national security, then, in the minds of the national-security establishment, it is incumbent on the nation’s military and intelligences forces to terminate the threat to the nation by removing the president from office.
It’s not difficult to understand how those in the national-security branch of the government would arrive at this mindset. It’s the specific mission of the military and intelligence branch of the government to protect “national security.” That’s its area of expertise. Thus, the idea is that the military and intelligence forces are much better positioned than the president and legislature to understand the complexities of national security and to recognize the nature of genuine threats to national security.
Of course, the ideal case is when the executive, legislative, and national-security branches of the government are on the same page in ascertaining and dealing with threats to national security. Terrorists, communists, and drug dealers are good examples of where all three branches of government come together to address what they jointly consider to be grave threats to national security.
But life doesn’t always turn out as planned. Voters make mistakes. They elect the wrong people. In those rare instances where they elect the wrong person to be president, a person whose polciies are sending the nation into economic chaos, communism, or terrorism, it becomes the uncomfortable duty of the national-security establishment to correct the mistake and remove the threat. That’s what was done, of course, with Morsi.
It’s important to understand that in this process, the personnel in the national-security establishment do not consider themselves to be bad people for doing what they have to do to protect the nation — i.e., oust the person who the voters have democratically elected president of the country. On the contrary, when something like this has to be done, the military and intelligence forces consider themselves great patriots, that is, people who are simply doing what has to be done to protect national security.
You especially see this phenomenon in Egypt, where military and intelligence officials have not only removed the president from office but where they also have imposed a brutal military crackdown on anyone who might object to what they have done and are doing. Those officials honestly believe that they are heroes for what they have done and are doing to “restore democracy” to the nation.
Equally important, so does the U.S. national-security state. Oh sure, there are the standard expressions of “concern” about the widespread vicious crackdown on the citizenry by the Egyptian national-security establishment, but everyone knows that it’s all for show. There certainly has been no termination of U.S. support for Egypt’s military dictatorship, and U.S. officials have performed all sorts of contortions to avoid calling the Egyptian coup a coup in order to avoid triggering an automatic termination of U.S. money, weaponry, and ammunition to the Egyptian military.
Even more revealing, U.S. officials continue to maintain the same position as Egypt’s military regime — that any Egyptian citizen who violently resists the military tyranny under which the nation is now suffering is a terrorist and should be dealt with accordingly.
We witnessed a similar occurrence in Chile in 1973. The national-security establishment in both Chile and the United States reached the conclusion that Chile’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, constituted a threat to national security, both in Chile and the United States. In the eyes of military and intelligence officials in both countries, the Chilean electorate had made a grave mistake by electing Allende, a self-avowed socialist and communist, to be president. As President Nixon’s national-security advisor Henry Kissinger put it, “I don’t see why we should have to stand by and let a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”
Thus, with the full support of the U.S. national-security establishment, the Chilean national-security establishment removed the threat to national security that the democratically elected Allende supposedly posed. In a violent coup, the Chilean military ousted Allende from power and assumed brutal military control over the country, as a way, of course, to transition to “democracy,” as the military is doing in Egypt.
Not surprisingly, the aftermath of the Chilean coup was quite similar to the Egyptian coup. In Chile, there were mass round-ups and incarceration of tens of thousands of innocent people, killing of peaceful protestors, torture, disappearances, kidnappings, suppression of dissent, cessation of an independent press, and even rape of detainees.
It was all justified in the same way that the Egyptian coup was justified: that this was all necessary to protect “national security.” Moreover, like the Egyptian national-security state officials, to this day the Chilean military-intelligence forces consider themselves to be great patriots for what they did, notwithstanding the fact that many of them are now serving time in Chilean penitentiaries for their “patriotic” actions.
While U.S. national-security officials were playing an important supporting role in the Chilean coup, Nixon, Kissinger, and other high U.S. officials were, at the same time, publicly denying any participation in the coup, much as President Obama, the Pentagon, and the CIA are denying any supportive role in the Egyptian coup. But it was all a lie — part of what is called “plausible deniability — the national-security state’s doctrine that entails having the president become an official liar to the world.
In fact, it was so important to the U.S. national-security establishment that its participation in the Chilean coup be kept secret that U.S. military and intelligence officials operating in Chile during the coup even participated in the execution of two American journalists, one of whom had inadvertently stumbled upon evidence of U.S. complicity in the coup. Since, with such knowledge, these two Americans, Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, had become a threat to “national security,” it was decided that it was okay to kill them.
One of the fascinating aspects of the coups in both Chile and Egypt is how they have received the ardent support of American conservatives. For example, after the Egyptian coup that removed the democratically elected Morsi from office, the Wall Street Journal, undoubtedly expressing the viewpoint of most other U.S. conservatives, wrote: “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took over power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.”
That, of course, is an incredible insight into the conservative mind. I don’t see how anyone can read such a statement and not come up with the conclusion that conservatives ardently endorse the notion that it is the patriotic duty of a national-security establishment to protect national security by removing from office a democratically elected president who purportedly poses a grave threat to national security.
Given such a mindset, I can’t understand why conservatives get so bent out of shape when people point the finger at the U.S. national security establishment in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. After all, wouldn’t U.S. national-security officials have simply been doing their patriotic duty to protect national security by removing Kennedy from office, just as national-security state officials have done with Allende and Morsi?
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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