Thursday, July 19, 2012

Are America's Right Wing Crackpots Harming US Foreign Policy?

In case you missed this story from last weekend, during the latest stop in her whirlwind tour of the world (that so far has taken her to 102 countries) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's motorcade was met in Egypt by a wild mob of protesters who threw shoes and tomatoes at her car while shouting that the US needed to stop its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, the political party of Egypt's new president Mohamed Morsi, along with chants of “Monica!, Monica!” 

As one of the most popular members of the Obama Administration, Secretary Clinton usually doesn't elicit such angry receptions during her state visits, and given that Egypt has long been an American ally, the reception was quite startling.  So what was the motivation behind it?  Apparently elements of America's own Right Wing lunatic fringe.

It seems that Egyptian conspiracy theorists have eagerly bought into some ridiculous claims currently making the rounds of the Far Right fringe that the US government has been infiltrated by radical Islamists.  Ground Zero for these claims is Sec. Clinton herself, who according to the theory, has somehow been brainwashed by her deputy chief of staff, Huma Abedin, who happens to be a Muslim, and therefore a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The Muslim infiltration of the US government has been so successful, according to the theory, that the US has gone on to rig Egypt's election in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, who we are now funding to the tune of $1.5 billion.

This crackpot theory was apparently started by Frank Gaffney, who went from serving in the Reagan administration to peddling McCarthy-style conspiracy theories about evil Muslims lurking in under the beds of Mr. and Mrs. America on internet-radio programs.  Gaffney's delusional ramblings were eagerly picked up and echoed by such Far Right luminaries as Glenn Beck, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and blogger Lucianne Goldberg, which explains the “Monica!” chants at least.  The details of this ring of lunacy have been mapped out by both the New York Times and TheRachel Maddow Show.

Of course in America we know better – at least those of us with an IQ higher than room temperature - than to take any of these idiotic ramblings seriously.  We know that these purveyors of nonsense are merely tossing out rhetorical red meat to folks like members of the Tea Party, who think that anyone not as white, Christian and conservative as they are is obviously some kind of foreign agent bent on destroying America.  We know that in this country anyone with a computer and a few dollars can stake out their own corner of cyberspace and fill it with whatever material they want, no matter how ridiculous, so the caveat that “I saw it on the Internet” is something of a joke about the reader's naiveté.

Unfortunately this model doesn't hold true in other countries, especially countries where an autocracy tightly controlled access to the media for decades.  So in a place like Egypt, being on the internet does confer some sense of legitimacy, as does the ability of someone like Frank Gaffney to be able to say they once worked for the President.  It gives his comments a certain weight, even if they sound like they ramblings of a lunatic and are easily debunked.  For example, “Muslim Brotherhood” agent Huma Abedin is also married to former Rep. Anthony Weiner, himself a Jew – hardly the action of a loyal MB member (I know Frank, it is all part of her amazingly clever cover story...).  The US rigging of the recent Egyptian Presidential election similarly makes no sense: if the US was going to rig the election then they most likely would have rigged it in favor of the SCAF-backed candidate Ahmed Shafiq, so that the US might more easily continue its decades-long friendly relationship with the Egyptian military (which is also the true recipient of the $1.5 billion in aid the Right Wingnuts say the US is providing Egypt).  Let's remember the United States' anemic early response to the Egyptian revolution – in part this was driven by a desire to keep our long-time ally Hosni Mubarak in power; it was also driven by the very real fear that if the Mubarak government fell, it's most likely successor would be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, since they were the only opposition party in Egypt with any level of organization.  Rather than wanting a Muslim Brotherhood take-over of Egypt, the United States feared it.

Dealing with idiotic comments is part of the price we pay for the freedom of expression guaranteed to us by the First Amendment.  Most Americans are savvy enough to either ignore comments like those being peddled by this collection of fringe characters or just roll their eyes at their inherent silliness.  Unfortunately folks in places like Egypt don't realize that these statements are the stuff of nonsense, they don't realize that to many Americans, Michele Bachmann is a joke. And, sadly, that means that their craziness is actually harming the United States abroad.
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