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Dan Liljenquist: We may be doing more harm than good in Egypt

Published: Thursday, Aug. 22 2013 9:18 a.m. MDT

An Egyptian man throws a stone during clashes between rival groups of protesters in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, April 19, 2013. Several hundred supporters and opponents of Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi clashed near Cairo's Tahrir Square amid a rally calling on Morsi to "cleanse the judiciary." (AP Photo/Mostafa Darwish)

Associated Press

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The six-week-old military coup that ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi finally erupted in violence last week as soldiers and police forcibly evicted Morsi supporters from several large protest camps on the streets of Cairo. Hundreds are dead and thousands wounded as Egypt teeters on the edge of civil war, with both sides of the struggle seemingly ready to adopt Karl Von Clausewitz's assertion that "war is nothing more than the continuation of politics by other means."

Of the thousands of pictures documenting the protests and subsequent crackdown, one image has stayed with me — a mosque turned into a morgue, rows and rows of bodies wrapped in white shrouds laid out on the floor where the Muslim faithful once prayed, blood staining the linen where bullets tore through flesh, like red blossoms painted on white, mummy-shaped canvases, the last testaments of each violent death. There is nothing beautiful about butchery; there never has been.

But despite the human tragedy playing out in Cairo, we, as Americans, must not rush to intervene politically. That could make the situation far worse.

Both sides of the Egyptian conflict seem to be blaming the United States for the crisis, as if State Department diplomats and CIA agents are somehow pulling all of the marionette strings in some sort of macabre puppet show. While our Middle East policies are far from perfect, tending to be more tactical than strategic, we are neither schizophrenic nor sadistic. We don't try to press on both sides of a scale at the same time, nor do we delight in unleashing death, destruction and despair.

And yet, there the protesters are — the signs, the chants, the papier-mache effigies engulfed in flames — decrying the "Great Satan," imputing all the evil in the world to us, who are half-a-world away. This worldview, subjective and misguided as it is, has traceable origins, going as far back as the early 1950s. The United States is reaping the whirlwind of discontent from the seeds of discord we, ourselves, once sowed decades ago in the Middle East.

This week, the CIA finally declassified documents confirming its active participation in the 1953 military coup in Iran that deposed democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossaddegh, returning the Shah to power. Upon his election, Mossaddegh nationalized the assets of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, sparking fierce diplomatic confrontations with Great Britain that led to a British boycott of Iranian markets. Concerned that Mossaddegh would turn to the Soviet Union for support, the CIA and MI6 orchestrated the coup. The Shah returned and, propped up by the United States, ruled Iran with an iron fist for the next 26 years until the Islamic Revolution of 1979 finally forced him from office. It's not surprising that diplomatic relations with Iran are still poor 34 years later.

Back to Egypt — I can't blame the Egyptian people for their disdain for American interventionism. Our economic and military support can tip the political scales in smaller countries. It was our support of now deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that kept him in office for so long, while we turned a blind eye to his abuses of power, preferring stability to principle. Then, after the "Arab Spring" brought the Islamic Brotherhood to power in Egypt, we lent our support to the Morsi regime, while he and his allies brazenly replaced the Egyptian constitution with one of their own construction, endangering established rights for women and minorities. I believe our political interventions in the Middle East are ripe for re-evaluation. We may be doing more harm than good.

Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.

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