Egypt: global intel agencies fail yet again.
The U.S. alone has 22 official intelligence agencies, plus the ones we know nothing about. There are scores of intelligence operations worldwide, from the venerable MI6 to Mossad to the personal national-security advisor to Robert Mugabe.
And what do they have in common, along with their diplomatic-service comrades-in-arms?
They failed to forecast the uprising in Egypt - hard to miss, you would think, since it's taking place not just in Cairo and Alexandria but throughout that country.
And, once again, the "great powers" have no idea how to react. Which plainly reveals they hoped no such thing would happen. The West has benefited from the political and economic stability ensured by decades of dictatorial rule throughout the Mideast (democratic Israel obviously excepted), and from Washington to Tokyo to Ottawa to Berlin, we've liked the status quo.
Egypt is Israel's one quasi-ally in the region, save for tiny Jordan. It keeps the Suez Canal and its 6% of total world shipping open and safe. It even committed a sizeable contingent of troops to the explusion of Saddam from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War.
Odd thing, the student-based unrest percolating in Iran has been an object of fascination in Western capitals for years. Yet not so the growing youth-led dissident movement in Egypt. With the biggest population (84 million) and armed forces in the Arab world, you would think Egypt bears watching.
Why that disparity?
Because we want the theocracy in Tehran toppled. Mubarak, by contrast, is our friend - even if he has long been a repressive thug. Shimon Peres, the Israeli PM, went so far yesterday as to reassert his continued respect for Mubarak. That was a rare bit of candor piercing the latent cynicism throughout the West, which may have its moral qualms about Mubarak's regime but has never doubted his importance in holding the line against an upheaval that might destabilize the entire region and translate into soaring pump prices for Ohioans. That would be the outcome with a rise to power of a new regime in Cairo not to the West's liking.
All of which is drenched in hypocrisy.
But putting that aside, why do the world's ultra-sophisticated intel agencies, hugely expensive to maintain, keep missing the game-changing events of our times? The ouster of the Shah of Iran in 1979. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that same year, and Moscow's humilating defeat there a decade later. The implications of a Taliban regime in Kabul, including its sheltering of a new terrorist group calling itself The Branch, or al-Qaeda. The Tiananmen Square protests and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Rwandan genocide, and the eruption of "ethnic cleansing" in the Balkans. The 9/11 attacks. The terrorist attacks on Madrid and London. The rise of Hamas in Palestinian Authority elections that Dubya and Rice surely would not have urged on the Palestinians had they correctly guessed the outcome. The Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. The global financial maelstrom that same year, triggering the Great Recession and lingering sovereign-debt scares across Europe.
If the Egyptian army eventually sides with the dissidents, Mubarak's secular, pro-Western, Israel-benign regime may give way to an agreeable status quo embellished by a movement toward democracy, income and gender equality, and other stuff of which "Partridge Family" episodes were made.
Then again, religious and/or nationalist extremists may replace the incumbent autocracy with an even more disagreeable one. An anti-West, anti-Israel theocracy, perhaps, and no less intent on acquiring nuclear weapons than its counterpart in Tehran. What's our response to that? Have we war-gamed it?
The fall of Mubarak, no spring chicken at 82, was to be anticipated. And also the consequences. But it appears neither was.
So here we are with no contingency plans for a Mubarak-free Egypt except scrambling to get our nationals out of the Arab world's largest country. It follows that unpopular dictatorial regimes throughout the region are now in a state of high anxiety, coping with milder but disturbing uprisings of their own. Who knows in what dangerous ways they might react - dangerous to their own people and to the region? Israel, of course, is terrified at the sudden possibility of a virulent anti-Jewish state emerging in Egypt and won't be passive about a threat across the Sinai.
All this we were not prepared for. Which, if you're the sort who worries about Big Brother, should be at least mildly reassuring. Big Brother most decidedly has not been watching.
Just the same, I want a refund on that portion of my tax dollars that goes to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). I'd have been better prepared by monitoring Twitter traffic between Port Said and Aswan this past year.
Anti-American sentiment beginning to surface among demonstrators, angry at Washington's long-time support of Mubarak. (L.A. Times)