The quasi-$40 billion Arab-democracy-roulette caper


As President Obama’s friendly press has politely revealed, there’s a lot of mumble-mumble attending the new promise of the G-8 nations to shower $40 billion in economic aid on the “emerging Arab democracies.”

To get to $40 billion, the G-8 summit staffers had to add together three separate mumble-mumbles: a pledge to make $20 billion available through international development banks to “aid…economic transitions”; $10 billion in bilateral (country-to-country) aid from individual G-8 members; and another $10 billion offered by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar (which are not, technically, members of the G-8).

And as the Wall Street Journal puts it, “the G-8’s official declaration avoided giving details about how much new aid individual countries were willing to commit to the region.”  Instead, the G-8 “kick[ed] many key decisions about financial support to later in the year.”  Its leaders did not, however, neglect to “welcome support from other bilateral partners, including from the region.”

So, basically, the G-8 pledged very little, if anything, that it can actually be held to at a later date.  This is probably wise, given that the G-8 nations are plagued by their own economic problems and literally do not have even the $10 billion mumbled about in bilateral aid.  They’d have to borrow it.

Many pundits noticed that the summiteers ignored the Eurozone’s woes, an oversight that puts in an interesting light their posturing on Libya and other topics.  Germany – a (relatively) solvent G-8 member – will have her hands full bailing out Greece, Portugal, and Spain, let alone “emerging Arab democracies.”

President Obama attended the summit representing a nation with no federal budget and a national debt soaring past $14 trillion, his Treasury secretary warning that debt servicing or government functions will have to be suspended in August if Congress can’t come to an agreement.  Japan is still staggering from the March earthquake and nuclear plant meltdown; Russia is a chronic, commodities-dependent basket case.  Britain, France, and Italy are frantically “streamlining” public services and defense procurement spending as their entitlement and military operations costs mount.  It takes this company to make Canada look vibrant and well-run by comparison.

If any actual money is forthcoming from the “$40 billion” pledge, observers can be pardoned for guessing it will be the $10 billion from the Gulf nations (and will not go to what Westerners would recognize as the economic promotion of democracy).  There is more than a whiff of a decadent self-deception in the magniloquent G-8 gesture; the Western leaders, in particular, come off like once-rich, now overextended aristocrats trading on family names and state pensions to stay on the geopolitical A-list.

Which is not actually a problem, aid-to-emerging-Arab-democracies-wise, because, conveniently enough, no emerging Arab democracies – outside of Iraq – are identifiable yet.  The Arab Spring has resulted so far in a series of bloody crackdowns, one full-scale civil war, and two nations (Tunisia and Egypt) under new but non-elected, still-autocratic government.  We can certainly hope that both Tunisia and Egypt will hold the elections promised to the people.  Whether those elections will produce self-sustaining consensual polities, with liberal ideals and peaceful changes of government, is another question.

There is no reason to hope that “economic aid” will promote this outcome.  Economic aid given for precisely the purpose of promoting liberalism and democracy has a long history; the liberal developed world has been shoveling such aid at the less-developed world since the 1950s, and its track record is poor.  Without a prior commitment to the rule of law and government transparency in the recipient nations, such funds are frequently misappropriated.  In fact, “economic aid” provided by illiberal investors (China, Russia, Saudi Arabia) is more likely to go to the purposes intended by the donors, because those donors are perfectly forthright about their own interests and the strings attached.

But the good news about all this is that the event described in the international media – “the G-8 pledging $40 billion to emerging Arab democracies” – is a chimera.  The episode is largely an exercise in posturing and narrative-building, with the full complicity of the news media.  A more accurate rendition of it would go something like this: “G-8 may borrow $10 billion more from China and co-sign at development banks to aid unspecified Arab governments; conditions, timing vague; Saudis, others make own pledge.”

It’s worth noting the disconnect here, between the daily life of the average G-8 taxpayer – full of accountability and hard realities – and the all-but-counterfactual narrative-building that characterizes many in their governments and media.  The people who represent the true legacy of the West may have little voice today in the centers of power and strategic communication, but there remains an uncorrupted core, in Europe and North America and a few other outposts around the globe.  History tells us we don’t have to start with more than that, to prevail in our own generation.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.

18 thoughts on “The quasi-$40 billion Arab-democracy-roulette caper”

  1. bit of a disconnect here, all right.

    “—-the daily life of the average G-8 taxpayer – full of accountability and hard realities ––”

    the realities are a little harder for the people who are living outside the G-8 and in those not -yet-really emerging nations. a little talk about some aid money coming from the folks living the good life to grease whatever got to get greased to free things up in the Middle East ain’t nothing much to decry.

    true legatee, my bleedin sister’s black cat’s aunt.

  2. I don’t see how filling the Muslim Brotherhood’s coffers will be the grease “to free things up in the Middle East.” On the other hand, even $10 billion should buy a lot of pensions for the families of suicide-bombers.

    1. neither do i see that filling the MB’s coffers will be any help. good thing that that’s not what were doing or contemplating.
      if you think that the people of Egypt have a lot of suicide-bombers in their families, you’re probably just briefly visiting this planet and haven’t studied the history section of your travel guide.
      don’t drink the water without first getting boiled, DAN.

      1. I don’t know if the Egyptians in the Muslim Brotherhood have a lot of suicide bombers in their families. And I’m certainly curious as to how you know — or could ever know — that they do or don’t.

        So how do you know?

        1. I expect that if there had been all those Egyptian suicide bombers, it might have made the news, DAN.

  3. I cannot understand why we are funding foreign countries with US tax-dollars.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for programmes (properly audited) to stamp out smallpox, TB and AIDS, however, giving zillions of our money to foreigners is beyond me. Just as it’s beyond me as to why the way they run and govern their own countries is beyond me.

    Notice how none of the countries (aka: Western Democracies) need our money. Its only the likes of Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan and Kazakstan that we need to dole and bribe with our tax-dollars. None of them share our values or can be depended upon not to mess up our interests. Cut ’em all off, I say.

    1. Excuse the typo: …Should be: … and govern their own countries is any of our business.

    2. —I cannot understand why we are funding foreign countries with US tax-dollars.—

      perhaps it’s a lot less expensive and often more effective means of influencing those countries than is using bombs (that’s gotten REALLY expensive)

      1. Surely it would be more efficient, and undoubtedly cheaper, just to bribe the dictators, via wire transfers to their Swiss bank accounts.

        1. we been there, done that.

          we’re trying to change with the times. people are getting the idea that they might prefer not being oppressed all that much, might even want to try some of democracy stuff and we’re considering whether democracy might be something that we can support without too many sleepless nights.

        1. doing neither isn’t an idea as much as it is not in this case.

          a return to isolationism would entail doing or undoing a vast number of things and is about as likely as returning the US to an agrarian society.

          1. I don’t believe in “isolationism”. I believe in our full participatory international involvement. Our main international involvement should be in international trade. Trade and business – not guns – made America great. However, I believe that our meddling in the internal affairs of other nations is seldom if never justified, and the use of our military as an instrument of foreign intervention should be a last resort. Diplomacy is much cheaper, and by all the evidence, more effective in most situations.

            Of course, if we are actually attacked by a foreign power our military response should be swift, decisive, and short.

            1. and what part of “aid money as diplomacy” do you find objectionable?

              seems to me that our foreign trade is profitable and contributes to the money collected via taxation. expending some of that in pursuit of sustaining and/or enlarging foreign trade doesn’t, on surface, appear to be all that bad an idea.

  4. I’m sure that none of this money would ever be used to support Egyptiam suicide bombers, such as the one who killed 21 people in a church in Alexandria on Jan. 1st of this year.

    Nor would the money be used by the 19 Arabs who were purportedly linked to al-Qaeda and were arrested in December 2010 in Egypt en route to Iraq. The suspects were allegedly planning to carry out terrorist attacks against various places of worship in Egypt.

    Nah, I’m sure that money would just be put to good use for midnight basketball programs for disaffected Egyptian youths.

    1. I’m glad that you’re sure, because I don’t recall seeing any funds earmarks for those projects.

      But if you want to provide an estimate for the expense entailed in carrying out suicide bombing or sending people from Egypt to fight in Iraq, you might find that a couple of good bake sales and a bingo night might cover it and aid money from us ain’t necessary.

      Our money’s supposed to provide competition to all that.

  5. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And yes fuster, aid money we send to Egypt and Libya will not simply flow to the foreign bank accounts of corrupt Egyptians, Libyans and Americans who control the disbursements.

  6. We don’t know how to efficiently get transformative aid folks in South Central Los Angeles, let alone Haiti, let alone Libya and Egypt.

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