We didn’t lose the Middle East due to inevitable organic processes of decline. We dumbed it away, as surely as Athens dumbed away its empire during the Peloponnesian War. We dumbed it away by consensus. The trouble with the professional foreign policy establishment is that its members don’t know how to do anything else for a living. No matter how miserably they mess up they still have to worry about the mortgage, pension and college fund. That probably explains why 90% of Western commentary about Egypt consists of post-hoc justification of past incompetence.
The establishment is shocked, shocked, to discover that Egypt is not now and never was a democracy, but it woulda-coulda-shoulda been if only the nasty Egyptian military had acted like liberal democrats. From the Council on Foreign Relations press roundup this morning:
“Four months ago, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi carried out a coup in Egypt that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi and imprisoned the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hardly a day now passes without some indication of how the new Egyptian regime seeks to erect a military-police state, crushing those who dare oppose it,” the Financial Times writes in an editorial.
“The White House under Obama worked for the coming to power of the Muslim Brothers in 2012 in the context of an understanding that the latter would protect American interests in the Middle East and across the Muslim world. The dilemma that will confront the White House in the near future will be the election of a new Egyptian president who would possibly be inspired by the ideals of the Nasser era. And maybe this is the reason why the Americans insist on an all-inclusive democratic process,” Hussein Haridy writes in Ahram.
“By removing their patronage from the Brotherhood and throwing their full support behind the Egyptian military—and other regimes bent on crushing the Brotherhood—the Saudis may be pushing the movement to become both more extreme and more sharply anti-monarchical,threatening the Islamic legitimacy of all the Arab monarchies,” Vali Nasr writes in the New York Times.
That is silly: The entire point of the Muslim Brotherhood from inception was to threaten the Islamic legitimacy of the monarchies. The Saudis supported Egypt’s military in crushing the Brotherhood precisely because they knew that the Brotherhood was its grave-digger. And the military threw out the Brotherhood without difficulty because Egypt will starve without an eleven-figure subsidy from the Gulf states.
Now we have the first Russian military delegation in Cairo in 35 years led by Lt. Gen. Vyacheslav Kondrashov, the Deputy Chief of Staff, negotiating to sell medium-range missiles to Egypt after the US blocked arms sales to the Egyptian military–with implicit Saudi financing. That things were moving in this direction already was apparent in mid-August:
Vladimir Putin’s August 17 offer of Russian military assistance to the Egyptian army after US President Barack Obama cancelled joint exercises with the Egyptians denotes a post-Cold-War low point in America’s standing. Along with Russia, Saudi Arabia and China are collaborating to contain the damage left by American blundering. They have being doing this quietly for more than a year.