Rubin Reports

America’s 'Dangerous Slide': On the Wrong Side in the Middle East

Could you ever imagine that the leading American newspaper would openly advocate siding with radical Islamist forces in the Middle East against all of America’s allies and friends, and with eyes wide open, with full awareness that the radicals seek to overthrow them? Well, the day has come.

How has the argument for this strategy, which the Obama administration is already pursuing, been made? A New York Times July 30 editorial titled “Egypt’s Dangerous Slide” advocates a real catastrophe for the United States. Amazingly, it should take an informed person less than five minutes to deconstruct this, the Obama administration’s Middle East policy; but be wary that if you do this — even once — you will be ineligible for 95 percent of mass media and academic jobs.

What’s amazing about the previous sentence is that it is accurate. The public debate is this bad. After all, we are at a moment when Israel-Palestinian talks haven’t even agreed on pre-conditions — a point which is usually reached before two sides begin talks — yet Secretary of State John Kerry predicts success … within nine months, and the mass media quotes him without snickering.

“Deadly blundering by Egypt’s military rulers is making a bad situation much worse,” the editorial begins. One of the most blatant, arrogant views of the American foreign policy establishment today is the frequency with which its members insist that leaders know nothing about their own countries. Thus, Obama, a man who has spent a few hours in Israel and has no empathy with it, can dare to say that he knows better what the country needs than does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Western policymakers and reporters never seem to read the Egyptian or any other Arab or Israeli press.

“Last weekend’s massacre of marchers supporting the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, will make national reconciliation and a return to democracy far more difficult.” No kidding. First of all, there was never going to be conciliation. Second: the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t exactly eager to get national conciliation, a point the editorial and the Obama administration never mention. Third: the military wants massacres, because it seeks to intimidate the Brotherhood. That’s how things work in Egypt. In fact, that’s what happened last time, when the Brotherhood was crushed in the 1950s and 1960s, with its leaders sent to concentration camps, tortured, and hung. And that’s what the Brotherhood would be doing to its opposition if its regime had survived.

Fourth: the Brotherhood is also provoking a lot of violence, which is neither reported or protested by the U.S. government. The Brotherhood is portrayed simply as the victim. That’s why millions of Egyptians now say they hate Americans. See here. And here. And a brutal murder of an anti-Mursi demonstrator here.

Al-Ahram writes: “The current misinformation campaign bears the hallmarks of a fully-fledged psychological warfare campaign aimed at deceiving the population.” Funny — it hasn’t fooled Egyptians, but it has fooled the American elite.

By the way, we should notice that Yusuf Qaradawi, the leading Sunni Islamist in the world, has just accused the military government of recruiting Egyptian Christians to kill helpless Muslims. Look for massacres of Christians in other Arab countries and Egypt. Perhaps the Obama administration better worry about that. It is already happening.

It is not Egypt’s leaders who don’t understand Egypt, but rather America’s current leaders.

The editorial continues: “The stakes are too high for any country to give up on the search for a peaceful resolution.”

No! Egyptians know that the stakes are too high not to give up on the search for a peaceful resolution. This is the Middle East. And this is true just as with the Syrian civil war, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and every secular/nationalist/traditionalist versus give-up-on-the-search-for-a-peaceful-resolution Islamist battle in the region.

Washington’s leverage has been limited, despite … its good intentions undermined by years of inconsistent American policies. President Obama urgently needs to rebuild that trust. And he cannot hope to do so by maintaining a cautious diplomatic silence while the Arab world’s most populous and most important country unravels.

Where to begin? First, American leverage has not been undermined by inconsistent policies. Doesn’t anyone know Egyptian history?

1952-1956: America supported the Egyptian military coup and even saved the regime. Only when President Gamal Abdel Nasser behave aggressively — not so much toward Israel, but conservative Arab states — and allied with the USSR did America turn against him.

1956-1973: An anti-American regime allied with the Soviet Union and aggression against America’s friends was opposed.

1974-2011: The United States was allied with a moderate regime.

Get it? It must be hard for the current establishment to understand, so let me capitalize it and put in bold:


As for “good intentions”? May I remind you that Obama did not have good intentions at all. Just like any British or American imperialist in some previous century, Obama has sought to overthrow the regime and replace it with a Muslim Brotherhood, and thus inevitably a Sharia regime. How’s that for “good intentions”?

If Obama wanted to rebuild trust — as opposed to protecting the Br0therhood’s interests — he would rebuild trust with the Egyptian army and people by supporting the new government, rather than seek to empower an anti-Christian, anti-Western, anti-Semitic, anti-American, homophobic, genocidal, anti-woman, totalitarian-destined regime.

The editorial continued:

Whatever Egypt’s new military strongman, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, thought he was doing by summoning people to Tahrir Square last Friday to demand a “mandate” to fight terrorism, the result was to undermine Egypt’s prospects for stability even further. Whatever self-described pro-democracy groups thought they were doing by endorsing his call, the result was to strengthen the military and inflame raw divisions between civilian parties.

He knew exactly what he was doing — he wanted to build and mobilize a civilian support base. And the civilian parties weren’t “inflamed.” They hate each other, and know they are engaged in a life-and-death struggle.

And whatever the Muslim Brotherhood leaders thought they were doing by urging followers to challenge security forces, the result was to add to the bloodshed and give the military new excuses for repression.

Same patronizing tone. The Brotherhood knows what it is doing, too: it doesn’t want conciliation, it wants revolution.

And things are likely to get worse until the military can be persuaded to hand over power and return to the barracks.

Wrong again. They will get worse if the military does hand over power. For every day — except a few disastrous weeks under Mursi — during the last 61 years the army basically held power, even if it was in the barracks.

Other Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and its allied Persian Gulf emirates, are unlikely to help. They are more concerned with stamping out any potential political threat to their own autocratic rule at home than in encouraging democracy in Egypt.

Of course, because other Arab states understand Arab politics!

And are they wrong? Listen to them. A Brotherhood takeover of Egypt would increase the political threat to them. Now you want to overthrow Saudi Arabia and any other remaining American friends in the Arab world?

Israel has its own legitimate security concerns, mostly centered on preventing threats from Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula and Hamas-ruled Gaza.

And in parallel, you want to further undermine Israel’s security?

That leaves the United States and the European Union.

Right. If Egypt, the Arab states, and Israel don’t undermine their own security, the United States and the EU will.

People, think what you are saying here. Consider what insanity you are advocating. In other words, the pro-Islamist forces are the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists (and in a sense the Taliban and al-Qaeda), which are backed by the EU and United States (plus Turkey and Qatar along with Iran, Syria, and Hizballah); while the anti-Islamist forces are … the Arab countries and Israel.

Does that seem strange?

But Washington has been doing less than its share. Excessive concerns with maintaining good relations with Egypt’s generals and fears that a loosened military grip on Sinai and the Gaza border might throw off nascent Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have wrongly muffled America’s public voice.

So: let’s get tough with the generals, not the Islamists? The best way to help peace talks is to return to an Islamist regime in Egypt? That will surely quiet Hamas and the jihadists in Sinai, and make Israel feel reeeeeal secure. Oh by the way, the main threat to the Palestinian Authority (PA) is … Hamas. No doubt the PA will thank you, too.

Most of all, President Obama needs to clarify what America stands for as Egypt struggles over its future.

He sure does. By turning away from the Islamists and toward others, including Israel.