The Hopelessness of Victory
Obama sees Egypt as a huge conventional military power (he doesn’t want it to obtain nuclear weapons). Egypt can easily call the United States’ bluff. Egypt must make certain compromises, but with popular support and going to great lengths through use of violence, the army knows it can win. Egypt’s new government has mass popular support, unity of the army, and inside national security.
There are some key factors that Obama doesn’t see, such as the alternative of Saudi aid and Russian arms. As I said when Egypt’s army was originally going to go out of power in 2011: “the Arab and Egyptian warriors, they cannot compromise on some issues.” Ultimately, they were bold soldiers, not politicians. Theoretically, they would rather commit hara-kiri then betray their people for the wrong reasons.
But again, note the following: by supporting the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Obama shows he is not a trustworthy ally. And besides, Obama has shown that he runs away from Russian arms, and has been outbid by the Saudis. Who is going to break, Egypt or Obama?
This leads to an important factor: he who wins is he who will compromise less, not he who is willing to compromise more.
This principle is the same everywhere in the Middle East. Iran is willing to risk having the negotiations fall apart. So is Karzai’s government in Afghanistan. It's a game of chicken, not chess.
In Tunisia, the government fell apart due to the army’s pressure. Quietly, that was the end of Tunisia’s democratic dream. And in fact, all true Arab, Turkish, and Iranian democracies have fallen apart. The same has been true of the Iraqi democratic dream. Iran, not the United States, is the country that has played the game well there.
In another example, the West thinks the Syrian political opposition, politicians, and terrorists actually care how many people they are willing to sacrifice. In fact, they are willing to sacrifice millions. The West simply cannot understand that these people are fighting for different stakes. They think that materialistic consideration and pragmatism will determine their decision-making. Everybody who knows the Middle East knows you need to think the Middle Eastern way, not the Western way. To cite a Western leader: “You come with a rock, we come with a knife. You come with a knife, we come with a gun.” The closest thing in American politics to Middle East politics is that of Chicago or Boston.
Western policy is deemed to flourish in compromise; Middle Eastern politics in victory.
No compromise is going to cause radical nationalists and Islamists to make real peace. Yes, Islamists can be and are often pragmatic, particularly to obtain millions of dollars of trade and nuclear weapons; but only if not required to give much in return.
If you don’t know why the Muslim Brotherhood will not make peace with Arab regimes, you cannot understand the Middle East.