The Revenge of the "False Choice"

The NYT’s description of how US officials begged and pleaded with the Egyptian military to avoid a showdown with the Muslim Brotherhood to no avail is full of pathos in more ways than one. It describes how senior American officials who once bestrode the world were reduced to groveling. How the mighty had fallen. Not only did the US consent to be ignored, Obama paid for the privilege.


American and European diplomats trying to defuse the volatile standoff in Egypt thought they had a breakthrough … Two senators visiting Cairo, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, met with Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the officer who ousted Mr. Morsi and appointed the new government, and the interim prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, and pushed for the release of the two prisoners. But the Egyptians brushed them off. …

All of the efforts of the United States government, all the cajoling, the veiled threats, the high-level envoys from Washington and the 17 personal phone calls by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, failed to forestall the worst political bloodletting in modern Egyptian history. The generals in Cairo felt free to ignore the Americans first on the prisoner release and then on the statement, in a cold-eyed calculation that they would not pay a significant cost — a conclusion bolstered when President Obama responded by canceling a joint military exercise but not $1.5 billion in annual aid.

They had Obama over a barrel. How did he get there?  Because, in the view of the NYT, he insisted on a higher moral standard than heretofore tolerated by previous US administrations.

Accused of sticking for too long by President Hosni Mubarak, the longtime ruler in Egypt who was ousted by a popular uprising in 2011, and then criticized when he later abandoned him, Mr. Obama gambled on Mr. Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader elected a year ago. He found Mr. Morsi a useful and pragmatic partner in handling issues like a violent flare-up in Gaza.


So he paid for idealism by being slugged and then rolled. But maybe he wound up that way by making a mistake. Sides as disparate as Saudi Arabia and Israel had warned Obama that he was backing the wrong horse. The NYT relates, “from one side, the Israelis, Saudis and other Arab allies have lobbied him to go easy on the generals in the interest of thwarting what they see as the larger and more insidious Islamist threat. From the other, an unusual mix of conservatives and liberals has urged him to stand more forcefully against the sort of autocracy that has been a staple of Egyptian life for decades.”

So having come to a fork in the road, he took it.   And quod erat demonstrandum. For the present none of Obama’s gambles seem to have come off. The President finds himself despised by the Muslim Brotherhood who think he’s sold them out and held in contempt by the military rulers of Egypt who’ve slammed the door in his face — but not before relieving him of cash.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s website says “In a press statement regarding Obama’s latest speech, in which he announced cancellation of the Bright Star joint Egyptian-American military exercises, Dr. Ahmed Aref, Muslim Brotherhood media spokesman, said the US played a prominent part in the July 3 traitorous military coup in Egypt.”  And as for the junta, they are reportedly headed for Russia to find a new patron.

But what about the Brotherhood? Let us follow their adventures since falling from power.  The Muslim Bros, unable to take on the cops are taking their revenge on the Copts.


CAIRO (AP) — After torching a Franciscan school, Islamists paraded three nuns on the streets like “prisoners of war” before a Muslim woman offered them refuge. Two other women working at the school were sexually harassed and abused as they fought their way through a mob.

In the four days since security forces cleared two sit-in camps by supporters of Egypt’s ousted president, Islamists have attacked dozens of Coptic churches along with homes and businesses owned by the Christian minority. The campaign of intimidation appears to be a warning to Christians outside Cairo to stand down from political activism.

In that mindless rampage lie the clues to the failure of Obama’s gamble. The underlying problem with Obama betting on the Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t the immorality of it, but the imbecility of the wager.  Given their demonstrated behavior, why did he think he could back them and come out smelling of roses?

The leading contenders for power in Egypt are descended, loosely speaking, from the Communists and the Nazi traditions respectively. The National Democratic Party, to which Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar El Sadat and Hosni Mubarak belonged, was nominally socialist and authoritarian. In fact, “the NDP was a member of the Socialist International from 1989, until it was expelled in 2011.” Foreign Policy printed an excerpt from the letter of expulsion, which explains in its last paragraph why they were belatedly expelling Mubarak from that august company:


The current massive calls being made today by the citizens of Egypt for freedoms and rights point to the dramatic failure of the Egyptian government to deliver to its people and to the failings of the NDP to live up to its promises. The use of violence, with scores dead and injured, is totally incompatible with the policies and principles of any social democratic party anywhere in the world.

Consequently, we consider that a party in government that does not listen, that does not move and that does not immediately initiate a process of meaningful change in these circumstances, cannot be a member of the Socialist International.

We are, as of today, ceasing the membership of the NDP, however we remain determined to cooperate with all the democrats in Egypt striving to achieve an open, democratic, inclusive and secular state.

Foreign Policy drily notes that the dictator “President Laurent Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front is still listed as a member”, despite the fact that at the time Mubarak was expelled, Gbagbo was under indictment from the International Criminal Court for four counts of crimes against humanity – murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and “other inhuman acts”.  Being a socialist isn’t as high toned as it used to be. Or maybe its even more high toned. We just didn’t notice the defects of the old mustache petes until after Howard Zinn died.

But if one side in the Egyptian drama hails from the tradition that produced Stalin, the other can trace their distinguished lineage back to the National Socialist Party. Wikipedia says of the Brotherhood: “links to the Nazis began during the 1930s and were close during the Second World War, involving agitation against the British, espionage and sabotage, as well as support for terrorist activities orchestrated by Haj Amin el-Hussaini in British Mandate Palestine, as a wide range of declassified documents from the British, American and Nazi German governmental archives, as well as from personal accounts and memoires from that period, confirm. Reflecting this connection the Muslim Brotherhood also disseminated Hitler’s Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion widely in Arab translations, helping to deepen and extend already existing hostile views about Jews and Western societies generally.”


Barry Rubin of PJMedia is less restrained in his characterization. “There are huge amounts of archival evidence, including documents showing not only Nazi payments to the Brotherhood but also that the Nazis provided them with arms for a rebellion to kill Christians and Jews in Egypt. … There is no evidence that the Brotherhood has changed its positions.”

So there you have it: in this corner … and in the other corner …

Thus the authoritarian, the church-burning, anti-semitic nature of the Bros should not have been in the least surprising. What was surprising was that State didn’t see it coming. Nick Cohen of the Guardian, unable to choose sides in a convention of black hats, resorts to legalities to find someone to blame. “We may despise the Muslim Brotherhood, but a coup is a coup.” He adds, “Europe and the US need to accept that the Muslim Brotherhood may be foul, but it did not abolish democracy”. How could the Brotherhood abolish democracy when they probably never heard of it?

The State Department should have realized that walking down the aisle with the Muslim Brotherhood to the altar of democracy was like handcuffing yourself to an anvil and trying to swim the English channel. They were bound to drag Obama down and they did. One of President Obama’s favorite phrases is “false choice”. He once said “we Reject the False Choice Between Our Security and Our Ideals”. On another occasion he thundered against the false choice between privacy and security in discussing the NSA scandal. What are we now to make about the choice offered to the Egyptian people between the ideological descendants of Stalin and Hitler?  The President should dust off the teleprompter and say, “I reject the false choice …”  That would be a start. But the Egyptians need more choices than pick one of two — especially these two — if they are to escape from disaster.


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