Lord Palmerston was British prime minister when the Empire was at the height of its power. His foreign policy is best remembered by this motto: “therefore I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” It is often paraphrased as “nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Only permanent interests.”
Palmerston’s sympathies in the American Civil War (1861-5) were with the secessionist Southern Confederacy. Although a professed opponent of the slave trade and slavery, he also had a deep lifelong hostility towards the United States and believed that a dissolution of the Union would weaken the United States (and therefore enhance British power) and that the Southern Confederacy “would afford a valuable and extensive market for British manufactures”
Palmerston wanted at all events to back the winning horse. He believed slavery was a bad thing, but that was personal. Weakening the United States on the other hand was a ‘permanent interest’ of a rival great power, like Great Britain. That was business. Sentiment was one thing, but come right down to it foreign relations was all a question of “interests”.
Thus it is not at all surprising to discover the widespread perception in Egypt that Barack Obama is backing the Muslim Brotherhood, even if it involves the suppression of Egyptian Christians. The Muslim Brotherhood runs Egypt and to influence Egypt, so he will have to give the Brotherhood the quid to get the pro quo.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), a veteran religious freedom advocate, visited the region to hear first-hand the concerns of Christians about their future amid turmoil in their countries …
Wolf witnessed the perception that the U.S. is backing the Muslim Brotherhood … “[T]he feeling is that as long as the Brotherhood protects the United States’ interests in the region, it can act with impunity within its borders.”
Wolf met with Copts and other Christians, and heard about at atmosphere of intolerance towards Christians and women, regularly fostered in television programming.
The calculus is essentially this: Obama is betting that the Muslim Brotherhood will be wind up on the winning side of the Arab Spring and remember his support with gratitude. He needs to be on the winning side. So he will scratch their back and expect them to scratch his. Interests, remember?
However, two things can go wrong with this. The first would be if the Muslim Brotherhood in fact loses. This is called ‘backing the wrong horse’. This is why the anti-Islamic phase of the Arab Spring is especially worrisome to him. Suppose, like Palmerston, he winds up holding the losing ticket?
The second possibility is that the bookie won’t pay off on the bet. Suppose the MB after winning in fact shows no gratitude for Obama’s support?
Well he would have made an error in judgment also known as being double-crossed. You know, as in Libya, the place “Americans helped free” but which burned down the consulate?
Suppose the MB takes the administration’s help and suppresses the Egyptian Christians while Washington looks the other way, yet feel no obligation to pay Obama back? Well in that case Obama may yet receive an enlightening letter from Egypt some day that goes like this.
‘Dear Mr. President:
I feel I owe it to you explain why we have decided to double-cross you and explain our decision not to support your administration’s diplomatic initiatives.
I am well aware of the fact that you unhesitatingly assisted us in all our endeavors: that you gave us billions in money, tanks and aircraft; that you ignored, indeed abetted our suppression of the Copts.
Why then did we show you no gratitude?
Well personally I feel it. But as you well know gratitude is not part of the calculus of states. Neither Egypt nor the Muslim Brotherhood can share the ‘gratitude’ which I individually feel for you. I am sure that as a fellow President, you will understand. As Lord Palmerston once said, “we have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” In case you didn’t recognize Palmerston’s quote, it is sometimes paraphrased as, “nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. Only permanent interests.
So long sucker.