Belmont Club

East of Suez

Terry Atlas, writing in Bloomberg says that Egypt highlights the disintegration of the US coalition in the Middle East and the collapse of its influence in the region. US allies Turkey and Qatar are at odds with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates over the who should control Cairo. These very same were being counted on to lead US efforts in Syria. But now they are at daggers drawn. It would be as if France and Britain decided to go to war on June 5, 1944.

“What Qatar and Turkey say is almost a 180-degree opposite of what the Emirates and the Saudis are saying publicly,” Katulis said.

While trying to deal with those differences over Egypt, the U.S. is relying on the same countries for cooperation on other regional challenges, including support for rebels fighting to overthrow the Syrian regime and curtailing Iran’s nuclear activities.

Even Israel appears to be on the opposite side of the US in Egypt.  Although seemingly friendless, doubtless the Obama administration is being supported by vast swathes of popular opinion if only one could discover it. However that may be one thing seems clear: Washington is no longer in obvious command of the coalition. In fact it may have even precipitated the destruction of its own coalition. Created a collision in its own flotilla. In consequence the Obama administration is paralyzed, seemingly irrelevant. Bloomberg continues:

The interplay of interests may help explain the Obama administration’s caution in responding to the Egyptian crisis, Katulis said in a phone interview.

“We’ve almost overhedged our bets,” he said. “We’re tying to maintain good relations with all these actors that have often tense relations with each other. I think that explains, in part, the reticence Obama has.”

They gave the green light to everybody and whoopee. The pileup caused by Washington is predictably being sold as a feature. “U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has tried to harness polarization among U.S. allies to advance mediation.” Translation: the train wreck is intentional and we’re all just too stupid to understand how brilliant it is.

John McCain, who was treated like dirt in Cairo, has fewer illusions. He said the United States has “no credibility” in the Middle East, he says. “There is no policy and there is no strategy, and therefore we react and we react poorly,” McCain declared on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

McCain’s idea is to cut off the aid and show Cairo who’s boss.  The problem is that if it does not work then what does he do for an encore? Time Magazine, perhaps already knowing the answer,  is taking the line that whatever happens it’s no big deal. “Egypt No Longer Matters. It’s time for Washington to recognize that Cairo is not the center of the Arab world.”

While Egypt has weakened over the past four decades, several other regional players have grown stronger and more ambitious. Some of these — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey — are American allies (much of the time, anyway), which means Egypt’s utility to the U.S. as an interlocutor to the Arab world is greatly diminished.

This is called managing expectations. For as long as Kerry is talking then Obama is leading on to triumph. But Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy argues that the “polarization” which Kerry is counting on to masterfully turn the tide isn’t really the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s more like an oncoming train.

Lynch says Egypt, even more than Syria, is an arena where competing brands of Islamism duking it out. Cairo is nothing but a pressure gauge reflecting the rising pressure in the region. Events in Egypt are causing disparate camps to line up against each other within different countries in the region. Already the leaders of the Kingdom and the other Gulf countries are moving to suppress internal dissent as the divisions of Cairo mirror themselves at home. Of particularly worry is that the whole Jihadi fundraising and recruiting apparatus destined for Syria may be repurposed for Egypt.

The greater impact might be felt in Syria, however. These Islamist networks and personalities have been instrumental in building support and raising money for the various factions of the Syrian opposition. Now, they are prominently equating Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi with Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Suwaidan, for instance, proclaims that “the right is clearly with the revolutionaries in Syria and with those who adhere to legitimacy and reject the coup in Egypt. What will happen if the Islamist networks which have been working to support the Syrian opposition begin to turn their fundraising and mobilizational efforts to Egypt?

It would be poetic justice but a world class disaster if the Obama administration was hoist on its own petard, struck by the very apparatus it was readying to turn on Assad. Surely Russia and Damascus would attempt to achieve such an effect if they could. What happens if that turnabout occurs?

Why I predict that Time will shortly inform its readers that the Suez Canal no longer matters; that Syria no longer matters; that Israel no longer matters. And eventually the line will be that the whole Middle East was no big deal anyway. Such is the genius of the Obama foreign policy. Always outwitted but never fooled.

Michael Ledeen argues that the coalition, having escaped the American grasp, now a loose cannon.  And if America doesn’t harness the unleashed forces, somebody will.  The forces in the region are forming and reforming, sometimes fighting and sometimes cooperating, but at all events susceptible to being harnessed to one overarching principle: Death to America. Ledeen says: America is facing war though the administration won’t call it war — not a man made natural disaster, not a law enforcement problem but war — that ugliest of three letter words. He writes:

The war is easily described: there is a global alliance of radical leftists and radical Islamists, supported by a group of countries that includes Russia, at least some Chinese leaders, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. The radicals include the Sunni and Shi’ite terrorist organizations and leftist groups, and they all work seamlessly with the narcotics mafias. Their objective is the destruction of the West, above all, of the United States….

here’s an alliance plotting against us, bound together by two radical views of the world that share a profound, fundamental hatred of us. If they win, it’s hell to pay, because then we will be attacked directly and often, and we will be faced with only two options, winning or losing.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that they’re divided, and slaughtering each other. And it’s not always possible for us to sort out what “each other” even means. … So we’ve got opportunities, lots of them. We’ve already passed up many: failing to support the Iranian people against the evil regime that is the central source of terror against us and our would-be friends, failing to support Mubarak against the Brothers, failing to quickly support the opposition to Assad at the outset, before the enterprise got buried under a heap of jihadi manure, and so forth. OK, we’re human, we’re led, if that’s the right verb, very badly, by ideologues who think we are the root cause of most of the world’s problems. Which is the same thing our enemies believe, as luck would have it. But this will pass, and even now we could transform the big global board by doing the strategically sound and morally correct thing, and support the Iranian people against the regime. Don’t bomb them, don’t invade them, just tell the regime we know who and what they are, and start talking to their most dangerous enemies, the overwhelming majority of the Iranian nation. We may not know exactly how to do it, but they do, and if we showed up, they would tell us.

Ledeen is making an appeal for American strategic clarity. He might as well ask for the moon. Asking for strategic clarity is like asking for sanity inside a madhouse. It is the one thing that the Obama administration does not have. Those very same radical leftists and Islamists — or at least their representatives — are already inside the Beltway with scads of money and legions of lawyers at their disposal, and they will play havoc with anything resembling strategic clarity.

What it possesses in superabundance is vanity and nearly as plentiful a quantity of wishful thinking plus  a nearly infinite capacity for greed overlaid by a laundry list of slogans and talking points none of which necessarily agree with each other.

If Washington were capable of the coherent strategy Ledeen pleads for he wouldn’t have to ask for it. It would already be there. Its conspicuous absence is proof of its absence. The situation is reminiscent of the answer I received when I tried to collect a small sum of money owed me from someone. He explained that if had any money to pay me back he wouldn’t have borrowed any money in the first place.

Perhaps if America looks to be victorious in the Middle East the primary battlefield must be Washington. Washington needs to sit down and think. Nothing can be achieved in the Middle East until Washington is fixed or fixes itself. Until then, in the refrain of Queen:

Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters –
nothing really matters to me

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