Roger’s Rules

Alfred E. Neuman in the driver’s seat

The Obama administration has made one little-noticed but  deeply significant policy appointment recently: it has installed Alfred E. Neuman at the center of is decision-making process for the Middle East. “But wait,” you may be saying, “I thought his name was Bruce Riedel, late of the CIA, now advisor to Obama and scholar at the Brookings Institution for Triangulation, Appeasement, and Reasons to Blame America First?”

Between us, his name is Bruce Riedel. But just as two things that are equal to a third thing are also equal to each other, so Mr. Riedel is equal in wisdom and general outlook  to Mad Magazine’s house philosopher. He has enjoyed superior dentistry, but his motto is the same: “What, me worry?”

Everyone is nervously eyeing Egypt, wondering if strong man Hosni Mubarak will survive or whether he will be toppled by the multitude clamoring for  . . .  what exactly are they clamoring for?  Therein lies the rub.  Most responsible commentators, I would argue, worry that although “freedom,” “democracy,” and “self-determination” are on their lips, sharia and theocratic tyranny may well be in their hearts.

Mr. Riedel-Newman is having none of it. In a remarkable piece for the Daily Beast called “Don’t Fear the Muslim Brotherhood,” he assures readers that the Brotherhood has long since renounced violence and may well be the “most reasonable” option for Egypt. To listen to Mr. Riedel-Neuman, you would think that the Muslim Brotherhood was nearly indistinguishable from a Great Society social welfare program: “it has an enormous social-welfare infrastructure that provides cheap education and health care.” It even worked hard, according to Mr. Riedel-Neuman, to assure fair elections in Egypt last time around.

The truth about the Muslim Brother is somewhat — no, it is categorically different. Andrew McCarthy has a tart and illuminating rejoinder at NRO. Entitled “Fear the Muslim Brotherhood,” the essay injects welcome elements of historical context and political reality into the discussion. As Andy shows, Riedel-Neuman’s history “is selective to the point of parody. The Brotherhood did not suddenly become violent (or ‘more violent’) during World War II. It was violent from its origins two decades earlier. This fact — along with Egyptian Islamic society’s deep antipathy toward the West and its attraction to the Nazis’ virulent anti-Semitism — is what gradually beat European powers, especially Britain, into withdrawal.”

Pace the Pollyannas that determine U.S. foreign policy these days, the Muslim Brotherhood is about instituting sharia, i.e., Islamic law, by means of jihad. As Andy correctly notes,

To this day, the Brotherhood’s motto remains, “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, Jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu akbar!”

That seems pretty straightforward to me.  I admire the candor and forthrightness. The Muslim Brotherhood believes in waging jihad, i.e. holy war, and they embrace death as their highest goal. At least we know where we stand.

Or do we? None of this seems to have penetrated the smiling wunderkinder who staff our foreign policy establishment. “[O]ur  see-no-Islamic-evil foreign-policy establishment blathers on about the Brotherhood’s purported renunciation of violence,” Andy writes,

and never you mind that, with or without violence, its commitment is, as Qaradawi puts it, to “conquer America” and “conquer Europe.” It is necessary to whitewash the Ikhwan’s brutal legacy and its tyrannical designs in order to fit it into the experts’ paradigm: history for simpletons.

I sympathize with the folks, here at home and in the Egyptian streets, who abominate Hosni Mubarak. He is, no matter what Joe Biden says, a dictator. But what is the alternative?  Something better? Maybe. But prudence argues that we exercise great care in disposing of the czar: the next one might well be worse. “History,” as Andy rightly observes,

is rarely a Manichean contest between good and evil. It’s not a choice between the pro-Western shah and Iranian freedom, but between the shah and Khomeini’s ruthless Islamist revolution. It’s not a choice between the pro-Western Musharraf and Pakistani freedom, but between Musharraf and a tense alliance of kleptocratic socialists and Islamists. Back in the 1940s, it was not a choice between the British-backed monarchy and Egyptian freedom, but between the monarchy and a conglomeration of Nasserite pan-Arab socialists, Soviet Communists, and Brotherhood Islamists. And today, the choice is not between the pro-American Mubarak and Egyptian freedom; it is a question of whether to offer tepid support to a pro-American dictator or encourage swift transition to a different kind of tyranny — one certain to be a lot worse for us, for the West at large, and for our Israeli ally: the Muslim Brotherhood tempered only, if at all, by Mohamed ElBaradei, an anti-American leftist who willfully abetted Iran’s nuclear ambitions while running the International Atomic Energy Agency.

That is the counsel of political wisdom. You don’t hear it echoing the Washington’s corridors of power. So much the worse for us as well as the Egyptians. We have plenty to worry about