Israel’s minor annoyance over an influx of pro-Palestinian activists in the so-called Flytilla rates a great deal more attention than it deserves from the liberal media, for example, this tongue-clicking, finger-wagging item from the New York Times’ “The Lede” blog. It used to be that the body of a dead Palestinian kid (almost certain shot by Palestinians in crossfire) was the poster for Palestinian activism. All the flotilla folks have is a video of an Israeli officer bonking a blond boy in the face with his rifle; the boy falls, gets up, and walks away with a hurt look. “Israeli soldiers brutally attack Palestinian activists,” reads the super-imposed title on the video.
It can’t be good to be a pro-Palestinian activist these days. No one has time to worry about the Palestinians. Bashar al-Assad continues to slaughter his own people — nearly 10,000 over the past year — and the Muslim Brotherhood leaders of the Syrian opposition undoubtedly would slaughter Assad’s Alawite coreligionists were they to take power. There are at least 2,000 dead and 22,000 injured in little Yemen during the past two years. All of this pales next to what is likely to come in Egypt, as the military and the Islamists fight for power.
I have argued in this space and elsewhere for the past year that Egypt’s economy is headed for breakdown, and that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is incapable of ruling Egypt because it is a hopelessly feckless gang of kleptocrats. This analysis is now becoming conventional wisdom. Today, for example, Jacques Neriah writes for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that “the current situation has been created by the inability of SCAF to rule Egypt since the end of the Mubarak regime.”
The Muslim Brotherhood is in the position of the Bolsheviks in October 1917, taking power at street level by creating popular committees to “combat speculators,” that is, ration food and fuel. No one should underestimate the Muslim Brotherhood. It withstood sixty years of persecution by successive military regimes. And it understands Egypt’s predicament far better than the Western conservatives who saw the Arab Spring as the harbinger of democracy in the region. The Brotherhood, on the contrary, knows that Islam is fragile, that the Muslim world is fighting a desperate rearguard battle for its existence against the encroachment of Western culture and economic globalization, and that time is running out.
Why am I so sure of this? Apart from the fact that its leaders have been saying so since Sayyid Qutb in the 1950s, the Muslim Brotherhood’s English-language website has posted two of my essays on the topic, one on the impending demographic and economic collapse of Muslim countries, and another on the Obama administration’s stupidity, concluding (in June 2009): “For his trouble, Obama will get more bloodshed in Pakistan, more megalomania from Iran, more triumphalism from the Palestinians, and less control over Iraq and Afghanistan. Of all the available bad choices, Obama has taken the worst. It is hard to imagine any consequence except a steep diminution of American influence.” You can read my work on the Brothers’ website (but not at the Weekly Standard, Commentary, or Fox News, where promoting Muslim democracy remains the mantra). From this I conclude that the Muslim Brotherhood is better informed than the Weekly Standard, et. al.
The most miserable people in the world, though, are the liberals. Liberalism boils down to the assertion that clever governments can save people from themselves. Palestine was supposed to have been the test case, where enlightened liberals would save people from their proclivity towards tribal hatred. Not only has it turned out badly for the Palestinians as such, but for the Arab world that has collapsed around them.
What should the United States do about it? The answer is: Make things worse. If the Brothers are taking power in Egypt because the military can’t rule, we should undertake to make it impossible for the Brothers to rule. The human cost of such a policy will be horrific, and I use the word advisedly. It was a catastrophic mistake to help overthrow Mubarak. The consequences of that mistake are that no Egyptian officer will stand up against the Islamists for very long, because the U.S. cannot be trusted as an ally. That applies elsewhere. Two years ago, America might have thrown its weight behind pro-democracy forces in Iran. Now it is simply too dangerous to bet on regime change. The most prudent course of action is to disable the regime, even though the human consequences for the Iranians will be horrific.
We are not particularly good at this kind of stance. It does not square with the inherent benevolence and naivete of our national character. But we are being pushed into this kind of policy, like it or not, just as the Muslim Brotherhood is being pushed into a Leninist dual power exercise by the collapse of the Egyptian economy. The consequences will be tragic, to be sure; our job is to make sure that the tragedy happens to somebody else.