Putin Gets It and We Don't

Middle East politics amounts to managing the decline of a failed culture. Nothing expresses Arab failure more vividly than Egypt, a banana republic without the bananas, now living on a $14 billion or so annual subsidy from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. With 70% of its population living in agricultural areas, it imports half its food, and would starve if not for the Saudi check. '

Egypt is beyond the point of no return economically, and American foreign policy is beyond the point of no return intellectually. Americans of both parties--Obama and Kerry on one side, and Sens. McCain and Graham along with the Weekly Standard on the other--believed that by waving the magic wand of democracy over this cataclysmically failed state, all would be well. I characterized this consensus as "Dumb and Dumber" earlier this year.

The outcome, of course, is that Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov turned up in Cairo this week to hear his Egyptian counterpart declare that America's erstwhile Arab ally wants to restore Russian-Egyptian relations to their level during the Soviet era--when Egypt was an enemy. As the Jerusalem Post summed up the mess:

The more persistent the denials, the clearer it is that a marked shift is taking place in international ties that until recently bound the world’s single superpower with the most populous Arab state. The Russian ministerial visits were preceded by a visit by the chief of Russian intelligence and by Russian naval vessels.

More important, the visits by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu involve a major sale to Egypt of sophisticated Russian military hardware – clearly a counter move to the American halting of weapons supplies.

The Egyptians are essentially saying that they can shop elsewhere and not have to shell out cash. According to reliable reports, another exasperated American ally, Saudi Arabia, is footing the bill for this transaction to the tune of $4b. The Russians may receive additional compensation in the form of access for their navy to port facilities on the Mediterranean.

Like it or not, this smacks of a return – if not fully in substance then at least in appearance – to the days of the Cold War when Egypt enjoyed unstinting Soviet support, enabling Moscow and Cairo to thumb their noses at Washington.

Vladimir Putin gets it, and we don't. He backs the Assad regime in Syria against Saudi-supported rebels. He is cracking down ruthlessly on Muslim terrorists in the Russian Caucasus, using Stalin-era forms of collective punishment. Nonetheless Riyadh is footing a $4 billion bill for Egypt to buy Russian arms.