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Our World: Clueless in Washington

By Caroline B. Glick
 
The Jerusalem Post
 
1 February, 2011
 
 
 
Does the US fail to understand what will happen to its strategic interests 
in the region if the Muslim Brotherhood is the power behind the throne of 
the next regime?

The Egyptian multitudes on the streets of Cairo are a stunning sight. With 
their banners calling for freedom and an end to the reign of President Hosni 
Mubarak the story these images tell is a simple one as old as time.

On the one hand we have the young, dispossessed and weak protesters. And on 
the other we have the old, corrupt and tyrannical Mubarak. Hans Christian 
Andersen taught us who to support when we were wee tots.

But does his wisdom apply in this case?

Certainly it is true that the regime is populated by old men. Mubarak is 82 
years old. It is also true that his regime is corrupt and tyrannical. Since 
the Muslim Brotherhood spinoff Islamic Jihad terror group murdered Mubarak’s 
predecessor president Anwar Sadat in 1981, Egypt has been governed by 
emergency laws that ban democratic freedoms. Mubarak has consistently 
rejected US pressure to ease regime repression and enact liberal reforms in 
governance.

This reality has led many American commentators across the political 
spectrum to side enthusiastically with the rioters. A prestigious working 
group on Egypt formed in recent months by Middle East experts from Left and 
Right issued a statement over the weekend calling for the Obama 
administration to dump Mubarak and withdraw its support for the Egyptian 
regime. It recommended further that the administration force Mubarak to 
abdicate and his regime to fall by suspending all economic and military 
assistance to Egypt for the duration.

The blue ribbon panel’s recommendations were applauded by its members’ many 
friends across the political spectrum. For instance, the conservative Weekly 
Standard’s editor William Kristol praised the panel on Sunday and wrote, “It’s 
time for the US government to take an active role… to bring about a South 
Korea/Philippines/Chile-like transition in Egypt, from an American-supported 
dictatorship to an American-supported and popularly legitimate liberal 
democracy.”

The problem with this recommendation is that it is based entirely on the 
nature of Mubarak’s regime. If the regime was the biggest problem, then 
certainly removing US support for it would make sense. However, the 
character of the protesters is not liberal.

Indeed, their character is a bigger problem than the character of the regime 
they seek to overthrow.

According to a Pew opinion survey of Egyptians from June 2010, 59 percent 
said they back Islamists. Only 27% said they back modernizers. Half of 
Egyptians support Hamas. Thirty percent support Hizbullah and 20% support al 
Qaida. Moreover, 95% of them would welcome Islamic influence over their 
politics. When this preference is translated into actual government policy, 
it is clear that the Islam they support is the al Qaida Salafist version.

Eighty two percent of Egyptians support executing adulterers by stoning, 77% 
support whipping and cutting the hands off thieves. 84% support executing 
any Muslim who changes his religion.

When given the opportunity, the crowds on the street are not shy about 
showing what motivates them. They attack Mubarak and his new Vice President 
Omar Suleiman as American puppets and Zionist agents. The US, protesters 
told CNN’s Nick Robertson, is controlled by Israel. They hate and want to 
destroy Israel. That is why they hate Mubarak and Suleiman.

WHAT ALL of this makes clear is that if the regime falls, the successor 
regime will not be a liberal democracy. Mubarak’s military authoritarianism 
will be replaced by Islamic totalitarianism. The US’s greatest Arab ally 
will become its greatest enemy. Israel’s peace partner will again become its 
gravest foe.

Understanding this, Israeli officials and commentators have been nearly 
unanimous in their negative responses to what is happening in Egypt. The 
IDF, the national security council, all intelligence agencies and the 
government as well as the media have all agreed that Israel’s entire 
regional approach will have to change dramatically in the event that Egypt’s 
regime is overthrown.

None of the scenarios under discussion are positive.

What has most confounded Israeli officials and commentators alike has not 
been the strength of the anti-regime protests, but the American response to 
them. Outside the far Left, commentators from all major newspapers, radio 
and television stations have variously characterized the US response to 
events in Egypt as irrational, irresponsible, catastrophic, stupid, blind, 
treacherous, and terrifying.

They have pointed out that the Obama administration’s behavior – as well as 
that of many of its prominent conservative critics – is liable to have 
disastrous consequences for the US’s other authoritarian Arab allies, for 
Israel and for the US itself.

The question most Israelis are asking is why are the Americans behaving so 
destructively? Why are President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary 
Clinton charting a course that will necessarily lead to the transformation 
of Egypt into the first Salafist Islamic theocracy? And why are conservative 
commentators and Republican politicians urging them to be even more 
outspoken in their support for the rioters in the streets?

Does the US not understand what will happen in the region as a result of its 
actions? Does the US really fail to understand what will happen to its 
strategic interests in the Middle East if the Muslim Brotherhood either 
forms the next regime or is the power behind the throne of the next regime 
in Cairo?

Distressingly, the answer is that indeed, the US has no idea what it is 
doing. The reason the world’s only (quickly declining) superpower is riding 
blind is because its leaders are trapped between two irrational, 
narcissistic policy paradigms and they can’t see their way past them.

The first paradigm is former president George W. Bush’s democracy agenda and 
its concomitant support for open elections.

Bush supporters and former administration officials have spent the last 
month since the riots began in Tunisia crowing that events prove Bush’s push 
for democratization in the Arab world is the correct approach.

The problem is that while Bush’s diagnosis of the dangers of the democracy 
deficit in the Arab world was correct, his antidote for solving this problem 
was completely wrong.

Bush was right that tyranny breeds radicalism and instability and is 
therefore dangerous for the US.

But his belief that free elections would solve the problem of Arab 
radicalism and instability was completely wrong. At base, Bush’s belief was 
based on a narcissistic view of Western values as universal.

When, due to US pressure, the Palestinians were given the opportunity to 
vote in open and free elections in 2006, they voted for Hamas and its 
totalitarian agenda. When due to US pressure, the Egyptians were given 
limited freedom to choose their legislators in 2005, where they could they 
elected the totalitarian Muslim Brotherhood to lead them.

The failure of his elections policy convinced Bush to end his support for 
elections in his last two years in office.

Frustratingly, Bush’s push for elections was rarely criticized on its 
merits. Under the spell of the other policy paradigm captivating American 
foreign policy elites – anti-colonialism – Bush’s leftist opponents never 
argued that the problem with his policy is that it falsely assumes that 
Western values are universal values. Blinded by their anti-Western dogma, 
they claimed that his bid for freedom was nothing more than a modern-day 
version of Christian missionary imperialism.

It is this anti-colonialist paradigm, with its foundational assumption that 
that the US has no right to criticize non-Westerners that has informed the 
Obama administration’s foreign policy. It was the anti-colonialist paradigm 
that caused Obama not to support the pro-Western protesters seeking the 
overthrow of the Iranian regime in the wake of the stolen 2009 presidential 
elections.

As Obama put it at the time, “It’s not productive, given the history of 
US-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the US president meddling in 
the Iranian elections.”

And it is this anti-colonialist paradigm that has guided Obama’s courtship 
of the Syrian, Turkish and Iranian regimes and his unwillingness to lift a 
hand to help the March 14 movement in Lebanon.

MOREOVER, SINCE the paradigm claims that the non-Western world’s grievances 
towards the West are legitimate, Obama’s Middle East policy is based on the 
view that the best way to impact the Arab world is by joining its campaign 
against Israel. This was the central theme of Obama’s speech before an 
audience dominated by Muslim Brotherhood members in Cairo in June 2009.

Like the pro-democracy paradigm, the anti-colonialist paradigm is 
narcissistic. Whereas Western democracy champions believe that all people 
are born with the same Western liberal democratic values, post-colonialists 
believe that non-Westerners are nothing more than victims of the West. They 
are not responsible for any of their own pathologies because they are not 
actors. Only Westerners (and Israelis) are actors. Non-Westerners are 
objects. And like all objects, they cannot be held responsible for anything 
they do because they are wholly controlled by forces beyond their control.

Anti-colonialists by definition must always support the most anti-Western 
forces as “authentic.” In light of Mubarak’s 30-year alliance with the US, 
it makes sense that Obama’s instincts would place the US president on the 
side of the protesters.

SO THERE we have it. The US policy towards Egypt is dictated by the 
irrational narcissism of two opposing sides to a policy debate that has 
nothing to do with reality.

Add to that Obama’s electoral concern about looking like he is on the right 
side of justice and we have a US policy that is wholly antithetical to US 
interests.

This presents a daunting, perhaps insurmountable challenge for the US’s 
remaining authoritarian Arab allies. In Jordan and Saudi Arabia, until now 
restive publics have been fearful of opposing their leaders because the US 
supports them. Now that the US is abandoning its most important ally and 
siding with its worst enemies, the Hashemites and the Sauds don’t look so 
powerful to their Arab streets. The same can be said for the Kuwaiti 
leadership and the pro-American political forces in Iraq.

As for Israel, America’s behavior towards Egypt should put to rest the 
notion that Israel can make further territorial sacrifices in places like 
the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley in exchange for US security 
guarantees. US behavior today – and the across-the-board nature of American 
rejection of Mubarak – is as clear a sign as one can find that US guarantees 
are not credible.

As Prof. Barry Rubin wrote this week, “There is no good policy for the 
United States regarding the uprising in Egypt but the Obama administration 
may be adopting something close to the worst option.”

Unfortunately, given the cluelessness of the US foreign policy debate, this 
situation is only likely to grow worse.
 
* * * * * * *
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post.

caroline@carolineglick.com