Egypt: Caught between rock and hard place

DAYTONA BEACH -- Events in Egypt have put President Obama on the horns of a dilemma. He has no good choices and very little influence. Vacuous speeches will not help and empty threats and pronouncements will only make him look impotent. Yet he feels that he must do something to influence the outcome of the current violent power struggle which risks civil war and possibly the fragile peace, if that is the right term, between the Arab states and Israel.

Part of Mr. Obama’s problem is of his own making. His immediate embrace of the so-called “Arab Spring” was exactly the sort of reaction one would expect of a man of the Left whose fond feelings for Islam have made it impossible for him to distinguish between the several radical movements which currently pervert that faith and the more moderate governments and other elements which are prepared to cooperate, however quietly, with the United States.

As applied in the Third World and in much of the Islamic World, Obama’s modern Marxist ideology views the United States and the West as largely responsible for most of the planet’s ills.

Yet, having virtually confirmed that view in his 2009 speech in Cairo, Obama made the colossal error of concluding that the revolutionaries in the Arab streets would love America if only he held out his hand to them.

He seemed never to comprehend that any popular revolutionary movement in virtually any Islamic nation will ultimately be influenced by Islamic leaders. Nor does he understand that the political dynamic in much of the Islamic World is driven by the most radical among them.

The Arab Spring opened the door to these very radicals, men who despise the United States with every fiber of their being, with Obama’s blessing, When the Spring came to Egypt, Obama repeated Jimmy Carter’s mistakes of 1979 in Iran.

He immediately abandoned our longstanding ally, a man admittedly corrupt and dictatorial, but whose rule had long supported American interests. And he did so with no advance preparation.

The Obama Administration had few contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood and knew very little of its true aims or what its attitude might be toward the United States or Israel once in power.

He and his Secretary of State failed to realize that events in Egypt were to be directed by internal players wholly unresponsive to the distant verbal pronouncements of a weakened United States, committed to “lead from behind” and unwilling to use from the outset whatever leverage it has.

Washington appeared to act on the assumption that all those in opposition to the rule of the military were together, without understanding that the differences between them would drive them apart as soon as the military stepped aside. And quickly the most pro-American elements of the revolutionaries - the middle class, westernized students and the Coptic Christians - were marginalized by the best organized and most radically committed - the Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimeen).

Washington appeared to act on the assumption that all those in opposition to the rule of the military were together, without understanding that the differences between them would drive them apart as soon as the military stepped aside. And quickly the most pro-American elements of the revolutionaries - the middle class, westernized students and the Coptic Christians - were marginalized by the best organized and most radically committed - the Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimeen).

And so Obama found himself applauding the rise to power of Mohamad al-Morsi, via democratic election to be sure, and soon discovered the wholly predictable truth that the Brotherhood intended the rapid installation of Sharia (Koranic Law).

And the Egyptian people found that they had elected a group which knew nothing about running a country and an economy as large, as complicated and as problem-ridden as that of Egypt, but which was far more dictatorial than the military and determined that they should remain in power.

One man, one vote, one time. Similar to Iran in 1979 in many ways, but with one vital exception: Unlike the Iranian military, that of Egypt held together, its leaders were not executed en masse and the Ikhwan established no offsetting power like the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

20 million people swarmed into the streets to protest Islamic misrule, the military took their cue and re-entered the fray to do what they have always done since the overthrow of King Farouk and the rise of Gamal Abdul Nasser - establish and maintain order. But that game has only just begun and it will probably become far bloodier.

The army may have their way in the short term if they can retain their support among the majority of Egyptians and intimidate the Brotherhood through overwhelming use of force.

The Brotherhood should already have learned that they cannot stand up to the military in a regular street fight. But the Ikhwan is a multinational organization which has been around for decades. They have spawned and trained several terrorist organizations, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al-Nusra and al-Qaida itself.

If the Brotherhood decides on underground resistance, and trends in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Lebanon suggest that they will, we will soon begin to see suicide bombers, car bombs, IED’s and all the paraphenalia of the modern urban terrorist descend upon Cairo, Alexandria and the other cities of Egypt.

As this is written, it is reported that 25 Egyptian policemen were executed in the Sinai. So, with Egypt potentially at the tipping point, what should Obama do?

Answer: Take a cold, hard objective look at where American interests lie in Egypt and in the region, decide if they are vital to our country and, if so, act to support them. Interests are more important than ideology.

But this will be hard for Obama who, as noted above, views the world through an ideological prism. Our most important interest in Egypt is that it adhere to the Camp David Accords and pose no threat to Israel.

To do this, Cairo must establish and maintain stability throughout the country. And it needs to rid the Sinai of the terrorist training camps and arms smuggling operations which have infested the peninsula since Morsi’s election. To do this it must be sure of continued American training and assistance.

Secondly we need the Suez Canal to remain open to all legitimate commercial and military vessels. The Canal is one of the most important marine lifelines in the world and its closure or the denial of use of the Canal to certain countries (possibly including the US) would drive up costs and cause massive political/military and economic disruption all over the planet.

Third, we want to see focused and effective development of the Egyptian economy. This will be difficult no matter who rules. There are some 80 million Egyptians and, with the exception of a few oases, they are almost all shoehorned into the narrow band of arable land along the banks of the Nile River. They cannot feed themselves.

The economy is given over to corruption and much of this is the fault of the military. It will take every possible bit of private sector encouragement, creativity and energy, under girded by massive and well-controlled aid from the wealthy Arab states and, yes, the United States, to make this even possible. But without greater hope of economic progress, even if the military establishes order now, chaos will one day return.

Morsi cannot do the first and third and cannot be trusted to maintain passage through the Suez. American interests would be best served by the return to power of the military at least until a civilian government untainted by the Ikhwan can be elected.

Morsi cannot do the first and third and cannot be trusted to maintain passage through the Suez. American interests would be best served by the return to power of the military at least until a civilian government untainted by the Ikhwan can be elected.

This could take quite some time.

It is President Obama’s job to support and advance American interests throughout the world, ideology be damned. But I doubt he will see it that way.

Stanley Escudero
August 18, 2013
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The Guidepost By Stanley Escudero
Stanley Escudero is a retired career diplomat, businessman & native Floridian, who lives in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida, with his wife, Jaye. He served as chairman of the Volusia County Republican Executive Committee in 2011-2012. Escudero was appointed to the Daytona State College Board of Trustees in 2015, By Gov. Rick Scott. Escudero, writer of the 'The Guidepost' politcal column since 2010, is a member of the inaugural Class of 2017 Headline Surfer Hall of Fame. All news content copyright-protected intellectual property of NSB News LLC, which may not be duplicated or re-published in whole or in part without advance approval of the publisher. Headline Surfer® is published by award-winning journalist Henry Frederick.