Our deeds in Egypt show the darkness & folly of our foreign policy

Summary: Yet again America finds it necessary to overthrow another elected government, earning the hatred of its people and the scorn of others disgusted by our hypocrisy. As usual, the neocons in the chorus urge us to war. Our strategy is the anti-Boyd: add to and empower our enemies, discourage our friends and thin their ranks.

“We are what we repeatedly do.”
— Summary of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics by Will Durant in his Story of Philosophy (1926)

Islamic Sky

Contents

  1. Obama explains what America has become
  2. al Qaeda says “I told you so”
  3. Crusaders ‘R Us
  4. Hidden history, important and ignored
  5. For More Information
  6. Obama BFs our allies, Egypt’s generals
  7. Another Perspective on these events

(1) President Obama explains what America has become

Remarks by the President on the Situation in Egypt, 15 August 2013 — Meaningless drivil mixed with falsehoods, concluding with a trivial slap on the wrist to the military junta after their coup (“coup” being a truth the President cannot utter).

We appreciate the complexity of the situation. While Mohamed Morsi was elected President in a democratic election, his government was not inclusive and did not respect the views of all Egyptians. We know that many Egyptians, millions of Egyptians, perhaps even a majority of Egyptians were calling for a change in course. And while we do not believe that force is the way to resolve political differences, after the military’s intervention several weeks ago, there remained a chance for reconciliation and an opportunity to pursue a democratic path.

Instead, we’ve seen a more dangerous path taken through arbitrary arrests, a broad crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s associations and supporters, and now tragically the violence that’s taken the lives of hundreds of people and wounded thousands more.

The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government and security forces. We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest. We oppose the pursuit of martial law, which denies those rights to citizens under the principle that security trumps individual freedom, or that might makes right.

And today the United States extends its condolences to the families of those who were killed and those who were wounded.

And given the depths of our partnership with Egypt, our national security interests in this pivotal part of the world and our belief that engagement can support a transition back to a democratically elected civilian government, we’ve sustained our commitment to Egypt and its people. But while we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back. As a result, this morning we notified the Egyptian government that we are canceling our biannual joint military exercise which was scheduled for next month.

(2) A look at the larger picture: al Qaeda says “I told you so”

Al Qaeda leader’s ‘I told you so’ on Egypt“, Peter Bergen (CNN National Security Analyst), op-ed at CNN, 15 August 2013 — Opening:

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian-born leader of al Qaeda, has seen this movie before: An Islamist party does well at the polling booth only to be overthrown by a military coup that then plunges the country into chaos. This is what happened in Algeria in 1991. Tens of thousands died in the subsequent Algerian civil war that ripped the nation apart during the 1990s.

The lesson that Zawahiri drew from the Algerian war was that participating in democratic elections was strictly for suckers; far better to seize power through violence and then impose Taliban-style sharia law because “the crusaders” and their allies in the Arab world would never allow the emergence of a true Islamist state.

Islam

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In 1991, the same year that the Algerian civil war began, Zawahiri released his first book, “The Bitter Harvest.” The book was a vicious diatribe against the Muslim Brotherhood and other similar Islamist parties for participating in “democracies, elections and parliaments.”

Now Zawahiri gets to say “I told you so.”

More detail on the “I told you so” — “Zawahiri rebukes Muslim Brotherhood for trusting democracy“, report by Bill Roggio, Long War Journal, 3 August 2013 — Excerpt:

Just one day after the Egyptian military overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood government, Shabaab was at the forefront of those arguing that the Brotherhood made the mistake of attempting to gain power and impose sharia, or Islamic law, by following the democratic process. Shabaab’s argument was predictable; it reflected al Qaeda’s primary complaint with the Brotherhood. Although both groups seek to impose sharia and establish a caliphate, the Brotherhood has attempted to attain its goal through the political process, but al Qaeda has said this can be done only by waging jihad, or holy war.

Yesterday, in a statement released on al Qaeda-linked forums, Ayman al Zawahiri made the same argument that Shabaab and jihadists made immediately after the Egyptian coup. Below are excerpts of Zawahiri’s speech, which was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. I believe these excerpts get to the core of al Qaeda’s disagreement with the Brotherhood.

Excerpt from the translation:

What happened is the greatest proof of the failure of taking the democratic path to reach power in Islam. What happened was unprecedented in terms of its magnitude and ugliness, for it was larger and uglier than the failure in Algeria and Palestine. This time, the Brotherhood reached the presidency of the republic and the ministry, and they got the majority in the senate and Shura [consultative] councils, and despite all that they were removed from power by force.

You have ignored two extremely dangerous matters in the conflict: The first is the creed-based nature of the conflict, and that it is a conflict between infidelity and faith, between surrendering to the rule of Allah, glorified be He, or giving it to someone other than Allah; it is not a conflict between political parties that are bound by the nationalist unity.

The second matter you ignored is the actual nature of the conflict. It is not a conflict between competing nationalist parties, but it is a conflict between Crusaderhood and Zionism on the one side and Islam on the other.

I do not say this to take pleasure in the misery of others, may Allah forbid it. But I am describing the disease to get to the description of the medicine. I call every honorable, loyal person who loves the victory of Islam to unify the words of the Muslims around the word of tawhid [monotheism]. I call upon all my brothers to shun all methods and ways that oppose the rule of Shariah, and to unite in a mass preaching and inciting movement so that Shariah is ruling and not ruled, commanding and not commanded, leading and not led, and that the Ummah rejects the surrender treaties and normalization with Israel, and the security arrangements with America and all the pictures of perversion from Islam and submission to its enemies.

I call the soldiers of the Qur’an to wage the battle of the Qur’an that the martyr Imam Hassan al-Banna had called for.

(3) Crusaders ‘R Us

(a) Zawahiri has good reason to call us “crusaders”. Not just our actions, but reading the words of those justifying US policy — and urging even more of the same. Americans spewing hatred. Urging war. Mocking democracy. Working every day to convince Muslims that our words are lies, our intentions fixed and inimical to them. More links in the post-WWW2 chain of US support for tyrants overthrowing elected governments. Smooth words over evil: “The Perils of Proportionality“, Michael Rubin, Commentary, 16 August 2013 — Excerpt:

One of the biggest differences between the right and the left today is that the left always demonizes power, while the right recognizes that power can be used for good or for ill. Too many in the media and the State Department suffer from the David and Goliath syndrome in which they bestow sympathy and perhaps even a sense of justice on the weakest side, regardless of its beliefs and goals.

This was the case with Occupy Wall Street, an amorphous group with a huge sense of entitlement but no defined ideology besides the nihilistic. And, when it comes to terrorism, too many in the West bend over backwards to comprehend the terrorists’ point of view. There are two general ways to interpret terrorist motivation: One is through the prism of grievance and the other through an understanding of religious ideology.

If analysts embrace the idea that grievance motivates terrorism, then the natural policy response is to try to address that grievance and force concessions from the stronger side. The reality of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Shabaab, Hezbollah, the Taliban, and other Islamist movements, however, is that grievance is often window-dressing for ideological totalitarianism.

… So what should the United States do? So long as the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to turn back the clock, impose its hateful and intolerant ideology upon Egyptians of all religiosities and religions, and refuses to abide by the pathway to transitional elections, and so long as it continues to fight in the streets, then it should suffer the consequences of its actions. And if those consequences result in exponentially higher Brotherhood casualties than army casualties, then so be it. That is the truest path to peace.

(b) More of the same:

  • Sad words pointing to a grim future for America: “It’s Time to Work With Egypt’s Generals“, Martin Indyk, Foreign Policy, 4 July 2013 — “In a turbulent time, Cairo’s military is the best friend the United States has got.”
  • Marshalling fiction to justify helping tyrants, overthrowing elected governments: “It’s Time to Hold Our Nose and Back Egypt’s Military“, Leslie H. Gelb, Daily Beast, 17 August 2013 — “If Islamists regain control in Egypt, all hope for democracy is lost. So as unsavory as it may feel, working with the moderate-aligned military is our only hope.”

(c) Looking at the resutls: New York Times: Complicit in the destruction of Egyptian democracy“, Patrick L. Smith, Salon, 18 August 2013 — “U.S. policy is clear: No democracy for Islamic majorities. Why does the media parrot Obama’s Orwellian double talk?” Excerpt:

Over just a few days we have watched the deliberate sabotaging of the first elected government in Egyptian history. There is now no chance of restoring the government of President Mohamed Morsi: The savagery of the army and police as they act against Morsi’s supporters is intended to destroy any such prospect, and it has. It is likely we have also witnessed the end of the Arab Spring, the two-year-old movement that brought the promise of representative government to the Middle East. Egypt’s next story will be a new story, and the events of 2011 will take their place as a prelude, a shard of history.

Even as Egypt’s death toll since Wednesday climbs toward a thousand, a larger moment passed this week, it seems to me. America has reached the limit of its capacity to accommodate a new era, one requiring new thinking and new perspectives and lively imaginations. It simply cannot manage it. Washington’s business through all the Cold War decades was to destroy democracies (democracies that were supposedly not democracies) in favor of dictators (dictators who were supposedly not dictators). The only difference between that time and ours is that one is confident now that the American project will fail if America fails to alter course.

(4) Hidden history, important and ignored

Sudden Improvements in Egypt Suggest a Campaign to Undermine Morsi“, New York Times, 10 July 2013

…since the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi, life has somehow gotten better for many people across Egypt: Gas lines have disappeared, power cuts have stopped and the police have returned to the street.

The apparently miraculous end to the crippling energy shortages, and the re-emergence of the police, seems to show that the legions of personnel left in place after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 played a significant role — intentionally or not — in undermining the overall quality of life under the Islamist administration of Mr. Morsi.

(5) For More Information (will be updated)

(a) Articles about the situation in Egypt:

(b) Posts about Egypt:

  1. Important information about the riots in Egypt, 30 January 2011
  2. Why do we fear the rioters in Egypt?, 30 January 2011
  3. Sources of information about the situation in Egypt, 6 February 2011
  4. For Independence Day Egypt shows us how little love for democracy remains in America, 4 July 2013

(6) Obama speaks in support our allies,Egypt’s generals

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(7) Another Perspective on the events in Egypt, our allies in action

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23 thoughts on “Our deeds in Egypt show the darkness & folly of our foreign policy

  1. You are spot on. I think we need to realize East is East and West is West and begin to remember the purpose of foreign policy. I also think there is no way being ” nice ” in all the ways we do is logical or intelligent. The biggest problem we have in the Middle East is we do not understand that our foes are smarter than we think.

    M Pomorski

  2. Great assemblage of Info; terrific Links.
    Item #4 above is the “clincher”; no way was Egypt becoming a democracy…..no flippin’ way.
    E.G., who won the Elections in Palestine way back when and who refused to recognize the results?

    As Juan Cole offers if Americans knew and cared we could do better.
    If that becomes a reality then we have some hope.
    To think Americans could today actually find the political will and decency to know and care, I guess is the best one can hope for, otherwise this is certainly another example of a or the major Country gone deeply awry.

    If one can watch the videos of unarmed protestors being gunned down and not be outraged I wonder what exactly would it take to arouse a sense of the “other” and bring you to your feet as a human being.
    Very disturbing what is going on today and we are the Chess Masters………….

    Breton

    1. Breton,

      “If one can watch the videos of unarmed protestors being gunned down and not be outraged I wonder what exactly would it take to arouse a sense of the “other” and bring you to your feet as a human being.”

      My guess is that neocons like Michael Rubin see that video and think “A good beginning.”

  3. I can sense some oversimplification here…
    This analysis looks more into the post Morsi Egypt, ignoring what happened before the 30th of June. In the few weeks before that date, ambassador Anne Paterson did meet with some of the opposition and even the Coptic church Pope trying to defuse the planned demonstrations (AhramOnline). one Egyptian politician called her (sarcastically) a member of the MB. And even before that, the US was trying to contain the Islamist groups in Egypt, not for the sake of democracy in my opinion, but mainly for the sake of Camp David treaty (among other things, such as Syria), be it the MB, the generals or the liberals, comes second..

    I am not disagreeing with article(s), I’m just trying to say that it looks at things from one angle, it would have been more clear if it shows Obama’s administration before & after, the floundering in the US politics will be more obvious then.

    1. Ayman,

      You raise several good points. Some quite replies.

      (1) “I can sense some oversimplification here”

      Yes. But you could say that about any analysis of Egypt in two thougsand words. It would either be too focused, excluding other time periods or factors — or too broad and superficial.

      The relevant critique of this is that it is too long. Readership drops off fast after 1,000 words (which is several times the length of the average Internet post).

      (2) “This analysis looks more into the post Morsi Egypt, ignoring what happened before the 30th of June.”

      Yes, that is it’s focus. But it does not ignore events before June 30. The subject is US foreign policy, and puts these events in the context of our post-WWII actions.

      (3) “ambassador Anne Paterson did meet with some of the opposition and even the Coptic church Pope trying to defuse the planned demonstrations”

      No doubt she was charming. And Obama made a pretty speech. Does anyone care?

      (4) “one Egyptian politician called her (sarcastically) a member of the MB.”

      There is always someone at the back of the herd, unclear what’s happening.

      (5) “the US was trying to contain the Islamist groups in Egypt, not for the sake of democracy in my opinion, but mainly for the sake of Camp David treaty (among other things, such as Syria), be it the MB, the generals or the liberals, comes second.”

      We can only guess as motives. I usually don’t go there, unless I can cite evidence (ie. credible explanations, such leaked memos). What’s real are the effects, esp the conclusions people draw from our pattern of actions.

      (6) “more clear if it shows Obama’s administration before & after, the floundering in the US politics will be more obvious then.”

      Why does that change anything? Are there people in Egpyt — or Muslims anywhere — who care that we “foundered” before doing what we so often do, supporting tyrants allied with the US who overthrow elected regimes?

    2. as of (6), it is not about ‘who care…’, it is just for the sake of this analysis.

      Its true that there are almost no mention of Camp David Accords and current US policy, except this opinion – last week – from someone who is close to ‘pro-Israel’ lobbying groups (it doesn’t mean much – if it means anything, but it gives a clue of it is going on in these people’s minds right now, no-brainer, its not the blood in Cairo): John Bolton: US Policy Must Protect Camp David Accord

    3. Ayman,

      You raise a subject of wider significance, an important methodological or epistemological point often found in the comments on the FM website.

      People — rightly so — have opinions. When challenged they quite logically look for support using Google. But that should be the start of the process, not the end. References found must be evaluated for their significance.

      Too often people post whatever they find, crowing that they have “proof”. You clearly did not do this, but it’s the most common reaction — esp. on climate-related threads. But the “proof” if often quite weak, sometimes of near-zero significance. I have seen this called “google knowledge”, using google purely to re-enforcement existing opinions, closing off its real value.

      Now, back to your comment. Although his highest post was as a minor official (one year as UN Ambassador) in a Republican administration, Bolton’s views are certainly evidence that preserving the Camp David accords — and more generally, the status quo disengagement of Egypt from the Israel-Palestine conflict — as a major goal of US foreign policy. To which I agree. That’s the most obvious intent of our aid (mostly to Egypt’s military); it’s a annual bribe.

      An government with powerful Islamic fundamentalist elements will likely challenge this arrangement, as it neither matches the views of Egypt’s people or helps them. Hence the obvious pro-general bias.

      But that is the very point of this post: that US foreign policy prioritizes short-term goals (in terms of grand strategy), hypocritically professing goals which it in fact opposes.

      As I said above, I believe we can establish this point by looking at the effects of US policy. Without guessing at motives, which is too vulnerable to rebuttal (as in “no, that’s not why they acted so”).

  4. Morsi removed price controls on a host of commodities, bread, gas etc. In this he was advised by the IMF, i’m not sure if this was a condition on a new IMF loan. The removal of the price controls resulted in a dramatic rise in the cost of living. There was also a large devaluation which has driven up the cost of imported goods.
    I would imagine that the military government has moved back to price control.

    1. merocaine,

      You point to an important factor. Riots and instability follow the IMF like vultures follow the grim reaper. That’s been the pattern for several decades.

      As for their actions since: from the Egyptian State News Service, 2 August 2013:

      Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Cooperation Dr. Ziad Bahaa-el-Din said that the government will announce a number of decisions that aim to alleviate burdens on citizens on the short term through minimizing the price increase, creating new jobs, improving the investment climate and developing the agricultural and industrial production.

      Bahaa-el-Din pointed out that the economic ministerial group set its priorities for the next stage, which are based on three main axes.

      He made clear that the first axis focuses on activating economy and encouraging production, the second axis deals with the decisions and projects that achieves the required improvement while the third axis deals with setting a comprehensive plan for developing the Egyptian national infrastructure.

  5. Pepe Escobar has made some interesting observations on this topic: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MID-04-160813.html

    I think he’s right that the US would have been OK with either side in this fight, regardless of which side we’re backing now. I also think he may be onto something by tying in other events in the region, such as the forced leadership change in Qatar earlier this year.

    It looks as if Islamists in the region may have been treated to a relatively simple (in hindsight) pump-and-dump maneuver. Pump them up to put pressure on our strategic adversaries and/or just to see how things play out… then as soon as they become too much trouble, and we have lured them out into the killing zones, dump them and watch the bodies fall.

    All of this is inflicting a horrific toll on the Arab populations of the region and looks disgustingly immoral to any intelligent person who is actually paying attention…. but obviously, this is not important.

    One thing is for sure– this is no way to spread peace and democracy, but it’s a great way to ensure absolute and total Israeli dominance in the region at least in the short and medium terms.

    1. Matt,

      Given our record since 9-11 of action against fundamentalist Islam — relentless aggression, everywhere we can — I difficult to believe that we might have supported a MB-dominated government in a key nation like Egypt.

      Guessing, the most friendly we might have been would be public smiles plus aggressive CIA programs to destabilize it.

      “All of this is inflicting a horrific toll on the Arab populations of the region”

      Important and quite correct!

      “looks disgustingly immoral to any intelligent person who is actually paying attention”

      False. The neocons I cite are intelligent, paying close attention, and quite pleased with the carnage. They probably want more of it.

      This is a critical point! It’s a commonplace these days to point to opponents and say that they are not smart, are ignorant, or even are mentally ill. That’s not only wrong, but a flawed analysis that leads to incorrect tactical and strategic decisions. The Climate Wars are a good example.

      It’s mental blinders than often lead to failure to examine opponents’ data and analysis (i.e., failure to learn) — and almost always orientation failure (e.g., failure to understand opponents’ values).

      IMO it’s a big reason we’re losing.

      “this is no way to spread peace and democracy, but it’s a great way to ensure absolute and total Israeli dominance in the region at least in the short and medium terms.”

      Quite so. Everything is going fine, per our leaders. Which is why there have been no major course corrections since 9-11, despite the manifest failure of our wars — with respect to their publicly stated goals.

    2. ” I difficult to believe that we might have supported a MB-dominated government in a key nation like Egypt. ”

      That might be true… I guess what gets my attention is that Morsi’s government was very well-behaved internationally and pushed key Washington-friendly policies (like following IMF guidelines etc.)

      So it seems possible that Washington was not in a particular hurry to get rid of the Brotherhood government, and that the key element in the current counter-revolution really were the local folks in the Mubarak-era institutions itching to get back on top of “their Egypt”.

      It’s easy for me to imagine that there may have been two factions in Washington strategy-land, one favoring working with the Brotherhood and the other favoring tough action to put a military-dominated secular regime back in power…. and that the self-interested steps taken by local, Egyptian actors, may have been what tipped the debate in favor of the latter camp.

    3. Matt,

      As I said to Ayman, we can guess about all these things until time ends. IMO it’s a waste of energy.

      What we know is US history, and how we have just added another paragraph to it. One quite consistent with the past.

      Our deeds are seen more clearly than our words by others, as well. Egypt’s military probably acted with confidence that they could kill a lot of people without putting at risk the $1.5B we send them every year. (There may have also been back-channel assurances given them from US leaders; again there’s a long history of this).

      Given the civilian blood on our hands since 1963 (see Nick Turse’s book Kill Anything that Moves), plus our long record of support for oppressive tyrants, we were hardly likely to object to their actions — except with some vague words.

  6. Fabius,

    Let’s say for suppositions sake that Obama and Kerry were skilled in the ways of the OODA loop and Boyd’s definition of strategy. How would they handle the events in Egypt since 2011?

    1. AC,

      Great question. The first step, the vital operational insight: consult area experts. This has been a consistent mistake in US foreign policy. For example, repeatedly seen in the Pentagon Papers — where middle-level staff (actual experts) were excluded from meetings at which the big decisions were made.

      Now, as I’m not an expert, I’ll guess as to their recommendations to illustrate the process.

      Other relevant principle: Attract and empower friends; thin the ranks of foes and discourage them. Don’t pretend power we don’t have. Move fast to surprise & disorient our foes. Take the Moral High Ground.

      One way to implement all of these: condemn the military junta; press for new elections, shift military aid (which is most of it) to humanitarian aid, turn the issue over the UN. Get out from under a no-win dilemma for us. Instead our fumbling interventions makes enemies of everybody, probably long-term enemies — weirdly called “realism” by US geopolitical experts.

  7. Enough Is Enough“, Marc Lynch (Professor Political Science, George Washington U), Foreign Policy, 14 August 2013 — “It’s time for Washington to cut Egypt loose.”

    Good analysis, but raises more questions than it answers. For example, why does the US have no influence in Egypt with the government, MB, or people?

    What his analysis does show is the near-total lack of any grand strategy in our dealings with Egypt, which resulted in the widely-remarked fumbling. Without a grand strategy to provide an orientation or direction.

  8. The confrontation spreads to Libya:

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/20/libya-rebels-muslim-brotherhood-blockade

    “Fears are growing in Libya of an Egypt-style standoff between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and opposition forces, with rebels blockading key oil ports and the capital Tripoli braced for armed confrontation.

    “Leaders in the provinces of Cyrenaica and Fezzan are considering breaking away from the centre with rebel militias mobilising across the country.

    “With oil exports plunging 70%, the government has threatened to use force to capture oil terminals held by armed protesters, raising the risk of civil war.”

    This highlights one of the key “advantages” of toppling established central states in favor of the managed anarchy of squabbling factions: the latter are easily pitted against each other.

    1. It gets better:

      “The capital is tense, with nightly exchanges of gunfire. Diplomats, along with many ordinary Libyans, observe a self-imposed dusk-to-dawn curfew. Congress president Nuri Abu Sahmain has summoned militias allied to the Brotherhood to the capital, deploying troops across the city to forestall what his commanders say is the threat of a coup.

      “This emergency measure has prompted the main opposition party, the centre right National Forces Alliance, to desert congress, followed by several smaller ethnic parties, leaving the Brotherhood’s Justice and Construction party heading a government with crumbling authority. “Congress has basically collapsed,” said one diplomat in Tripoli.”

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