Commentary Magazine


Bolster Military-to-Military Ties with Egypt

I was no fan of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship. Realist castigation of the White House for abandoning Mubarak is a bit dishonest: Pinning American national security to cancer-stricken octogenarians is seldom a wise long-term strategy.

The Obama administration’s flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood was another thing entirely: Political correctness is annoying at the best of times, for it provides an excuse for dissenters to dismiss based on window-dressing rather than address core ideas that merit debate. It is especially dangerous, however, when true believers embrace political correctness as a doctrine and actually believe the pap that extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements are misunderstood, or that Islamist anti-Americanism is rooted in grievance rather than ideology. The Muslim Brotherhood was aiming to be the Egyptian and Islamist equivalent of the Khmer Rouge. They disdained democracy and their crocodile tears regarding democratic wrongs are nothing but window-dressing.

One of the greatest ironies of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ouster from power is that Western liberals are more concerned about the injustice suffered by the Brethren than are their one-time funders in the Arab world. While senators and diplomats were beating themselves up about how unfair events were for Mohamed Morsi and crew, it was the Saudis and Emiratis who cut their ties quickly and without regret. Perhaps the pattern is repeating in which the West’s useful idiots believe Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen who say tolerant things in English while those who understand what the Brotherhood is saying in Arabic understand truly for what the group stands.

At any rate, there are two sides in the immediate Egyptian fight, and their demands are mutually exclusive. One will win, and one will lose and, like Jonathan, let us hope for the sake of U.S. national security that the military wins in the short term. That is not to bless military dictatorship, but building up a more liberal and democratic alternative might take years if not decades and that simply would not be possible under a Muslim Brotherhood regime.

Maintaining leverage with the Egyptian military therefore becomes a paramount U.S. interest. The State Department likes to think that they maintain a monopoly over diplomacy, but the reality is that American generals are often better diplomats when the crisis erupts. After all, diplomats have cocktail parties and an occasional conference, but military officers have staff college classes that often last months, if not years. Over the course of a promising officer’s career, he might find himself in class or in exercises with the same foreign officer multiple times. Not surprisingly, friendships develop between families and relationships run deep. That may not be something which President Obama—who has never served in the military—understands. Nor is it something to which Secretary of State John Kerry—who appears to hold the military in disdain—will care to admit. Alas, while Kerry chides the Egyptians and promotes the type of unthinking compromise that a proverbial State Department kindergartener might have formulated, he and Obama appear to be abandoning the one tool with which they can have some leverage: the military-to-military relationship.

First, the U.S. suspended F-16 sales to Egypt—a silly thing to do since such sales aren’t simply about airplanes, but also about long-term training relationships. Next, Obama cancelled the Bright Star exercises, again an opportunity for multiple senior U.S. officers to have quiet tête-à-têtes with their Egyptian counterparts. If the White House truly wanted to restrain the Egyptian army, then that would be a far better way to convey that message rather than putting John Kerry on television, or having a U.S. embassy which has mismanaged its way into irrelevance deliver a demarche. With leverage so fleeting, how unfortunate it is that Obama wants to eliminate what remains.