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The Perils of Proportionality

Much of the outrage directed at the Egyptian military is a direct result of the death toll from Wednesday’s battles on the streets of Cairo. Make no mistake: the Egyptian state may have had better weaponry, but these were battles plain and simple. The interior ministry says it lost several dozen officers, and that too is a tragedy. The notion that the United States should castigate or abandon the Egyptian army because it caused more deaths than the Muslim Brotherhood is short-sighted and based on the corrosive notion that the stronger side has a responsibility for restraint.

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.

Even if the United States does not officially believe in direct diplomacy with all of these groups, it and the United Nations often seek to transform them into Davids, no matter how murderous their intent. Hence, Israel is castigated when—pushed to the limit by Hamas rockets—it responds with targeted strikes that kill Hamas activists and sometimes, unfortunately, bystanders. Never mind that Hamas targets civilian areas and Israel bends over backwards to mitigate collateral damage. One of the more disingenuous arguments that comes from defenders of Palestinian terrorism is that terrorists must fire homemade rockets or detonate suicide vests because they don’t have F-16s and advanced tanks. The reason why such arguments fall flat is they imply that if Palestinians did have advanced jet aircraft and armor, they would simply use that to attack Israel and thus make the casualty count more proportionate.

The same holds true for Iraq. Diplomats and journalists criticized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for an incident in Fallujah in which a clash between government forces and Sunni protestors resulted in the deaths of several dozen Sunni protestors. That the Iraqi government first moved in with water cannons and were fired upon by supposedly “non-violent” protestors waving al-Qaeda flags was justification enough. That government troops didn’t die in numbers proportional to the Sunni extremists is not something to condemn, but rather to applaud, for it shows good training.

Back to Egypt: in recent days, the Muslim Brotherhood has suffered the brunt of the violence, but that does not exculpate it: The Brotherhood is frenzied enough that if it had access to greater weaponry, it would simply kill more.

John Kerry and Barack Obama may embrace the idea of negotiated settlements in Egypt and Syria, but history suggests the idea of diplomatic settlements absent first a violent resolution to conflict is fantasy. Before diplomacy can succeed, all parties must recognize that they can only get through the negotiating table what they cannot get through violence. Often, that occurs when one side wins decisively and the other side loses. This was a lesson best encapsulated by the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, hailed as a hero for peace, but who decided to negotiate only after trying to achieve his aims via war, only to suffer a humiliating defeat.

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.



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