Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S.-Egypt relations

Arab Spring Illusions Are Dead. Good.

The Obama administration reacted to the news that an Egyptian court has dropped all charges against former President Hosni Mubarak with hardly a murmur of protest or even comment. Considering that from the beginning of the Arab Spring protests four years ago up through the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, the administration was a font of opinions, advice, and admonitions for Cairo the change was remarkable. This earned the State Department a rebuke from the editorial page of the New York Times, which condemned the decision and urged a return to efforts to promote democracy in Egypt. But for once it is the administration, which has made so many mistakes, especially in the Middle East, that is right. The Times may be the last to know this, but the Arab Spring is over and it is necessary for everyone from left to right to admit that it is time recalibrate our expectations about Egypt and to focus on the more important fight against radical Islam rather than a futile quest for liberalization.

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The Obama administration reacted to the news that an Egyptian court has dropped all charges against former President Hosni Mubarak with hardly a murmur of protest or even comment. Considering that from the beginning of the Arab Spring protests four years ago up through the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, the administration was a font of opinions, advice, and admonitions for Cairo the change was remarkable. This earned the State Department a rebuke from the editorial page of the New York Times, which condemned the decision and urged a return to efforts to promote democracy in Egypt. But for once it is the administration, which has made so many mistakes, especially in the Middle East, that is right. The Times may be the last to know this, but the Arab Spring is over and it is necessary for everyone from left to right to admit that it is time recalibrate our expectations about Egypt and to focus on the more important fight against radical Islam rather than a futile quest for liberalization.

The protests throughout the Arab world raised hopes in the West that at last, that region was about to undergo a necessary transformation from dominance by authoritarians to one in which democracy, or at least the founding of democratic institutions, might offer the hope of a new era of freedom. The Mubarak regime was a corrupt military dictatorship that was ripe for overthrow and both liberals and neo-conservatives hoped this would lead to better things for Egypt.

But we were all wrong. Rather than leading to a chance for genuine democracy, what followed was an election that brought to power the Muslim Brotherhood. Its goals had nothing to do with liberalization, let alone accountability on the part of the government. After a year of misery that would have led, if unchecked, to a far worse dictatorship than that of Mubarak, the people of Egypt took to the streets for mass protests that dwarfed those that ended the old regime.

That led to the current government led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. It has no interest in further investigations of the conduct of the Mubarak regime, especially its last days as protesters were murdered by the same troops that are now the bulwark of the new military regime. Indeed, Sisi’s government may already be guilty of far worse in its efforts to suppress the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.

But while the Times and others who condemn the deplorable human-rights situation in Egypt are not wrong about the nature of the new regime, they are dead wrong on the question of whether the United States should be trying to do something to undermine Sisi, such as cutting U.S. aid to Cairo.

Whatever we may think of Sisi and the collapse of hopes for change in Egypt as well as the minimal success of other such efforts in the Arab and Muslim world, the last four years have shown that there are other, bigger problems to be dealt with first before Westerners should worry much about the absence of democracy in that region.

Unfortunately, there was never a real constituency of any size in Egypt for liberal democracy. The choices there were always going to be between a stable, if authoritarian military government and one run by Islamists. Had the latter prevailed, Egypt would not only have been less free than under the military but it would have helped further destabilize the region and aided the efforts of Islamist terror groups like Hamas, which was allied with the Brotherhood.

Sadly, the Obama administration’s inconsistent and ultimately feckless policies alienated both Sisi and the Egyptians who blame it for the rise of the Brotherhood. It will take a long time before the U.S. will win back their trust. But the key question facing the region is whether Islamist groups like ISIS will overrun regimes that while neither democratic nor free, at least represent a bulwark against the tide of extremism and violence. That makes it absolutely essential that the U.S. continue to support governments like that led by Sisi and to assist them in the general effort to combat the wave of Islamist extremism sweeping across the region.

Which also means that both liberals and neoconservatives alike must put aside their illusions as well as their hopes about democracy promotion in the Middle East. The war against Islamism must be fought and eventually won first before we will be able to return to that discussion about the Arab world, if then. Those who cannot grasp this reality are being obtuse, not principled.

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Too Late for Obama to Get Right with Egypt

If there has been one thing that has been consistent about the Obama administration’s policies toward Egypt, it has been bad timing. The latest shift in the U.S. attitude toward Cairo came yesterday when Secretary of State John Kerry said after a meeting with the country’s leaders that the U.S. was ready to repair its relations with the military government that has ruled the country since last summer’s coup. Read More

If there has been one thing that has been consistent about the Obama administration’s policies toward Egypt, it has been bad timing. The latest shift in the U.S. attitude toward Cairo came yesterday when Secretary of State John Kerry said after a meeting with the country’s leaders that the U.S. was ready to repair its relations with the military government that has ruled the country since last summer’s coup. Given that the regime led by President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi is clearly ensconced in power and seems to have the support of most of its people, this decision is a good idea even if it comes far too late to do much to actually do the U.S. much good. President Obama’s embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood government that Sisi overthrew was a mistake that was compounded by Washington’s futile efforts to head off the coup and then impose cuts in aid to Egypt’s military. These measures did nothing to make the military respect human rights or increase support for democracy in Egypt. But they did convince most Egyptians that the U.S. was out of touch with their desire to end the ill-fated experiment with an Islamist government. But by making this belated statement on the eve of the Cairo government’s sentencing of journalists for assisting the Brotherhood, Kerry lost whatever little leverage or standing he might have had in pushing Sisi not to go overboard in his campaign against the Brotherhood. Bad timing has been the hallmark of the administration’s path to its current dilemma. Obama stuck too long with the old regime led by Hosni Mubarak to suit most Egyptians who were ready for change during the 2011 Arab Spring protests that swept the country. But by pushing hard for Mubarak’s ouster after being on his side for so long convinced no one of America’s good intentions. But once Mubarak was out, the president shifted his ground and began working to pave the way for a Muslim Brotherhood-led regime against the wishes of the country’s military that hoped to avert that outcome. Washington was ruthless in threatening dire consequences against the army when it tried to stop the Brotherhood from winning Egypt’s first election and then seemed to support the Islamists once they were firmly in power. When a year of Mohamed Morsi’s government convinced tens of millions of Egyptians to take to the streets in the summer of 2013 to urge the Brotherhood’s ouster, Obama again waited too long to recognize this reality. He was seen as seeking to stop the mass movement aimed at averting the country’s slide into unchecked Islamist tyranny. When the U.S. punished the military government that overthrew Morsi to popular acclaim, that ended any chance of regaining American influence in the world’s most populous Arab nation. Sisi’s government’s ruthless suppression of the Brotherhood makes sense to Egyptians who understand that they must choose between the military and the Islamists. Sisi is right to regard the Brotherhood as a deadly foe that must be crushed now if Egypt is not going to have to face more violence in the future. But it hardly enhances the image of the U.S. as a friend to freedom everywhere for Obama to have finally given in on this point just as Sisi was imprisoning journalists and sentencing large numbers of Brotherhood members to death. Second guessing any president is easy, but the plain fact is that this administration has managed to mess up even those decisions that were correct. At this point, President Obama has alienated virtually everyone in Egypt. Sisi’s government has the power to help influence the Palestinians to reject Hamas as well as providing an anchor for regional stability if it survives, as it probably will, the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to take back power. Though the U.S. retains the leverage that its large annual aid to the country gives it, there is little chance anyone in Cairo takes Obama’s admonitions seriously, even when he is right. Egypt is far from being the only foreign-policy disaster that can be laid at the feet of this president. The collapse in Iraq, failure in Afghanistan, throwing away its leverage to stop Iran’s nuclear threat, abandoning Syria and then backing away from efforts to punish the Assad regime in Syria, and a foolish “reset” of relations with Russia that led to more aggression from Moscow loom larger than Obama’s streak of bad timing in Egypt. But, like those other examples, Egypt has highlighted the president’s inability to make a decision and his poor choices when he does make up his mind. Having first articulated his flawed vision of a new Middle East policy in a 2009 speech in Cairo, it is both ironic and fitting that Egypt is also a reminder of just how amateurish this administration’s approach to foreign policy has always been.

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Sisi’s Brotherhood Vow and the U.S.

Later this month, Egyptians will go to the polls to vote for a replacement for deposed President Mohamed Morsi, but there is little mystery about the result. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former head of the Egyptian military that toppled Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government last summer after tens of millions of his countrymen took to the streets to call for a change, and the head of the interim authority that succeeded him, is certain to win the vote. With the party that won the elections that took place after the Mubarak dictatorship was overthrown in 2011 now banned, there is little doubt Sisi’s governing faction will prevail.

Sisi’s victory and the brutal suppression of the Brotherhood, which was highlighted by the handing out of more than 1,200 death sentences to its members in recent months, will be rightly seen as putting an end to any hope that the Arab Spring protests that ended Mubarak’s authoritarian rule would lead to anything better. Sisi’s government is in many respects a rerun of the old regime with the military firmly in control and any semblance of democracy an afterthought at best. All this will be seen as justification for a further downgrading of U.S. relations with the Egyptian government and more cuts in the more than $1 billion in aid that still flows to it. But though no one in the West should be cheering Sisi’s installation as the new rais neither should sensible observers be in mourning about his ascension. That is not because Sisi is someone who can be counted on to eventually encourage progress toward Egyptian democracy or that he is any more likely to do much of what is necessary to revive its crumbling economy. Sisi’s only virtue in the eyes of the West is the same one that recommends him as the better of all the available evils to most Egyptians: his vow to “finish” the Brotherhood if he is elected. Though, to this day, many Westerners still they think have a third choice in Egypt between a military dictatorship and an Islamist tyranny, that is a myth.

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Later this month, Egyptians will go to the polls to vote for a replacement for deposed President Mohamed Morsi, but there is little mystery about the result. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former head of the Egyptian military that toppled Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government last summer after tens of millions of his countrymen took to the streets to call for a change, and the head of the interim authority that succeeded him, is certain to win the vote. With the party that won the elections that took place after the Mubarak dictatorship was overthrown in 2011 now banned, there is little doubt Sisi’s governing faction will prevail.

Sisi’s victory and the brutal suppression of the Brotherhood, which was highlighted by the handing out of more than 1,200 death sentences to its members in recent months, will be rightly seen as putting an end to any hope that the Arab Spring protests that ended Mubarak’s authoritarian rule would lead to anything better. Sisi’s government is in many respects a rerun of the old regime with the military firmly in control and any semblance of democracy an afterthought at best. All this will be seen as justification for a further downgrading of U.S. relations with the Egyptian government and more cuts in the more than $1 billion in aid that still flows to it. But though no one in the West should be cheering Sisi’s installation as the new rais neither should sensible observers be in mourning about his ascension. That is not because Sisi is someone who can be counted on to eventually encourage progress toward Egyptian democracy or that he is any more likely to do much of what is necessary to revive its crumbling economy. Sisi’s only virtue in the eyes of the West is the same one that recommends him as the better of all the available evils to most Egyptians: his vow to “finish” the Brotherhood if he is elected. Though, to this day, many Westerners still they think have a third choice in Egypt between a military dictatorship and an Islamist tyranny, that is a myth.

Sisi’s election campaign has done nothing to alter his image as a slightly less refined but perhaps slightly less corrupt version of Mubarak. Just as Mubarak pandered to the virulent anti-Semitism that rages in Egypt while still preserving the peace treaty with Israel, Sisi is playing the same game by promising to revise the pact and doing nothing to improve relations with the Jewish state. If anything, by the time he is done, Sisi may make many Egyptians long for the more easygoing tyranny of the man who succeeded Anwar Sadat as he has taken his “mandate” from the anti-Brotherhood street demonstrations as an excuse for the kind of brutal rule that makes his government one of the most repressive in a region where dictatorships are a dime a dozen.

What is also missing from the Sisi regime is even the occasional lip service about freedom that Mubarak would utter as part of his efforts to maintain good relations with his American patrons. President Obama’s decision to back Mubarak’s ouster and his subsequent efforts to maintain good relations with the Brotherhood government undermined any good will even with the Egyptian military that has thrived on U.S. aid. Sisi’s statement last week that the U.S. had sought at the last minute to keep Morsi in power or to at least delay the coup—a request that Sisi contemptuously refused—signaled just how little the Egyptian leader thought of Obama and that he believes that most of his countrymen share his opinion. U.S. influence in Egypt is at a low point despite the leverage that the aid ought to provide.

But despite all this, Americans should resist the temptation to damn Sisi and cut him off without a U.S. penny. For all of his bluster, Sisi still probably prefers a relationship with the U.S. to any of the alternatives, none of which will match Washington’s cash contributions to Cairo. Though Obama has seemed more interested in offending allies in the Middle East than helping them, Egypt remains the most populous Arab country and a linchpin of any U.S. strategy for influence in the region. More to the point, as much as Sisi’s methods may be distasteful, his promise that the Brotherhood will never get a chance at power is one that Americans as well as Egyptians should hope he fulfills.

Though many Americans still labor under the delusion that the Brotherhood might have been moderating its Islamist stance rather than seeking to create a theocracy, Egyptians know better. The Brotherhood’s year in power was a wake-up call for a country that had voted the Islamists into power because they were the only organized opposition to Mubarak. The fact that more Egyptians demonstrated to oust Morsi—a man who had actually won his office in an election—than Mubarak should have tipped Obama off to the error he made by embracing the Brotherhood.

Last year many feared that driving the Brotherhood underground would make it even more dangerous, but the evidence of the last several months shows that though it is by no means finished yet, its lack of support among the Egyptian people makes any attempt at an Islamist insurgency a doubtful prospect. Sisi’s genius lies in his understanding of this fact. His decision to use this opportunity to wipe out the Islamists—a difficult task but one toward which he has been making progress—shows a genuine strategic vision that the Americans who are chiding him for brutality lack.

In a war against Islamists, Sisi understands there are only two options: victory or defeat. How he wins that victory will win him no friends. But the consequences of the fulfillment of his vow will help isolate the Brotherhood’s Hamas allies in Gaza, solidify the treaty with Israel, and ensure that Islamists will never be able to seize control of Cairo and with it the region. That’s good news for the United States and its friends, even though few in Washington will be honest or wise enough to admit it.

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Release Apache Helicopters to Egypt

Who would have thought that, three years after the Arab Spring uprisings, the only two countries friendly to the Muslim Brotherhood would have been U.S. ‘allies’ Qatar and Turkey? In its year in power in Egypt, the only thing the Muslim Brotherhood accomplished was to turn the vast majority of the Egyptian people against it. Whereas many analysts and, apparently, the entirety of the State Department and White House, took the Muslim Brotherhood at its word, Muhammad Morsi’s rule showed that any chance within the Brotherhood was rhetorical only but that its intolerant policies and support of terror remained unchanged. Not only did the Brotherhood support and encourage Hamas terrorism emanating from the Gaza Strip, but it also empowered Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula. No one should lament the Brotherhood’s fall after mass popular protests topped off by a military coup.

The Egyptian military are no angels but their year in the shadows successfully demonstrated to the Egyptian public more than any rhetoric could what would happen if the Muslim Brotherhood got its way. Now that the Brotherhood has been driven underground, the Egyptian government has once again taken up the anti-terror fight. Given what is at stake and so long as Egypt’s transition to elections and a new constitutional order continues apace, it is imperative the United States support them.

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Who would have thought that, three years after the Arab Spring uprisings, the only two countries friendly to the Muslim Brotherhood would have been U.S. ‘allies’ Qatar and Turkey? In its year in power in Egypt, the only thing the Muslim Brotherhood accomplished was to turn the vast majority of the Egyptian people against it. Whereas many analysts and, apparently, the entirety of the State Department and White House, took the Muslim Brotherhood at its word, Muhammad Morsi’s rule showed that any chance within the Brotherhood was rhetorical only but that its intolerant policies and support of terror remained unchanged. Not only did the Brotherhood support and encourage Hamas terrorism emanating from the Gaza Strip, but it also empowered Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula. No one should lament the Brotherhood’s fall after mass popular protests topped off by a military coup.

The Egyptian military are no angels but their year in the shadows successfully demonstrated to the Egyptian public more than any rhetoric could what would happen if the Muslim Brotherhood got its way. Now that the Brotherhood has been driven underground, the Egyptian government has once again taken up the anti-terror fight. Given what is at stake and so long as Egypt’s transition to elections and a new constitutional order continues apace, it is imperative the United States support them.

Such was the recommendation by General Lloyd Austin last week before the House Armed Services Committee, in the following exchange with Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican representing Oklahoma:

SENATOR INHOFE: “OK, and I appreciate that, and I agree with that. And there’s a lot of misunderstanding, back when we had the argument about the Apache helicopters. And I — I feel that — but I’ll ask you. From a military perspective, would you — would the resumption of the delivery of the Apache helicopters assist the Egyptians in their efforts to fight terrorists?”

GENERAL LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: “First, sir, I’ll say that I support the president’s policy. But from a military perspective, just looking at what the Egyptians have done in the Sinai, and the equipment that they are using — the Apache has been very instrumental in their efforts there.”

INHOFE: “Is that yes?”

AUSTIN: “That’s a yes, sir.”

The Obama administration had suspended the delivery of those helicopters. Unfortunately, while it might be satisfying on the part of some diplomats to cancel the transfer of the Apaches to Egypt such symbolic action should not come at the expense of regional security and, indeed, when it comes to Al Qaeda in the Sinai that is exactly what is at stake.

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Does Obama Know What the Muslim Brotherhood Wants?

Within the United States, the debate about the character of the Muslim Brotherhood and the proper U.S. policy toward the group remains strong. Mohamed Morsi was Egypt’s first democratically elected president, and the coup against him both engenders sympathy in some policy circles and creates a conundrum for those who hope for greater democratization in the region.

With the exception of Qatar, no such doubt exists among the leadership of the Gulf Cooperation Council. It is one thing for officials in these states to describe the Muslim Brotherhood as an unrepentant terrorist group; after all, the Brotherhood’s platform runs in direct contradiction to the policies of the Gulf monarchies. What has very much surprised me, however, is the vehemence with which most liberals and advocates for democracy and progressivism in this corner of the Arab world, some of whom had previously had an open mind with regard to the movement, now condemn the Brotherhood.

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Within the United States, the debate about the character of the Muslim Brotherhood and the proper U.S. policy toward the group remains strong. Mohamed Morsi was Egypt’s first democratically elected president, and the coup against him both engenders sympathy in some policy circles and creates a conundrum for those who hope for greater democratization in the region.

With the exception of Qatar, no such doubt exists among the leadership of the Gulf Cooperation Council. It is one thing for officials in these states to describe the Muslim Brotherhood as an unrepentant terrorist group; after all, the Brotherhood’s platform runs in direct contradiction to the policies of the Gulf monarchies. What has very much surprised me, however, is the vehemence with which most liberals and advocates for democracy and progressivism in this corner of the Arab world, some of whom had previously had an open mind with regard to the movement, now condemn the Brotherhood.

While the Brotherhood spoke well about democracy and charmed diplomats, reporters, and Egyptians alike who were sick of the corruption that permeated the Mubarak regime, they quickly showed that they had not evolved, either in ideology or in structure. While the Brotherhood is deeply organized, it was unable to shed its internal authoritarianism and its strict embrace of hierarchy and seniority. Young adherents may have hoped to voice their concerns, but what they found was that they were expected to follow the Brotherhood’s orders without question or debate. To do otherwise would result in discipline, expulsion, or worse.

Many regional liberals have engaged their Egyptian counterparts and asked them why they have changed their minds on outreach to and inclusion for the post-coup Brotherhood and thrown their support unreservedly behind Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The deciding factor for many liberals has been asking their Muslim Brotherhood friends what exactly they want. Their answers—which, of course, I am only hearing secondhand—make clear that the Brotherhood will neither compromise on Morsi’s return nor actualizing the slogan, “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” The group sees terrorism not as anathema, but the same as its embrace of democracy—as tactic to achieve an end goal of power.

This does not mean Sisi is a savior; indeed, he could be quite dangerous. It is unclear whether he recognizes that the reason for such popular anger toward President Hosni Mubarak was the corruption in which not only Mubarak but also so many senior military officers engaged. If Sisi simply returns to business as normal now that the Egyptian public has recognized the Brotherhood’s true face, then he opens the door for either a Brotherhood comeback, perhaps under a leadership more skilled than Morsi, or a broader, more destructive rebellion.

How frustrating it is for Arab liberals to see Obama’s continued flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood, even as that group dismisses talk of tolerance and re-embraces terror as the tactic of choice. Over at the Washington Free Beacon, Adam Kredo broke the story that President Barack Obama welcomed Anas Altikriti, senior member of the Iraqi Muslim Brotherhood, into the White House. Let us hope that Obama asked Altikriti what exactly he and the Muslim Brotherhood want. If he did so, he should be shocked. Here’s a video (skip ahead to around minute 15) in which Altikriti engages in the crudest sectarianism, condemning the army for including Shi’ites at a Brotherhood rally in Great Britain.

While the White House spokesman told Kredo “that Altikriti was brought to the meeting to serve as a translator for al-Nujaifi,” this is only half-right: Altikriti was both translator and Iraqi parliamentary speaker Usama Nujaifi’s advisor. He was not a functionary, but rather the chief aide. Just as when Obama posed with a terrorist leader at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, it seems that Obama’s National Security Council and his handlers are again neglecting to conduct the most basic due diligence. Sectarianism is poison. Rather than tolerate it from either Sunnis or Shi’ites, Obama should deny its crudest instigators the White House as a platform. Instead, he might want to engage more fully with those who dismiss such sentiments and seek a more progressive future in which politicians promote tolerance and embrace accountability rather than ridicule such sentiments.

 

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What’s the Alternative in Egypt?

Today’s announcement that Egypt’s ruling council of military leaders has given its stamp of approval to General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi’s intention to run for president was an ominous sign that the country had come full circle in the last three years. The Arab Spring protests that began in 2011 toppled the military dictator, Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country for three decades. But after their brief experiment with democracy that resulted in a brush with an Islamist dictatorship led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the generals and perhaps even a majority of Egyptians aren’t taking any chances. With the Brotherhood crushed by a military crackdown, el-Sisi’s “electoral” victory is a certainty. After the hopes that the Arab Spring raised and all the suffering and sacrifices made over the course of two protest movements—one to oust Mubarak and another, even larger, to bring down Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government—it now appears to have all been for naught.

As our Max Boot noted earlier today, the military government’s intolerance of any dissent—whether from the Islamists or liberals—is deeply worrisome. As Max writes, terrorists operating from Gaza could exploit the developing chaos. The increase in violence throughout Egypt, as well as the persistence of the Wild West atmosphere in the Sinai where jihadi groups are still operating as they did during the year of Muslim Brotherhood rule, raises serious doubts about the capacity of the military to restore stability. But acknowledging these facts doesn’t mean that the U.S. should go even further than the Obama administration has already gone in distancing itself from the Egyptian government.

The key question to ask about America’s policy toward Egypt isn’t whether the U.S. approves of military rule; we don’t. But the question becomes whether a decision to further restrict aid to the military would make matters even worse, both for the Egyptians as well as for Israel. The answer to these questions is clear. There is no alternative to the military that would not be far worse for Egypt and U.S. interests, and any American move to undermine el-Sisi would only increase the chances of a disaster there.

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Today’s announcement that Egypt’s ruling council of military leaders has given its stamp of approval to General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi’s intention to run for president was an ominous sign that the country had come full circle in the last three years. The Arab Spring protests that began in 2011 toppled the military dictator, Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country for three decades. But after their brief experiment with democracy that resulted in a brush with an Islamist dictatorship led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the generals and perhaps even a majority of Egyptians aren’t taking any chances. With the Brotherhood crushed by a military crackdown, el-Sisi’s “electoral” victory is a certainty. After the hopes that the Arab Spring raised and all the suffering and sacrifices made over the course of two protest movements—one to oust Mubarak and another, even larger, to bring down Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government—it now appears to have all been for naught.

As our Max Boot noted earlier today, the military government’s intolerance of any dissent—whether from the Islamists or liberals—is deeply worrisome. As Max writes, terrorists operating from Gaza could exploit the developing chaos. The increase in violence throughout Egypt, as well as the persistence of the Wild West atmosphere in the Sinai where jihadi groups are still operating as they did during the year of Muslim Brotherhood rule, raises serious doubts about the capacity of the military to restore stability. But acknowledging these facts doesn’t mean that the U.S. should go even further than the Obama administration has already gone in distancing itself from the Egyptian government.

The key question to ask about America’s policy toward Egypt isn’t whether the U.S. approves of military rule; we don’t. But the question becomes whether a decision to further restrict aid to the military would make matters even worse, both for the Egyptians as well as for Israel. The answer to these questions is clear. There is no alternative to the military that would not be far worse for Egypt and U.S. interests, and any American move to undermine el-Sisi would only increase the chances of a disaster there.

While concerns about the situation in Egypt spiraling out of control are far from unrealistic, the situation there should not be mischaracterized. Any increase in violence should be deplored, but it’s far from clear that either the Brotherhood or terrorist elements that might be aligned with it or based in Hamas-ruled Gaza is capable of destabilizing the country, let alone toppling the military. The Brotherhood has been taken down not only by the ruthlessness of the military crackdown but by the realization on the part of the Egyptian people that Morsi’s Islamist government was a greater threat to their future than a return to a Mubarak-style authoritarian regime. Tens of millions of Egyptians took to the streets to call for Morsi’s overthrow and largely applauded when the military complied with their wishes.

They may not be cheering the military’s crackdown on liberal critics quite as enthusiastically. But as much as we may deplore this development, if there is anything Americans should have learned about Egypt and the Arab Spring in the past three years it is that the expectation that democracy was possible was an illusion. The choice was always between the military and the Brotherhood. Neither is palatable but those of us who, however briefly, held onto the hope that Egyptians could go down a path that might lead to genuine democracy must admit we were wrong.

That admission requires us to be both realistic about what is possible in Egypt and vigilant against any American measures that could exacerbate an already bad situation. In the past three years, the Obama administration has gone from one blunder to the next. First it championed Mubarak. Then it dumped him. Then it embraced the Brotherhood and warned the military not to interfere with its rule. It reluctantly accepted the military coup that ended that unfortunate chapter last summer, but has since cut back on aid to the military, further reducing U.S. influence in Cairo.

While chagrin at the turn of events in Egypt is understandable, it cannot be used as an excuse for any action that would weaken the military government at the expense of its Islamist foes. The administration as well as its critics who support the idea of the spread of democracy must understand that, among many bad options, the Egyptian military is the best.

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Cairo Drama: Morsi, Hamas, and Obama

Human-rights organizations and many other Egypt-watchers are pouring scorn on the charges levied on deposed president Mohamed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood activists by the military government in Cairo this week. The military has already charged Morsi for his complicity in attacks on demonstrators seeking his overthrow last summer. This is, of course, terribly hypocritical since, if anything, the military may have killed more people when it cracked down on the Brotherhood in the aftermath of the coup that knocked Morsi out of power and into jail. But they didn’t stop there. The government has now charged Morsi and others with engaging in terrorist plots with Hamas and Hezbollah operatives.

Much of the skepticism put forward by Human Rights Watch about all of this is justified. If the point of the charges is to claim Morsi was handing Hamas or Hezbollah control of Egypt or conspiring to give them vital national secrets, the whole thing is ridiculous. But Western observers should not be blinded to the basic facts upon which military prosecutors seem to have embroidered an extra layer of conspiracy theory. There is little doubt that Morsi regarded Hamas, and to a lesser extent Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors, as natural allies in a nation and a region where the Brotherhood is regarded with suspicion and fear. Take away the paranoia about foreign influences that lies not far below the surface in Egyptian culture and what you have is the reality of a Muslim Brotherhood government that naturally looked to Hamas for support in a pinch. Rather than all this being a cause for the Obama administration to further distance itself from the current Egyptian government, it ought to provoke some soul-searching on the part of those in the State Department and the White House that were prepared to assist Morsi’s ascent to the presidency of Egypt and his efforts to stay there.

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Human-rights organizations and many other Egypt-watchers are pouring scorn on the charges levied on deposed president Mohamed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood activists by the military government in Cairo this week. The military has already charged Morsi for his complicity in attacks on demonstrators seeking his overthrow last summer. This is, of course, terribly hypocritical since, if anything, the military may have killed more people when it cracked down on the Brotherhood in the aftermath of the coup that knocked Morsi out of power and into jail. But they didn’t stop there. The government has now charged Morsi and others with engaging in terrorist plots with Hamas and Hezbollah operatives.

Much of the skepticism put forward by Human Rights Watch about all of this is justified. If the point of the charges is to claim Morsi was handing Hamas or Hezbollah control of Egypt or conspiring to give them vital national secrets, the whole thing is ridiculous. But Western observers should not be blinded to the basic facts upon which military prosecutors seem to have embroidered an extra layer of conspiracy theory. There is little doubt that Morsi regarded Hamas, and to a lesser extent Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors, as natural allies in a nation and a region where the Brotherhood is regarded with suspicion and fear. Take away the paranoia about foreign influences that lies not far below the surface in Egyptian culture and what you have is the reality of a Muslim Brotherhood government that naturally looked to Hamas for support in a pinch. Rather than all this being a cause for the Obama administration to further distance itself from the current Egyptian government, it ought to provoke some soul-searching on the part of those in the State Department and the White House that were prepared to assist Morsi’s ascent to the presidency of Egypt and his efforts to stay there.

The facts about relations between the Morsi government and the Brotherhood and their putative allies in Gaza and Lebanon are a little murky. It’s difficult to judge from afar exactly where the reality of a Brotherhood-Hamas alliance ends and the judicial railroading of Morsi and his colleagues by the military government begins. Suffice it to say that some of the charges may be either exaggerated or misinterpretations of routine interactions between these groups. It should also be noted that relations between the Brotherhood and Hamas were not all peaches and cream during their year in charge of things in Cairo. At various times, Morsi shut down the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza in a belated effort to rein in the growing chaos in the Sinai that had been unleashed by the fall of Hosni Mubarak and the infiltration of al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups.

But what can’t be denied is that Morsi still regarded Hamas as a close ally and a potential resource in the Cairo power game as well as the regional balance of power. Hamas had, as we have long known, helped Morsi break out of jail during the waning days of the Mubarak regime. Hamas was originally founded as an offshoot of the Brotherhood and Morsi looked to it as a natural ally. The notion that he helped arm it as well as being prepared to cooperate in various other ways–including as a backup against domestic opposition–shouldn’t strike anyone as far-fetched. Nor should we be surprised by allegations about Morsi and his crew contemplating an opening with fellow Islamists in Iran.

The prosecutions against Morsi and other Brotherhood officials are politically motivated and no one should expect them to get a fair trial from the military. But had he remained in power there’s equally little doubt that the Islamist alliances he was making could have altered not only the face of Egypt but also that of the rest of the region.

All this should serve as a reminder to Washington of how foolish its policies were in the prelude to the Brotherhood’s brief period of power as well as during its period of ascendancy. The Obama administration always sought to portray itself as neutral as to who ran things in Cairo, but the only times it has exercised its considerable leverage over Egypt is when it persuaded the military to let the Brotherhood take power and afterwards to punish the generals for ousting Morsi.

In doing so, it undid decades of hard work and investment of billions of aid dollars by previous administrations to keep Egypt as a U.S. ally so long as it kept the peace with Israel. It first failed to see the danger in allowing an Islamist authoritarian group to take control of the most populous Arab nation and then miscalculated how its pique about the coup would cause the military to embrace the efforts of the Russians to get their foot back in the door in Cairo. As I wrote earlier this week, the culmination of an arms deal between Russia and Egypt sets the stage for a decline in U.S. influence in the region and enhances Vladimir Putin’s ability to make mischief.

The reassertion of brutal military rule in Egypt is nothing to cheer about. But the only alternative in the form of an Islamist Brotherhood government was far worse. Morsi’s ties with Hamas are being used to trump up a dubious legal case against him, but they were still a threat to U.S. influence and regional stability. Instead of crying crocodile tears for Morsi (who is now getting the same treatment that he was happy to dish out to his foes), those who care about peace should be glad that the military is doing its utmost to ensure that he never gets another chance to disrupt the Middle East.

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How Obama Is Losing Egypt to Russia

President Obama’s public approval ratings have continued to head south in recent weeks. Those results represent the general disgust about an administration that broke its word on ObamaCare and was too incompetent to build a website that works to sell health insurance. But the consensus among most pundits is that although his domestic policies are viewed negatively, most Americans don’t have much of a problem with the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Given the lack of interest in foreign issues it’s difficult to judge whether the president’s weak nuclear deal with Iran is really seen as a positive development or whether they like the way he punted on the crisis in Syria. The only thing we know for sure is that a war-weary public is glad when the use of force is avoided even if they might be leery about handing a victory to Vladimir Putin in Syria or trusting the hate-spewing ayatollahs of Iran to keep their word about their nuclear weapons program.

But as much as the president’s efforts to pull back from the Middle East may resonate with those Americans who are sick of conflict, a policy of retreat is not one that stands up to much scrutiny. Thus, although the public understandably cares a lot less about the administration’s policy on Egypt than it does about ObamaCare, the news yesterday about the conclusion of an arms deal between that country and Russia ought to dismay even the most casual observer of foreign policy. The issue isn’t so much whether the Egyptian military will be buying planes and other equipment from Moscow so much as what the accord represents: a staggering reversal for U.S. influence in the Middle East and a signal victory for a Russian dictator who is trying to resurrect the old Soviet and tsarist empires while making mischief for America.

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President Obama’s public approval ratings have continued to head south in recent weeks. Those results represent the general disgust about an administration that broke its word on ObamaCare and was too incompetent to build a website that works to sell health insurance. But the consensus among most pundits is that although his domestic policies are viewed negatively, most Americans don’t have much of a problem with the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Given the lack of interest in foreign issues it’s difficult to judge whether the president’s weak nuclear deal with Iran is really seen as a positive development or whether they like the way he punted on the crisis in Syria. The only thing we know for sure is that a war-weary public is glad when the use of force is avoided even if they might be leery about handing a victory to Vladimir Putin in Syria or trusting the hate-spewing ayatollahs of Iran to keep their word about their nuclear weapons program.

But as much as the president’s efforts to pull back from the Middle East may resonate with those Americans who are sick of conflict, a policy of retreat is not one that stands up to much scrutiny. Thus, although the public understandably cares a lot less about the administration’s policy on Egypt than it does about ObamaCare, the news yesterday about the conclusion of an arms deal between that country and Russia ought to dismay even the most casual observer of foreign policy. The issue isn’t so much whether the Egyptian military will be buying planes and other equipment from Moscow so much as what the accord represents: a staggering reversal for U.S. influence in the Middle East and a signal victory for a Russian dictator who is trying to resurrect the old Soviet and tsarist empires while making mischief for America.

It was a little more than 40 years ago that Anwar Sadat kicked Soviet advisers out of Egypt. After decades of depending on Moscow for arms in order to pursue Egypt’s conflict with Israel, Sadat decide that he would be better off throwing in his lot with the United States. After the Nixon administration and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ensured that the Yom Kippur War ended with Egypt not suffering a humiliating defeat, what followed was a gradual shift away from war that led to Sadat’s historic trip to Israel and ultimately the peace treaty with Israel. In exchange for peace, Egypt not only got every inch of the Sinai that had been lost as a result of the aggression it committed in 1967 but also a guarantee of U.S. aid that has stood for more than 30 years. The alliance with Egypt was not only a building block for Middle East peace upon which further attempts to resolve the Arab and Muslim war on Israel were based. It was also the rock upon which American efforts to stabilize the region rested.

Though there were always good reasons to worry about the future of the repressive regime of Sadat’s successor Hosni Mubarak, the alternatives to him were always far worse, both for the U.S. and the Egyptian people. That basic truth was reaffirmed in the last three years after President Obama, who had downgraded efforts to democratize Egypt first undertaken by President George W. Bush, helped push Mubarak out of power in the wake of the Arab Spring protests. While the Egyptian military was an unattractive option, the possibility of the country falling into the hands of the Islamist opposition was appalling. Yet that is precisely the outcome the administration seemed to push Egypt toward during this period as it threatened the military with an aid cutoff if they interfered with the Muslim Brotherhood’s efforts to consolidate power in the wake of their election victory.

Once the Brotherhood assumed control in Egypt, the U.S. did not seek to exert its leverage to force the Islamists to pull back on their attempt to transform Egypt in their own image. When, after a year of misrule and tens of millions of Egyptians took to the streets to call for the Brotherhood’s ouster this past summer, the U.S. again sought to stop the military from acting–but this time the generals ignored the president’s warnings and put an end to the Islamist government. Since then the U.S. has done little to mend fences with the military and demonstrated little understanding of the fact that Egypt had become a zero-sum game in which the only choices were the Brotherhood or the military. With the administration announcing a partial aid cutoff to the new government, what followed next was entirely predictable. Cairo turned to Moscow for help and for the first time since 1973 Russia has a foothold in the Arab world’s most populous nation as well as the one that, with the Suez Canal, holds its most strategic position.

It is true that Putin’s Russia doesn’t pose the same kind of threat to the West as the Soviet Union. But Putin’s efforts to regain influence in the Middle East, first via the preservation of the bloody Assad regime in Syria and now by elbowing the U.S. out of Egypt, is deeply troubling.

Some Americans, including libertarians who are intent on withdrawing from the war on Islamist terrorism, may see nothing wrong with abandoning the Middle East to Russia. But a Middle East where Russia has at least an equal say with the United States is one in which moderate Arab regimes as well as Israel will feel far less secure. Since Putin’s only goal is to discomfit the United States and to expand Russia’s influence, the result will give Iran, which is also celebrating the victory of Assad, confidence to continue its own brand of mischief making in the Persian Gulf, Lebanon, and with the Palestinians, especially if it resumes its alliance with Hamas. As I wrote back in October, an Obama administration policy that effectively discards Egypt is a victory for Russia as well as a blow to stability and peace.

But what is most infuriating about these developments is that none of it had to happen if the Obama administration had not mishandled relations with Egypt so badly. Though the hand it was dealt was by no means a good one, it is in the process of losing an asset that the U.S. had been able to count on for decades. The price of this incompetence will be felt by U.S. policymakers as well as the people of the region for years to come. 

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Obama’s “Modest Strategy” Good For Putin

For those seeking an explanation for the puzzling turn that American foreign policy has taken during Barack Obama’s second term, the New York Times has one today. In a front-page feature in their Sunday edition, the Times’s Mark Landler provides National Security Advisor Susan Rice with the kind of puff piece the paper’s readers have come to expect when such analyses of administration policy are provided. Rice’s “blueprint” for a change from the president’s more ambitious goals of his first term was, we are told, formed at a series of Saturday morning bull sessions where those involved decided that they wanted to “avoid having events in the Middle East swallow [Obama’s] foreign policy agenda, as it had those of presidents before him.” So they chucked the “freedom agenda” of George W. Bush that Obama had tentatively embraced at the time of the outbreak of the Arab Spring protests as well as any interest in Egypt. As the Times reported:

At the United Nations last month, Mr. Obama laid out the priorities he has adopted as a result of the review. The United States, he declared, would focus on negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria. Everything else would take a back seat.

In theory, that might make sense. But given that the Iranians only use diplomacy to buy themselves more time to build their nuclear program; the Israeli-Palestinian talks are widely believed to be a fool’s errand (and were included in the agenda only because Secretary of State John Kerry had already committed the U.S. to another round of diplomacy with all of its risks and dangers regardless of what Rice or anyone else wanted to do); and the administration has already punted on Syria, this is not a promising agenda. Indeed, it looks to be even more of a disaster than the more wide-ranging to-do-list of the president’s first term that no one is claiming was exactly a great success.

But unfortunately for Rice and her boss, their “modest strategy”—as the headline of the Times feature puts it—just got a little shakier today. Earlier this month, I was one of many administration critics who warned that the president’s decision to cut aid to Egypt could open the door for Russia to step back into the alliance that Anwar Sadat trashed back in the 1970s as he strove to make peace with Israel. It appears Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to do that. At the same time that Rice was using the Times to send a message to Egypt that it is no longer a U.S. priority, reports are circulating that the Russian autocrat is planning a visit to Cairo where he will attempt to revive the military alliance that existed between Russia and Egypt. If he succeeds in getting the Russian fleet back into Egypt’s Mediterranean ports, he should send a thank you note to Rice and the president. But, of course, he already owes them one for the administration’s retreat on Syria.

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For those seeking an explanation for the puzzling turn that American foreign policy has taken during Barack Obama’s second term, the New York Times has one today. In a front-page feature in their Sunday edition, the Times’s Mark Landler provides National Security Advisor Susan Rice with the kind of puff piece the paper’s readers have come to expect when such analyses of administration policy are provided. Rice’s “blueprint” for a change from the president’s more ambitious goals of his first term was, we are told, formed at a series of Saturday morning bull sessions where those involved decided that they wanted to “avoid having events in the Middle East swallow [Obama’s] foreign policy agenda, as it had those of presidents before him.” So they chucked the “freedom agenda” of George W. Bush that Obama had tentatively embraced at the time of the outbreak of the Arab Spring protests as well as any interest in Egypt. As the Times reported:

At the United Nations last month, Mr. Obama laid out the priorities he has adopted as a result of the review. The United States, he declared, would focus on negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria. Everything else would take a back seat.

In theory, that might make sense. But given that the Iranians only use diplomacy to buy themselves more time to build their nuclear program; the Israeli-Palestinian talks are widely believed to be a fool’s errand (and were included in the agenda only because Secretary of State John Kerry had already committed the U.S. to another round of diplomacy with all of its risks and dangers regardless of what Rice or anyone else wanted to do); and the administration has already punted on Syria, this is not a promising agenda. Indeed, it looks to be even more of a disaster than the more wide-ranging to-do-list of the president’s first term that no one is claiming was exactly a great success.

But unfortunately for Rice and her boss, their “modest strategy”—as the headline of the Times feature puts it—just got a little shakier today. Earlier this month, I was one of many administration critics who warned that the president’s decision to cut aid to Egypt could open the door for Russia to step back into the alliance that Anwar Sadat trashed back in the 1970s as he strove to make peace with Israel. It appears Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to do that. At the same time that Rice was using the Times to send a message to Egypt that it is no longer a U.S. priority, reports are circulating that the Russian autocrat is planning a visit to Cairo where he will attempt to revive the military alliance that existed between Russia and Egypt. If he succeeds in getting the Russian fleet back into Egypt’s Mediterranean ports, he should send a thank you note to Rice and the president. But, of course, he already owes them one for the administration’s retreat on Syria.

This is a potential disaster for U.S. foreign policy.

The Egyptian military seems to have succeeded in not only ousting the Muslim Brotherhood government that threatened to turn the most populous Arab nation into an Islamist regime but in keeping the group from organizing a rebellion. Though the process by which they have done so is not easy to defend, they at least understood something the president and Rice seem not to have learned: that the struggle with the Brotherhood is a zero-sum game. By taking out the Brotherhood, clamping down on terror in the Sinai, and squeezing Hamas in Gaza, the military has made the region safer. But they’ve gotten no thanks for this from Washington. Not only has Obama distanced the U.S. from Cairo and cut aid, Rice has now announced, via the front page of the Sunday New York Times, that what happens in Egypt isn’t all that important anyway.

While the Egyptian military will be loath to swap up-to-date U.S. hardware for Russian knockoffs, who can blame them for shopping around for new friends after the snubs they’ve received from President Obama?

Though his staff wants to save the president from being swamped by events in the Middle East, by putting all their chips on the slim hopes of an acceptable nuclear deal with Iran and the virtually non-existent chances of an Israeli-Palestinian accord, they have only set him up for more failure. Worse than that, by granting Putin a victory in Syria—where Russian and Iranian ally Bashar Assad looks more secure than ever thanks to Obama’s backing away from striking at his chemical-weapons stockpile—and setting him up to win back Egypt, President Obama has made the Middle East much less stable for U.S. allies like Israel and Arab nations like Jordan and Saudi Arabia. That’s a formula for exactly the kind of blow-up Rice and her buddies had hoped to spare the president.

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Immaturity Over Realpolitik for Obama

An Egyptian court’s decision to order the release of former dictator Hosni Mubarak on the same day the new government arrested the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood may be seen as the last straw for the Obama administration. After weeks of dithering as it sought to balance America’s obvious interest in seeing the Muslim Brotherhood defeated with the desire to look as if we cared about the cause of democracy, Washington appears on the brink of cutting all aid to Cairo to demonstrate its anger over events there. But this, as the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens so aptly put it today, is an “attitude,” not a policy.

It is also especially galling for this White House to be preening on Egypt in this manner because it was Obama who de-prioritized his predecessor’s effort to promote democracy in Egypt. Over the past five years, this administration drifted aimlessly from a position of strong support for Mubarak to one that embraced his Muslim Brotherhood successor Mohamed Morsi. Now that the military is back in charge, the president finds that authoritarians are no longer to his taste. Some have criticized those of us who have reminded Obama that his choice is between the military and the Brotherhood, not democracy, as practicing a cynical brand of realpolitik. But rather than a principled stand, this latest twist in U.S. policy that threatens, as I wrote yesterday, to reverse America’s landmark achievement of separating Egypt from its Soviet patrons, is a fit of immaturity not principle.

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An Egyptian court’s decision to order the release of former dictator Hosni Mubarak on the same day the new government arrested the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood may be seen as the last straw for the Obama administration. After weeks of dithering as it sought to balance America’s obvious interest in seeing the Muslim Brotherhood defeated with the desire to look as if we cared about the cause of democracy, Washington appears on the brink of cutting all aid to Cairo to demonstrate its anger over events there. But this, as the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens so aptly put it today, is an “attitude,” not a policy.

It is also especially galling for this White House to be preening on Egypt in this manner because it was Obama who de-prioritized his predecessor’s effort to promote democracy in Egypt. Over the past five years, this administration drifted aimlessly from a position of strong support for Mubarak to one that embraced his Muslim Brotherhood successor Mohamed Morsi. Now that the military is back in charge, the president finds that authoritarians are no longer to his taste. Some have criticized those of us who have reminded Obama that his choice is between the military and the Brotherhood, not democracy, as practicing a cynical brand of realpolitik. But rather than a principled stand, this latest twist in U.S. policy that threatens, as I wrote yesterday, to reverse America’s landmark achievement of separating Egypt from its Soviet patrons, is a fit of immaturity not principle.

It should be conceded that the release of Mubarak at the very moment that it is struggling to maintain support in the West is, at the very least, bad optics for the new government. Mubarak has been held more or less at the behest of the Brotherhood government in the last year after some of the court cases against him collapsed, but the legal details don’t cancel out the fact that there is little doubt that he was a dictator who ordered the death of many opponents. In his defense, the idea that the Islamist totalitarians of the Brotherhood or the military have any standing to judge him is absurd. But keeping in jail and out of sight would have been the smart thing to do.

In fact his release may be a signal that coup leader Gen. Sisi and his regime have lost any hope of winning over Obama and the Europeans and are prepared to rely on the Saudis (who have promised to make good on any aid money withheld by the United States) or to shop for new friends abroad such as the Russians rather than bend to America’s feckless demands.

The president’s stand might have some coherence if it were part of a coherent worldview. But, of course, Obama had already discarded the Bush pro-democracy agenda when he took office as a neo-conservative heresy that needed to be replaced by a more realist approach. Yet now that he is faced with the necessity to put his realistic principles to the test in order to protect a vital Arab country from falling into the hands of Islamists or, worse yet, joining Syria as Vladimir Putin’s allies, the president has discovered a new interest in democracy.

The president had already displayed his contempt for the cause of Egyptian freedom during the year he embraced Morsi, so to pose now as its defender when to do so will be seen by Egyptians as sympathy for a movement most despise is more than hypocritical. Even Mubarak’s release does not offset the fact that what is at stake in Egypt is an effort to ensure that a despotic Islamist movement never gets another chance to rule. Having been offered a chance to choose between demonstrating a grasp of American interests and an immature response, the president has chosen the latter. Given the possibly serious consequences of such a decision, this may be something that Obama’s successors will be dealing with for many years to come. 

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U.S. Should Listen to Israel on Egypt

The Obama administration’s indecision on the crisis in Egypt isn’t winning it many friends. While it is taking heat from figures on both the right and the left for not cutting all ties with the military government of Egypt, the same critics have failed to note that it is chipping away at the relationship in significant ways. Yesterday Washington announced that it is halting economic assistance to Cairo to show its distaste for the coup (which it dare not call a coup) and the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps as a prelude to cutting off the much larger amounts that go to the military. Given that Egypt’s economy needs help a lot more than its armed forces need the bright and shiny new weapons that it purchases from the United States, this doesn’t make a lot of sense if your goal is to do something to help the Egyptian people.

But even this halfway measure doesn’t go far enough for those who, as Michael Rubin noted earlier, are treating the attempt to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood as another Tiananmen Square. But since the president’s usual cheering section in the press is never comfortable saddling him with the blame for his “lead from behind” style of conducting foreign affairs, a good deal of the responsibility for America’s refusal to work harder for the restoration of the dictatorial government of Mohamed Morsi is falling on a familiar scapegoat: the State of Israel.

As this story in today’s New York Times makes clear, Israel’s efforts to advise both the United States and Europe about the choices available to them in Egypt is not meeting with universal approval. Though, as the paper noted, Israel’s government has wisely refrained from making any public statements about the chaos in Cairo, its effort to lobby the West against cutting the current Egyptian government loose is seen as hypocritical as well as self-interested. But while it may be true the military is a better partner for the Jewish state than the Brotherhood, the same can be said for the United States and the European Union. If, in fact, Israel really is waging a “desperate diplomatic battle” over Egypt, all it is doing is attempting to dispel the lingering illusions about the conflict in that country that could, if unchecked, do as much harm to U.S. concerns as to those of the Jewish state. Ironically, in contrast to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” myth that falsely claims supporters of Israel are the tail that wags the American dog in conflict with U.S. interests, in this case it is fairly obvious that it is the Israelis reminding Americans to think about what is best for the United States.

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The Obama administration’s indecision on the crisis in Egypt isn’t winning it many friends. While it is taking heat from figures on both the right and the left for not cutting all ties with the military government of Egypt, the same critics have failed to note that it is chipping away at the relationship in significant ways. Yesterday Washington announced that it is halting economic assistance to Cairo to show its distaste for the coup (which it dare not call a coup) and the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps as a prelude to cutting off the much larger amounts that go to the military. Given that Egypt’s economy needs help a lot more than its armed forces need the bright and shiny new weapons that it purchases from the United States, this doesn’t make a lot of sense if your goal is to do something to help the Egyptian people.

But even this halfway measure doesn’t go far enough for those who, as Michael Rubin noted earlier, are treating the attempt to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood as another Tiananmen Square. But since the president’s usual cheering section in the press is never comfortable saddling him with the blame for his “lead from behind” style of conducting foreign affairs, a good deal of the responsibility for America’s refusal to work harder for the restoration of the dictatorial government of Mohamed Morsi is falling on a familiar scapegoat: the State of Israel.

As this story in today’s New York Times makes clear, Israel’s efforts to advise both the United States and Europe about the choices available to them in Egypt is not meeting with universal approval. Though, as the paper noted, Israel’s government has wisely refrained from making any public statements about the chaos in Cairo, its effort to lobby the West against cutting the current Egyptian government loose is seen as hypocritical as well as self-interested. But while it may be true the military is a better partner for the Jewish state than the Brotherhood, the same can be said for the United States and the European Union. If, in fact, Israel really is waging a “desperate diplomatic battle” over Egypt, all it is doing is attempting to dispel the lingering illusions about the conflict in that country that could, if unchecked, do as much harm to U.S. concerns as to those of the Jewish state. Ironically, in contrast to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” myth that falsely claims supporters of Israel are the tail that wags the American dog in conflict with U.S. interests, in this case it is fairly obvious that it is the Israelis reminding Americans to think about what is best for the United States.

Part of the confusion about U.S. aid to Egypt stems from Americans forgetting why they started pouring billions of aid into Cairo’s coffers in the first place: as payment for Anwar Sadat abandoning his country’s alliance with the Soviet Union and making peace with Israel. Israel’s desire to keep this aid alive is seen as purely self-interested since it preserves the cold peace that was signed 34 years ago between the two countries. Israel benefits from the maintenance of the peace treaty. But so does the United States. That is why Congress has agreed to keep aid going to Egypt all of these years. The treaty is a pillar of regional stability that Islamists like the Brotherhood’s Hamas allies in Gaza seek to undermine. If the Brotherhood were to return to power, the Sinai, which became a hotbed for terror during their year in control of Cairo, could become the spark for new conflict that would undermine everything that Obama has said he is trying to achieve in the Middle East.

Nor should Israel be scapegoated for pointing out that the calls for “restoration” of Egyptian democracy are farcical. Many Americans are still in love with the idea that the Arab Spring could bring democracy to the Muslim world. There is more to democracy than simply holding an election that allows organized totalitarians like the Brotherhood, who actually oppose freedom, to take power that they will never peacefully relinquish. If Israeli diplomats and government officials are telling their Western counterparts that democracy is not currently an option in Egypt it is because they, and not Israel’s detractors, are in touch with reality.

Doing so does not undermine Israel’s status as a genuine democracy any more than it does that of the United States. The choice in Egypt is between the military and the Brotherhood. It is unfortunate that neither option offers any hope for democracy, which would, in theory, be the best thing for both the Egyptians and those who care about regional stability. But wishing this weren’t the case won’t change the facts on the ground.

Contrary to those like Senator Lindsey Graham who claim the coup will make Egypt a “failed state,” the Brotherhood’s façade of democracy won’t keep the country afloat. It is already a failed state in terms of its ability to help its people. The question now is whether it adds to that trouble by becoming an Islamist totalitarian state, a prospect that sent 14 million Egyptians and the military to the streets to fight the Brotherhood.

Israelis should be telling the Obama administration that it is madness to attack the military government in Egypt just at the moment when it is acting to ensure that Islamists will never be able to reverse the decision of Sadat (who was, it should be remembered, assassinated by the Brotherhood) to embrace the West. The violence in Cairo (as well as the Brotherhood attacks on churches throughout Egypt) is troubling. But turning away from that country in the hope that doing so will restore democracy will neither help Egyptians nor enhance American interests. If the Israelis are arguing against such a policy, then perhaps their allies should be listening. 

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Obama on Egypt: The Clueless Presidency

There’s some soul searching going on in the Obama administration as it ponders how they got sidelined in Egypt as the situation there got out of control in a spiral of violence. As the New York Times details in a post-mortem of U.S. policy, the administration went all out to persuade the military that had overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood to compromise and allow the Islamists to rejoin the government. Among other efforts to cajole them or to threaten aid cutoffs, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made 17 often-lengthy phone calls to Egyptian General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi trying to get him to make nice with the Brotherhood. They even sent two Republican senators—John McCain and Lindsey Graham—to continue the pressure in person in Cairo. And they’re baffled as to why they were ignored as Sisi ordered police and troops to clear out the Brotherhood’s armed camps in Cairo this week.

The easy answer to their questions is that unlike Sisi and the military, President Obama and his foreign policy-team continue to fail to understand that the conflict in Egypt is a zero-sum game. The choice there is between the military and the Brotherhood and the transformation of a key Arab country into an Islamist stronghold. This failure to comprehend the nature of the conflict has led inevitably to paralysis. This spectacle of American impotence is worrisome no matter what you think the U.S. should do about Egypt. But it’s not unrelated to the administration’s other foreign-policy failures that are piling up in the Middle East. Having failed to act decisively to try to avoid a far bigger bloodbath in Syria, and content to waste years on futile diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear threat while devoting disproportionate effort on reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks that have little chance to succeed, it’s obvious that Egypt isn’t the only venue where Obama has demonstrated his cluelessness. As Sisi prepares to decide whether to enact a ban on the Brotherhood that might bring the confrontation in Egypt to a head, it’s important to understand that Obama’s failure in Egypt is not unrelated to his problems elsewhere. The common thread is a refusal to abandon its preconceptions and to look at facts rather than fiction inspired by ideology.

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There’s some soul searching going on in the Obama administration as it ponders how they got sidelined in Egypt as the situation there got out of control in a spiral of violence. As the New York Times details in a post-mortem of U.S. policy, the administration went all out to persuade the military that had overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood to compromise and allow the Islamists to rejoin the government. Among other efforts to cajole them or to threaten aid cutoffs, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made 17 often-lengthy phone calls to Egyptian General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi trying to get him to make nice with the Brotherhood. They even sent two Republican senators—John McCain and Lindsey Graham—to continue the pressure in person in Cairo. And they’re baffled as to why they were ignored as Sisi ordered police and troops to clear out the Brotherhood’s armed camps in Cairo this week.

The easy answer to their questions is that unlike Sisi and the military, President Obama and his foreign policy-team continue to fail to understand that the conflict in Egypt is a zero-sum game. The choice there is between the military and the Brotherhood and the transformation of a key Arab country into an Islamist stronghold. This failure to comprehend the nature of the conflict has led inevitably to paralysis. This spectacle of American impotence is worrisome no matter what you think the U.S. should do about Egypt. But it’s not unrelated to the administration’s other foreign-policy failures that are piling up in the Middle East. Having failed to act decisively to try to avoid a far bigger bloodbath in Syria, and content to waste years on futile diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear threat while devoting disproportionate effort on reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks that have little chance to succeed, it’s obvious that Egypt isn’t the only venue where Obama has demonstrated his cluelessness. As Sisi prepares to decide whether to enact a ban on the Brotherhood that might bring the confrontation in Egypt to a head, it’s important to understand that Obama’s failure in Egypt is not unrelated to his problems elsewhere. The common thread is a refusal to abandon its preconceptions and to look at facts rather than fiction inspired by ideology.

In Egypt, Obama’s main problem is his lack of understanding of the threat that the Muslim Brotherhood poses to both the non-Islamist majority in that country as well as to the region. Having bought into the myth that the Brotherhood’s rise in the aftermath of the fall of the Mubarak regime was an expression of democratic sentiment, it refused to see that if it was allowed to take power it would quickly move to destroy any opposition. The U.S. pressured the military to let Mohamed Morsi take office and then continued to urge them to stand aside as he proceeded to demonstrate that the Brotherhood had little interest in democracy. Even as 14 million people took to the streets to demand that Morsi step down, the president continued to preach restraint and then stood by in puzzlement when the military realized that this was probably their last chance to save their country. Even now, the administration seems stuck in the same mythical “Arab Spring” mindset that is predicated on the idea that a totalitarian movement like the Brotherhood is compatible with liberal democracy. Since they don’t understand what led to the events of the last week, how can we expect the Obama team to put forward a coherent position on what happened and what may unfold in the days to come?

This is a familiar pattern.

Obama came into office thinking that he could charm the Iranians into giving up their nuclear ambitions and that American pressure on Israel could magically create peace with the Palestinians. If problems arose elsewhere in the Middle East, he thought they would be easily resolved with bad guys like Bashar Assad conveniently leaving the stage because President Obama said he “must go.” So as we now peruse the Middle East, we see an Iran that thinks it can go on fooling the West with a diplomatic process intended to stall talks until they can build a nuke while the United States invests precious time and energy on muscling Israel into making concessions to a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in ever signing a peace agreement. And Bashar Assad, with the help of his Iranian and Hezbollah allies, remains in power while winning a civil war that Obama could have spiked two years ago with a timely push.

While critics from both the left and right assail Obama’s indecision that–as I noted on Friday–protects neither American interests nor values in Egypt, this is yet another symptom of an administration that remains besotted with the same preconceptions that it brought to Washington in 2009. While he laments his lack of good choices and the fact that America’s ability to influence events is limited, it is the president’s refusal to face facts about the Brotherhood and some of his other blind spots that is most to blame for the fact that he has left American foreign policy hanging in the wind at a decisive moment in history.

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Obama on Egypt: No Defense of American Interests or Values

President Obama resorted to one of his favorite rhetorical memes yesterday when he complained that both supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the military government in Egypt that toppled the Islamists from power last month are criticizing him. As he likes to do on domestic issues when criticizing his opponents and pretends to be the only adult in the room, the president is trying to carve out room in the center of the Egypt controversy by condemning the government’s actions against Brotherhood demonstrators and suspending joint military exercises but not cutting off U.S. aid.

Yet unlike those domestic disputes, in which most of the mainstream media buys into Obama’s conceit, it isn’t working this time. Indeed, not only is the president viewed with contempt and anger by both sides in what is rapidly assuming the look of a civil war inside Egypt, but he’s also getting backtalk from liberal outlets that normally echo administration talking points. Hence, the editorial page of the New York Times is pressuring the president to cut off aid and even publishing a screed from a Brotherhood supporter this morning. Even stronger was a piece in Politico that said bluntly that he had “chosen America’s interests over its values — and the pragmatists in his administration over the human-rights idealists.”

But the problem with U.S. policy toward Egypt isn’t that he has made such a choice. It’s that he’s never made a choice at all. In fact, by raising the heat on the military government and abusing it publicly at a time when it is locked in a death struggle with a totalitarian movement bent on power, he’s not defending U.S. interests or the country’s values.

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President Obama resorted to one of his favorite rhetorical memes yesterday when he complained that both supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and the military government in Egypt that toppled the Islamists from power last month are criticizing him. As he likes to do on domestic issues when criticizing his opponents and pretends to be the only adult in the room, the president is trying to carve out room in the center of the Egypt controversy by condemning the government’s actions against Brotherhood demonstrators and suspending joint military exercises but not cutting off U.S. aid.

Yet unlike those domestic disputes, in which most of the mainstream media buys into Obama’s conceit, it isn’t working this time. Indeed, not only is the president viewed with contempt and anger by both sides in what is rapidly assuming the look of a civil war inside Egypt, but he’s also getting backtalk from liberal outlets that normally echo administration talking points. Hence, the editorial page of the New York Times is pressuring the president to cut off aid and even publishing a screed from a Brotherhood supporter this morning. Even stronger was a piece in Politico that said bluntly that he had “chosen America’s interests over its values — and the pragmatists in his administration over the human-rights idealists.”

But the problem with U.S. policy toward Egypt isn’t that he has made such a choice. It’s that he’s never made a choice at all. In fact, by raising the heat on the military government and abusing it publicly at a time when it is locked in a death struggle with a totalitarian movement bent on power, he’s not defending U.S. interests or the country’s values.

The pictures coming out of Cairo this week are shocking. With hundreds dead and more violence today as the Brotherhood took to the streets again for a “Day of Rage,” it’s difficult for a U.S. administration that spent a year embracing the Islamist party after it took power to remain silent about the casualties. Yet by adopting a tone of outrage about the attack on the Brotherhood camps in Egypt’s capital, he is squandering what little is left of America’s leverage over the situation.

It is true that the president doesn’t have any really good options. It would have been better had there been a genuine third force in Egyptian politics that would have promoted a liberal democratic alternative to the Islamists of the Brotherhood. Such a faction never had much of a chance to compete with the Brotherhood in elections, and it should be noted that unlike George W. Bush who actively sought to promote a democratic alternative in Egypt, Obama gave short shrift to that cause. But in the absence of genuine democrats in the fray, we are left with only two choices: the military or the Brotherhood.

As even the New York Times reports today, most Egyptians have little trouble picking sides in such a tangle: they believe the military was right to act to clear the capital of armed encampments of supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi. They understand that the Brotherhood is not without blame for this confrontation or the violence and even point out, as we did on Wednesday, that Islamists are retaliating for the coup by burning churches.

While the attacks on the president for his failure to cut off aid from both liberal outlets and Republicans like Senators John McCain and Rand Paul (Egypt appears to be the one issue these two antagonists agree on at the moment) are rooted in a belief that he is trashing American values by not distancing Washington further from the Egyptian military, this is based on a profound misunderstanding of how we should define both U.S. interests and moral values in this case.

If there was any period during which American values were being put on hold in Egypt it was the year during which the president and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared to endorse Morsi and his Brotherhood government. This was interpreted by many Egyptians, who rightly feared the consequences of Morsi’s drive for total power, as abandoning them to the clutches of an Islamist movement that would never peacefully relinquish power. They also knew that the administration had pressured the military to allow the Brotherhood to take power after it won elections by threatening an aid cutoff.

Once we understand that democracy isn’t an option in an Egypt divided between Brotherhood and those who understand the military is their only shield against the threat of an Islamist state, it’s clear that America’s interests lie in supporting the military and hoping they will eventually construct a new government that can avoid the excesses of the Mubarak era, rebuild the economy, and keep the peace with Israel.

But our values are also at stake in such a policy. If the U.S. went on backing Morsi or were to use our aid as a lever by which we would seek to get the Brotherhood back in power, we would be trashing any hope for any sort of freedom in Egypt. As Michael Rubin wrote earlier today, democracy, if it is ever to triumph in Egypt, can only be established once the Brotherhood is conclusively defeated. As much as Americans may be shocked by the violence in Cairo, our interests and our values will be advanced once that happens. But so long as President Obama continues in a futile attempt to play both ends against the middle in Egypt, that transition will be impeded.

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Don’t Back the Wrong Side in Egypt

The resignation of Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president of Egypt’s interim government and the declaration of a state of emergency in the wake of the violence in the streets of Cairo today will, no doubt, add to the pressure on President Obama to cut off aid to the Egyptian military. With hundreds dead and the pretense that the post-coup regime is anything but a rerun of Hosni Mubarak’s military dictatorship debunked, the impulse in Washington will be to express outrage and to say or do something to disassociate the United States from what has happened. After Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham went to Cairo last week and asked the military to avoid a conflict and to negotiate some sort of agreement that would bring the ousted Muslim Brotherhood back into the government, the decision of General al-Sisi to ignore their advice and unleash his troops will be regarded as reason enough to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt.

That is, to some extent, understandable. But it would be a terrible mistake for the administration to do anything that would worsen the burgeoning conflict in Egypt. The coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi as well as the police action in Cairo contradicts American principles as well as specific warnings issued by Washington. But it needs to be reiterated that democracy is not one of the choices available in Egypt. An Obama condemnation of the Egyptian military might make some Americans feel good. But far better would be a presidential acknowledgment that the Arab Spring is over and that the priority is not the resurrection of a fake democracy there but to prevent Islamists from ever getting another chance of imposing their extreme ideology on Egypt or the entire region.

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The resignation of Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president of Egypt’s interim government and the declaration of a state of emergency in the wake of the violence in the streets of Cairo today will, no doubt, add to the pressure on President Obama to cut off aid to the Egyptian military. With hundreds dead and the pretense that the post-coup regime is anything but a rerun of Hosni Mubarak’s military dictatorship debunked, the impulse in Washington will be to express outrage and to say or do something to disassociate the United States from what has happened. After Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham went to Cairo last week and asked the military to avoid a conflict and to negotiate some sort of agreement that would bring the ousted Muslim Brotherhood back into the government, the decision of General al-Sisi to ignore their advice and unleash his troops will be regarded as reason enough to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt.

That is, to some extent, understandable. But it would be a terrible mistake for the administration to do anything that would worsen the burgeoning conflict in Egypt. The coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi as well as the police action in Cairo contradicts American principles as well as specific warnings issued by Washington. But it needs to be reiterated that democracy is not one of the choices available in Egypt. An Obama condemnation of the Egyptian military might make some Americans feel good. But far better would be a presidential acknowledgment that the Arab Spring is over and that the priority is not the resurrection of a fake democracy there but to prevent Islamists from ever getting another chance of imposing their extreme ideology on Egypt or the entire region.

As disturbing as the video coming out of Cairo today may be, it should be remembered that the victims of the military crackdown are not the peaceful democratic protesters that they are sometimes depicted as being. The Brotherhood is a totalitarian Islamist movement that would never have peacefully relinquished power if it had not been overthrown by the military. Though it embraced democracy as a tactic to attain power, it did not and does not believe in it. Its protest sites in Cairo were armed camps, befitting an organization that was always more of an Islamist militia than a political party.

That means that the calls issued by Americans for a peaceful resolution to the standoff were largely meaningless. Nothing short of a full-fledged military operation would have ever persuaded the Brotherhood to go home. Brutal though the attack on these encampments was, the notion that it could have been accomplished by more pacific methods is probably absurd.

The United States should always advocate for democracy and respect for human rights. But it needs to be understood that releasing Morsi or bringing the Brotherhood into a new government would not have advanced those goals. Egypt’s current leaders understand something that President Obama and his foreign policy advisors never have: the struggle in Egypt has always been a zero-sum game in which the choices are reduced to the military or the Brotherhood.

Now is the time for Washington to stay the course and to refuse to give in to the impulse to cut off Egypt. After more than a year of embracing the Brotherhood government of Morsi, it has been hard for Obama to realize that he made a mistake. But if he seeks to punish the Egyptian military for doing exactly what the majority of the Egyptian people want them to do, he will be compounding that error. 

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Israel and the Stakes in Egypt

Today’s report of an Israeli drone strike on a terrorist target in the northern Sinai is more than just another incident in the Jewish state’s long war of attrition against Islamists. The incident reportedly took out a missile launcher on the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza in the city of Rafah and resulted in five terrorists killed. But the most important aspect of the story is the fact that according to the Associated Press, sources in the Egyptian government confirmed that the Israeli pre-emptive attack took place with the cooperation of authorities in Cairo. This comes on the heels of another reported incident during which Israeli authorities briefly closed the airport in Eilat as a result of a tip from the Egyptians that a terror cell in the Sinai was planning to launch long-range missiles that could have hit the city.

While this may seem remarkable to friends of Israel who have been made aware of the depth of anti-Semitic sentiment that seems to pervade all of Egyptian society, it shouldn’t surprise anyone who was aware of the cooperation that went on when Hosni Mubarak was in power. As cold as the peace between the two countries was, for decades Cairo was more interested in combating potential Islamist insurgents than in having another go at Israel. After Mubarak fell and especially once the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Egypt, that changed and the Sinai became an open range for all manner of Islamists. But as a result of the coup that toppled the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, the military is determined to clean up the Sinai and to end any terrorist threats to the peace between Israel and Egypt. As the United States ponders what to do and say about the impending conflict between the military and the Brotherhood, an understanding of what is happening in the Sinai since the coup should influence American decision-making.

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Today’s report of an Israeli drone strike on a terrorist target in the northern Sinai is more than just another incident in the Jewish state’s long war of attrition against Islamists. The incident reportedly took out a missile launcher on the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza in the city of Rafah and resulted in five terrorists killed. But the most important aspect of the story is the fact that according to the Associated Press, sources in the Egyptian government confirmed that the Israeli pre-emptive attack took place with the cooperation of authorities in Cairo. This comes on the heels of another reported incident during which Israeli authorities briefly closed the airport in Eilat as a result of a tip from the Egyptians that a terror cell in the Sinai was planning to launch long-range missiles that could have hit the city.

While this may seem remarkable to friends of Israel who have been made aware of the depth of anti-Semitic sentiment that seems to pervade all of Egyptian society, it shouldn’t surprise anyone who was aware of the cooperation that went on when Hosni Mubarak was in power. As cold as the peace between the two countries was, for decades Cairo was more interested in combating potential Islamist insurgents than in having another go at Israel. After Mubarak fell and especially once the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Egypt, that changed and the Sinai became an open range for all manner of Islamists. But as a result of the coup that toppled the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, the military is determined to clean up the Sinai and to end any terrorist threats to the peace between Israel and Egypt. As the United States ponders what to do and say about the impending conflict between the military and the Brotherhood, an understanding of what is happening in the Sinai since the coup should influence American decision-making.

As Haaretz notes:

Egyptian security forces claimed Wednesday that it had killed 60 militants in the lawless Sinai Peninsula in the month since the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Citing widening “terrorist operations” in “recent times,” the Egyptian army said it was conducting an intensified campaign in Sinai in coordination with the interior ministry to crack down on militants that “threaten Egyptian national security.”

Unlike the Brotherhood, the post-coup government in Cairo understands that the primary threats to “Egyptian national security” are Islamists that are determined to foment violence against both Israel and the Egyptian military. The goal of the Islamists, whether members of an al-Qaeda franchise or the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad group based in Gaza, is to set the border with Israel aflame in an attempt to foment a new war that will both hurt the Jewish state and undermine support for an already unpopular peace treaty in Egypt.

Were the military to be undermined in its conflict with a Brotherhood that is determined to put Morsi back in power and get a second chance to remake Egypt in the image of its Islamist beliefs, all bets are off in the Sinai as well as along the border with Gaza. The military is determined to prevent the Brotherhood from getting that chance and understands, unlike many in the United States, that it is locked in a zero-sum game with the Islamists. Though some Americans may cling to the illusion that the Arab Spring created an opening for democracy in Egypt, the choices there are not between the military and freedom but between military rule and an Islamist tyranny that represents a threat to regional stability.

Far from being minor incidents, recent events illustrate the high stakes for the West in the prevention of another Brotherhood government in Cairo. Secretary of State John Kerry was right when he said the military was trying to restore democracy when it took power last month. But if the United States cuts off aid in response to more violence in the streets between the military and the Brotherhood or in any way seeks to undermine the new government in the coming weeks, it will, in effect, be voting for even worse violence in the Sinai and along the border with Israel.

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Note to Obama: Egypt Is a Zero-Sum Game

It’s not clear whether Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham really thought their presence in Cairo would help bring about reconciliation or at least an agreement between Egypt’s military government and the Muslim Brotherhood. But now that their mission has failed to influence the military to be more accommodating to a Brotherhood that clearly thinks it has no choice but to stand its ground on not accepting the coup that deposed Mohamed Morsi, the Obama administration is back where it was a month ago, pondering what to do about Egypt. With the military openly threatening more violence, the United States must once again decide whether its priority is to back the principle of democracy or back a government whose primary purpose dovetails with America’s long-term interests.

When Egypt’s interim president Adli Mansour said yesterday that, “the phase of diplomatic efforts has ended,” it was apparent that Western attempts to broker some sort of deal between the two sides of the standoff were not going to work. Since the Brotherhood may feel it has nothing to gain from backing away from a confrontation that will inevitably mean more violence, that puts President Obama in the difficult position of having to abandon the pretense that restoration of democracy in Egypt is either possible or desirable. While he along with McCain and Graham may think a solution must mean involving the Brotherhood in a new government, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the military commander who really runs the country, has no such illusions. Sisi seems to have grasped something that many of Egypt’s foreign backers seem not to understand: the conflict between the Brotherhood and the rest of the country is a zero-sum game. Any ground gained by the Islamists or a deal that will let them inch their way back to power is a mistake that will set the country back on the same path that led to the coup. It’s past time the United States understood it too. The choice there isn’t between the military and democracy. It’s between the military and Islamist rule.

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It’s not clear whether Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham really thought their presence in Cairo would help bring about reconciliation or at least an agreement between Egypt’s military government and the Muslim Brotherhood. But now that their mission has failed to influence the military to be more accommodating to a Brotherhood that clearly thinks it has no choice but to stand its ground on not accepting the coup that deposed Mohamed Morsi, the Obama administration is back where it was a month ago, pondering what to do about Egypt. With the military openly threatening more violence, the United States must once again decide whether its priority is to back the principle of democracy or back a government whose primary purpose dovetails with America’s long-term interests.

When Egypt’s interim president Adli Mansour said yesterday that, “the phase of diplomatic efforts has ended,” it was apparent that Western attempts to broker some sort of deal between the two sides of the standoff were not going to work. Since the Brotherhood may feel it has nothing to gain from backing away from a confrontation that will inevitably mean more violence, that puts President Obama in the difficult position of having to abandon the pretense that restoration of democracy in Egypt is either possible or desirable. While he along with McCain and Graham may think a solution must mean involving the Brotherhood in a new government, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the military commander who really runs the country, has no such illusions. Sisi seems to have grasped something that many of Egypt’s foreign backers seem not to understand: the conflict between the Brotherhood and the rest of the country is a zero-sum game. Any ground gained by the Islamists or a deal that will let them inch their way back to power is a mistake that will set the country back on the same path that led to the coup. It’s past time the United States understood it too. The choice there isn’t between the military and democracy. It’s between the military and Islamist rule.

It is very much to Secretary of State John Kerry’s credit that he seemed to signal last week that the administration is finally putting away its illusions about Egypt. Kerry caused a minor stir when he said last Thursday that rather than the coup (although, like all American officials he is constrained by law from calling the military takeover by its correct name) being an attack on democracy, it was actually an effort to restore it. Since the military had acted on the request of “millions and millions” of people, as he put it, he’s not wrong about that. But unfortunately, many otherwise sensible observers in the United States remain ready to cut off aid to the military government at any sign that it is prepared to use force to put down the Brotherhood’s campaign to restore Morsi. Indeed, even Kerry said that any more violence like the killings of Islamist demonstrators by the military in recent weeks was “unacceptable.”

Some of this is a hangover from the administration’s misguided embrace of the Brotherhood while it was in power. Fortunately, the president seems to have learned his lesson on this point. But as much as the United States is right to discourage violence in Cairo, President Obama must understand that Sisi is right to fear that if he lets the Brotherhood protests continue unmolested, he is setting the stage for trouble.

The coup was made necessary because Egypt’s experiment in democracy had gone terribly wrong. The Brotherhood was able to win elections because it was the only truly organized mass party in the country. But once in power, it showed that its drive for hegemony would not be restrained by anything. Had the military not acted, there is little doubt that Morsi and the Brotherhood would never have peacefully relinquished power or stopped until they had remade Egypt in their own image.

In the coming days and weeks as the Brotherhood continues to push for Morsi’s return to power, they are hoping that the West will be hamstrung by a desire to avoid the charge of hypocrisy and cut off the military. But the U.S. mustn’t fall into their trap. There is more to democracy than voting, and any solution that risks giving Morsi another chance to consolidate power would be a disaster for Egypt and the United States. Washington must be prepared to stick with the military no matter what happens in the streets of Cairo. In a zero-sum game with would-be Islamist totalitarians, there is no room for compromise. Sisi gets this. Let’s hope Obama does too.

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Paul Was Too Late on Egypt Aid

Sometimes the legislative process moves too slowly. Had Rand Paul’s amendment to a Senate appropriations bill that called for $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt to be diverted to bridge construction and repair in the United States come to the floor a month ago, he might have had a much stronger argument than he did this morning when he lost a vote to table his proposal. Paul is a fervent critic of foreign aid even to America’s closest allies at all times. But had he been able to bring this up while Egypt was ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, it’s likely more Senators might have joined with him if only in order to send a message to the Obama administration that its misguided embrace of the Islamist government needed to end. But Paul’s attempt to cut off aid to Egypt just weeks after the military overthrew President Mohamed Morsi was a case of very bad timing.

Aid to Egypt was unpopular even among its traditional supporters during the past year as the Brotherhood moved inexorably toward consolidating total power in Cairo. Under those circumstances, Paul’s standard speech about the stupidity of sending U.S. cash to hostile nations made a lot of sense when applied to Egypt. But with the Brotherhood out and with the U.S. needing to send a strong U.S. message of support for the forces that have saved Egypt from Islamist tyranny, Paul’s grandstanding about American money backing thugs was curiously tone deaf to both the facts on the ground in Cairo and American interests. The morning’s business on the Senate floor illustrated in a nutshell everything that is wrong with the Kentucky senator’s isolationist mindset.

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Sometimes the legislative process moves too slowly. Had Rand Paul’s amendment to a Senate appropriations bill that called for $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt to be diverted to bridge construction and repair in the United States come to the floor a month ago, he might have had a much stronger argument than he did this morning when he lost a vote to table his proposal. Paul is a fervent critic of foreign aid even to America’s closest allies at all times. But had he been able to bring this up while Egypt was ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, it’s likely more Senators might have joined with him if only in order to send a message to the Obama administration that its misguided embrace of the Islamist government needed to end. But Paul’s attempt to cut off aid to Egypt just weeks after the military overthrew President Mohamed Morsi was a case of very bad timing.

Aid to Egypt was unpopular even among its traditional supporters during the past year as the Brotherhood moved inexorably toward consolidating total power in Cairo. Under those circumstances, Paul’s standard speech about the stupidity of sending U.S. cash to hostile nations made a lot of sense when applied to Egypt. But with the Brotherhood out and with the U.S. needing to send a strong U.S. message of support for the forces that have saved Egypt from Islamist tyranny, Paul’s grandstanding about American money backing thugs was curiously tone deaf to both the facts on the ground in Cairo and American interests. The morning’s business on the Senate floor illustrated in a nutshell everything that is wrong with the Kentucky senator’s isolationist mindset.

In recent days, even the sternest critics of Obama’s foreign policy have held their fire on Egypt because it seems the administration has started to understand that its infatuation with the Brotherhood was a mistake that was deeply resented by the Egyptian people as well as destructive to American interests in the region. Rather than use the violence in the streets as the Brotherhood attempted to regain power in Cairo as an excuse for pressuring the military to restore Morsi, the U.S. is wisely sending a muted message about the unrest. That should give the new government the space it needs to hold on and ensure the Islamists don’t get another chance to remake Egyptian society in their own image. And it’s also why it’s exactly the wrong moment for Congress to send it a message that would be interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as a U.S. gesture intended to push Egypt back into the arms of the Brotherhood.

Fortunately, Paul’s amendment was tabled by a vote of 86-13 with the vast majority of Republicans voting with the majority. But this minor incident illustrates everything that is wrong with Paul’s ideological mindset.

Paul claims he is neither an isolationist nor someone who doesn’t wish to engage with the world. But his vision of engagement with the world is not consistent with America’s global responsibilities. Like it or not, American support is a necessary element of stability in much of the world, but especially in the Middle East. Paul is right that Egyptians may have resented U.S. aid for decades because it benefited the military rather than ordinary people. He failed to mention that one other reason they didn’t like it was because it was seen as an ongoing bribe to ensure that Egypt abided by its peace treaty with Israel. That resentment was even greater during the year of Brotherhood rule since it was seen as propping up a new dictatorship that was not only oppressive but also bent on imposing its theocratic views on all Egyptians.

That’s why Paul’s attempt to throw a monkey wrench into the U.S.-Egypt relationship just at the moment when President Obama was doing the right thing was so foolish. America’s priority there must be to keep the Brotherhood out of power. But Paul, who is indifferent or hostile to the need for the United States to keep fighting Islamist terrorists throughout the Middle East, has no patience for such nuances.

Moreover, despite his half-hearted attempts to demonstrate that he is not an opponent of Israel this past year, he also dismissed the idea that torpedoing Egyptian aid damages the Jewish state. An aid cutoff is the last thing Israel wants since doing so would help the Muslim Brotherhood and by extension strengthen the position of its Hamas allies in Gaza, who have been isolated since the coup. It would also undermine the peace treaty with Egypt that remains a pillar of Israel’s defense strategy. Claiming, as Paul did on the Senate floor, that he has a better grasp of what’s good for Israel or what its supporters are thinking than Israel’s government or AIPAC was absurd.

This morning’s vote was a minor skirmish in what looks to be a long and difficult struggle in Congress to keep the isolationist wing of the GOP from becoming the party’s voice on foreign policy. For now, Paul’s effort to distance the U.S. from its global responsibilities has failed. But, as with the effort to shut down necessary intelligence gathering or drone strikes against terrorists, the fight is far from over.

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America’s Priority? Stop the Brotherhood

While Secretary of State John Kerry is spending most of his time in office desperately trying to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the administration has seemingly struggled mightily to find a coherent approach to the turmoil in Egypt. After a year of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, the Obama foreign policy team was slow to wake up to the outrage this decision had generated inside Egypt or to understand the threat that the Islamist movement posed to the country’s future or American interests. Though this realization has been grudging, it is to their credit that they have resisted the impulse to label the Egyptian military’s actions as a coup (which is nothing less than the truth) or to exert much pressure on it to release Morsi or to cease its efforts to stifle the movement’s protests. But the escalating violence inside Egypt has heightened pressure on the administration to join the voices of outrage at the military’s violence against demonstrators or to use American aid to force it to stand down and restore what we are continually told was a democratically-elected government.

Some, including our Max Boot, believe this is exactly the time when American influence must be exerted to pressure Cairo to respect the human rights of its people and create an opening for moderate opposition figures that will gradually create a transition to genuine democracy. He’s right to point out that decades of U.S. support for tyrannies, such as the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, in the name of stability was a strategic mistake. Democracy promotion is not just an expression of idealism but a wise investment that will pay off in the long run. But though, along with many others, I might have been fooled into thinking the Arab Spring protests of 2011 in Cairo were the harbinger of democratic change, it’s now clear that such an outcome was never a possibility. America’s dilemma in Egypt today is not whether it will be associated with a military government but whether it will do whatever it can to aid the generals in their efforts to ensure that the Brotherhood never gets another chance to remake Egypt in their own image.

While encouraging democracy is embedded in America’s foreign policy DNA, it is vital that the administration understands that the main threat to both Egypt’s future and U.S. interests is the Brotherhood, not their military antagonists. Any effort or American pressure aimed at allowing the Brotherhood to get another shot at power, even by peaceful means, would, like the year of support for Morsi, be a tragic mistake.

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While Secretary of State John Kerry is spending most of his time in office desperately trying to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the administration has seemingly struggled mightily to find a coherent approach to the turmoil in Egypt. After a year of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government of deposed President Mohamed Morsi, the Obama foreign policy team was slow to wake up to the outrage this decision had generated inside Egypt or to understand the threat that the Islamist movement posed to the country’s future or American interests. Though this realization has been grudging, it is to their credit that they have resisted the impulse to label the Egyptian military’s actions as a coup (which is nothing less than the truth) or to exert much pressure on it to release Morsi or to cease its efforts to stifle the movement’s protests. But the escalating violence inside Egypt has heightened pressure on the administration to join the voices of outrage at the military’s violence against demonstrators or to use American aid to force it to stand down and restore what we are continually told was a democratically-elected government.

Some, including our Max Boot, believe this is exactly the time when American influence must be exerted to pressure Cairo to respect the human rights of its people and create an opening for moderate opposition figures that will gradually create a transition to genuine democracy. He’s right to point out that decades of U.S. support for tyrannies, such as the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, in the name of stability was a strategic mistake. Democracy promotion is not just an expression of idealism but a wise investment that will pay off in the long run. But though, along with many others, I might have been fooled into thinking the Arab Spring protests of 2011 in Cairo were the harbinger of democratic change, it’s now clear that such an outcome was never a possibility. America’s dilemma in Egypt today is not whether it will be associated with a military government but whether it will do whatever it can to aid the generals in their efforts to ensure that the Brotherhood never gets another chance to remake Egypt in their own image.

While encouraging democracy is embedded in America’s foreign policy DNA, it is vital that the administration understands that the main threat to both Egypt’s future and U.S. interests is the Brotherhood, not their military antagonists. Any effort or American pressure aimed at allowing the Brotherhood to get another shot at power, even by peaceful means, would, like the year of support for Morsi, be a tragic mistake.

Like other totalitarian movements, Islamists may use democracy as a tool to gain power but they neither believe in it nor do they feel bound by it once in power. That point was demonstrated many times throughout the 20th century, but up until this month’s coup halted Morsi’s drive for hegemony, it was also being illustrated in Egypt. The coup was the last chance for secular and liberal Egyptians to stop the Brotherhood before it was too late. Had they been allowed to go on consolidating power, the idea that they would have ever relinquished it by peaceful means is farcical. Indeed, the only way to create even a minimal space for democratic development is for the military to ensure that the Brotherhood is permanently excluded from positions of power. Rather than urging the military to allow the Brotherhood a political outlet, the U.S. should be standing behind its efforts to forever end the threat of another Brotherhood government. In this case, it would be the lack of a crackdown on the Islamists that would set the stage for future problems rather than the opposite.

This opens the U.S. up to charges of hypocrisy when Washington speaks out against other tyrannies that may not be friendly to America. But taking a stand against the Brotherhood is not antithetical to democracy promotion. Indeed, struggling against it is the prerequisite for any hope for Egypt. While it may be wise for the administration to urge, as Max advises, repressive Arab monarchies that are U.S. allies to move toward democracy, that can’t mean tolerating Islamists whose only goal is to impose their theocratic views on the region. While Obama rightly doesn’t wish to be associated with shootings in the streets of Cairo, pressuring the military to let up in what may prove to be a life and death struggle against the Brotherhood would be a critical error. The president has gone from blunder to blunder ever since the beginning of the Arab Spring. It is vital that he doesn’t take another misstep and do anything, even in the name of the cause of democracy, that would serve to complicate the efforts of Egyptians seeking to stop the Brotherhood.

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Obama and Egypt’s Hamas Connection

The Obama administration’s ambivalence about the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt has been obvious. This week, it tiptoed up to the brink of cutting off aid to the Egyptian military that had ousted President Mohammed Morsi but it stopped short of taking that drastic step. Rather than do something that would jeopardize the new government’s stability and send a message that Washington was determined to oust it, Obama and made do with a gesture that would satisfy its desire to express his indignation about the turn of events: the delay of the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets to Cairo. While the administration deserves some restrained applause for at least not doing something to worsen the already dangerous situation in Egypt, the latest developments show that even this slap on the wrist may have been a mistake.

With Brotherhood supporters continuing to take to the streets to demonstrate their anger as violence spread throughout the country, the conflict there has now been exposed as involving not just Egyptian factions but the Hamas terrorists that rule Gaza. And that’s something that Americans looking on from afar ought to be taking into account when they think about where America’s interests lie.

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The Obama administration’s ambivalence about the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt has been obvious. This week, it tiptoed up to the brink of cutting off aid to the Egyptian military that had ousted President Mohammed Morsi but it stopped short of taking that drastic step. Rather than do something that would jeopardize the new government’s stability and send a message that Washington was determined to oust it, Obama and made do with a gesture that would satisfy its desire to express his indignation about the turn of events: the delay of the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets to Cairo. While the administration deserves some restrained applause for at least not doing something to worsen the already dangerous situation in Egypt, the latest developments show that even this slap on the wrist may have been a mistake.

With Brotherhood supporters continuing to take to the streets to demonstrate their anger as violence spread throughout the country, the conflict there has now been exposed as involving not just Egyptian factions but the Hamas terrorists that rule Gaza. And that’s something that Americans looking on from afar ought to be taking into account when they think about where America’s interests lie.

Hamas had hoped to exploit the ascent of Morsi and the Brotherhood last year to expand its ties with Egypt and strengthen its strategic position. That didn’t work out quite as well as they had hoped as Morsi was not eager to further complicate his relationship with the Egyptian military by involving the country in any adventures against Israel. Nor was he eager to allow a free flow of arms into Gaza via the smuggling tunnels from Egypt. But the Brotherhood government still allowed the Sinai to devolve into a Wild West situation that was dangerous to both Israel and Egypt. Despite Morsi’s seeming ambivalence, Hamas was a major beneficiary of the fall of the Mubarak’s regime.

Since ousting Morsi, the military has made it clear that the relatively brief era during which it appeared the Islamist rulers have a friend in Cairo is over. They have shut down the tunnels and closed the border with Gaza. Just as important, the military, which has been holding Morsi under arrest since the coup earlier this month, have now charged him with conspiring with Hamas in “hostile acts” against Egypt, a reference to the belief that it was the Islamist terror group’s agents that helped spring him from prison during the last days of Mubarak’s rule while killing police officers and military personnel.

The point is, the new government in Cairo may well have come to power in a coup (though the U.S. is careful not to call it one since that would make it impossible to continue to keep aid flowing) and not be democratic. But it has saved the country from falling, perhaps irrevocably into the grip of an Islamist regime that would have transformed the nation in ways that would have created an era of oppression for liberal and secular Egyptians. Just as important, though there will be no thawing of the ice-cold peace with Israel, the new rulers have shut off Hamas from a source of aid and political influence. The coup not only has preserved peace with Israel but it will make it even harder for Hamas to destabilize the region.

Viewed from this context there is no good reason for the Obama administration to go on sulking about Morsi’s departure or exerting pressure on the Egyptian military to include the Brotherhood in a new government or free Morsi to plot new mayhem in Cairo. If Hamas knows which side it is on in the struggle over Egypt’s future, President Obama should realize there shouldn’t be any doubt about whom the U.S. should be backing.

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Egyptians Right to Ignore Obama’s Advice

The Obama administration has been forced to navigate a difficult path in the past week. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt has forced it to balance its rhetorical support of democracy with the necessity to acknowledge that the military coup that forced Mohamed Morsi from office was a product of a popular backlash against the Brotherhood’s excesses and drive for total power. But as much as Washington has slowly begun distancing itself from the strategy of embracing the Brotherhood that characterized U.S. policy for the past year, the president still can’t quite grasp the realities of the conflict in Cairo. The U.S. decision to pressure the military to release Islamists they have arrested, or to include them in a new government, is exactly the sort of tone deaf advice that has cratered America’s reputation in Egypt.

But the fact that the military is rejecting Obama’s advice and thereby endangering the more than $2 billion a year they get in U.S. aid shows just how out of touch the administration is with the reality on the ground. The administration is treading a bit more carefully on Egypt than it was a year ago, when they were strong-arming the army into letting the Brotherhood take over. But Obama and his foreign policy team need to wrap their brains around a basic truth that the Egyptian generals are forced to deal with: the conflict with a group like the Brotherhood is a zero-sum game. Allowing the Islamists freedom to organize or letting Morsi re-enter the government would merely give the Brotherhood a leg up in its effort to seize back the reins of power. And anyone, include the fools in the State Department and the White House, who thinks the Brotherhood will stop at anything once they gain back what they have lost, understands nothing about the movement.

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The Obama administration has been forced to navigate a difficult path in the past week. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt has forced it to balance its rhetorical support of democracy with the necessity to acknowledge that the military coup that forced Mohamed Morsi from office was a product of a popular backlash against the Brotherhood’s excesses and drive for total power. But as much as Washington has slowly begun distancing itself from the strategy of embracing the Brotherhood that characterized U.S. policy for the past year, the president still can’t quite grasp the realities of the conflict in Cairo. The U.S. decision to pressure the military to release Islamists they have arrested, or to include them in a new government, is exactly the sort of tone deaf advice that has cratered America’s reputation in Egypt.

But the fact that the military is rejecting Obama’s advice and thereby endangering the more than $2 billion a year they get in U.S. aid shows just how out of touch the administration is with the reality on the ground. The administration is treading a bit more carefully on Egypt than it was a year ago, when they were strong-arming the army into letting the Brotherhood take over. But Obama and his foreign policy team need to wrap their brains around a basic truth that the Egyptian generals are forced to deal with: the conflict with a group like the Brotherhood is a zero-sum game. Allowing the Islamists freedom to organize or letting Morsi re-enter the government would merely give the Brotherhood a leg up in its effort to seize back the reins of power. And anyone, include the fools in the State Department and the White House, who thinks the Brotherhood will stop at anything once they gain back what they have lost, understands nothing about the movement.

On the surface, the U.S. position on the current impasse in Egypt seems reasonable. The call to de-escalate the conflict and to reconstruct a democratic process is in line with America’s values as well as a belief that civil war is the worst possible outcome for both Egyptians and regional stability.

But the Egyptian generals understand that this was their one chance to stop the Brotherhood from irrevocably changing their country. Prior to the election they won, the Brotherhood worked hard to improve their image and sell the West on the notion that they were merely religious democrats who wouldn’t impose their beliefs on the rest of the country. But once in power, they proved to be not only incompetent at the business of running the country but quickly moved to seize total power in a way that might make it difficult if not impossible to ever depose them via democratic means. The demonstrators that took to the streets in unprecedented numbers earlier this month understood it was a now-or-never moment in which they sought to take back the country before it was too late.

That’s why the urgings of senior U.S. diplomat William Burns to the military to free the Brotherhood detainees or to bring them into a new coalition are being rejected. Once free, the Islamists won’t be long in seeking to use their supporters to topple the new government and impose a new order that will ensure the end of any independent sources of power in Cairo.

It should also be noted that the Islamists were equally unwilling to listen to Burns. They, too, see the power struggle in terms that seem to have eluded the Americans. Seeking to bridge the gap between the Brotherhood and the secular liberals and their military supporters is as much of a fool’s errand as Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest effort to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

At this point, there are no good options left for the United States. Neither side in the conflict in Egypt is perfect. But what Obama needs to understand is that though the Morsi/Brotherhood government may have been elected, it was as much a threat to freedom as the military. It’s time for the U.S. to step back and let the new government do what it must to ensure the Islamists won’t launch a civil war. A failure to do so won’t help democracy. Nor will it enhance America’s influence in a country where Obama already has zero credibility.

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