Obama AWOL on Egypt… Again.

Where is the President on Egypt Now?Egypt and the Referendum on Obama’s Foreign Policy
With new reports of bloodshed coming out of Egypt in the wake of President Morsi’s removal from office, the jury is officially in on the Obama foreign policy as it pertains to the Middle East:  It has failed miserably.

In at least three areas, the response of the Obama administration to Egypt demonstrates a decided lack of strategic thought that undermines American efforts to encourage democracy and oppose radical Islam in the Muslim world.

Backing the Wrong Horse Too Early
The president would have benefited from a cursory overview of modern Egyptian history that demonstrates a “democratic” process that usually means one party getting elected, and then using its power to muzzle opposition.  Egypt is a complex political society divided between Christians, Arab nationalists, Islamic radicals and more.

However, the Obama administration failed to recognize this fractiousness and quickly moved to support the democratic opposition that seemed to be at the root of initial uprisings in 2011.  The administration concluded that democratic rhetoric coming from the streets of Cairo amounted to real democratic reform and subsequently embraced it.  This step unwittingly gave a huge credibility boost to opposition groups (the Muslim Brotherhood among them) and undermined then president Hosni Mubarak.

This policy dramatically backfired when the Muslim Brotherhood took control.  In keeping with history, Morsi immediately began to amass autocratic power all but ensuring the current wave of violence and making the US appear to be the backer of another dictator.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil
Speaking last fall on the Arab Spring, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton denied the power of radical Islamic groups in the Arab Spring when she referred to violence sweeping the region as perpetrated by a “small number of extremists.”  This betrays a naiveté regarding radical Islam that has been on display in the White House throughout the Arab Spring.

True, adherents of radical Islamic views are few in number, but they have demonstrated a consistent ability to punch above their weight in the political arena, both at the ballot box and on the battlefield.  Choosing to ignore this rather obvious historical fact is irresponsible and is demonstrated to have dire consequences: The Clinton administration chose to ignore the growing threat of Al-Qaeda throughout the 1990s, belittling its intentions and resolve.  The events of September 11, 2001 were the result.

“Change” Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means
Even a child understands that if her parents say one thing and do another, something unjust has happened.  Choosing to continue to fund and arm the Egyptian army, even while Morsi was in power, demonstrated that the Obama administration’s main concern was propping up the status quo and hedging its bets that Morsi would not last.  This undermined Morsi, emboldened the military and ultimately preserved a political order in Egypt that subjects true representative governance to the whims of the generals.  In this instance, such an approach may be effective, but long term it demonstrates that America is more interested in stability than true democratic reforms, destroying our credibility in the region.

When I was in North Africa in 2009, a young boy in the streets asked me if I was from America.  When I replied in the affirmative, he smiled, gave me a thumbs up and jubilantly declared, “Obama!”

Four years later, that perception of Obama as embodying an America that Muslim nations could trust and follow has evaporated in the winds of war that blight the promise of the Arab Spring.


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