How Obama--and the Media--Lost Egypt

If our government consistently gets something wrong, but then declares that everything is A-OK, how should the rest of us react? Should we ignore clearly visible warning signs, or should we simply continue to trust the Obama administration--and Obamaphilic analysts and journalists?  And if we see a pattern of events that always turns out negatively for American interests, what should we do then? 

The answer: Maybe we should react with some serious and active mistrust. Maybe we should also start looking deeper, probing for the source of the pattern. After all, there’s a point at which “pattern” morphs into something far more troubling.  

Let’s consider the case of Egypt, where the US government has been relentlessly wrong, but has been equally relentless in saying that everything is going right. That is, the Obama administration didn’t see the Muslim Brotherhood rising, but now that the Brotherhood has risen, the Obamans are assuring us that there’s nothing to worry about. 

What could explain such a poor job of anticipating events? And what could explain the happy-talking after the fact? Is it just a case of bureaucratic myopia, followed by bureaucratic papering-over?

In Part Two of this article, we will consider how in the last century the US government has dealt naively--or worse--with mortal foreign challenges.

Yet for now, let’s focus on Egypt, the second-largest recipient of our foreign aid, a country to which, since 1948, we have given $68 billion--much more than that if adjusted for inflation. So after all that “investment,” what do we have?  

What we have is control of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood. The new President, Mohamed Morsi, is not only in charge, but he is busy purging opponents and potential challengers, in contravention of earlier assurances. And the Obama administration doesn’t seem to mind; indeed, it seems rather happy. 

On Tuesday, the Washington Post, usually faithful to the White House point of view, flashed a headline on its hard-copy front page declaring, “Relief in Washington: Administration officials watching Cairo are cautiously optimistic.”

Optimistic about what? What good news is there in the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood?  

Founded in Egypt in 1928, the Brotherhood early on declared that it was Islam’s duty to retake all the lands of the Mediterranean that once belonged to Islam--including, of course, Jerusalem and the territory of Israel. At the same time, the Brotherhood was open in its admiration of Hitler and his methods; even after World War Two, the Brotherhood cheerfully continued to distribute copies of Mein Kampf, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and works of Holocaust denialism.

Beginning in the 1950s, one of the Brotherhood’s leading figures was Sayyid Qutb, author of the book Milestones, a major document in the revival of Islamic fundamentalism.  Qutb declared that the whole of the non-Islamic world was jahiliya,that is, pagan, impure, and worthy of destruction.  Indeed, he declared that Western-influenced governments in the Arab world, including his own government in Cairo--led by Gamel Nasser, a career army officer until he took power in a 1952 coup d’etat--was also jahiliya, and thus needed to replaced. As a result, Qutb was imprisoned and ultimately hanged in 1966, hardening the hostility between the Brotherhood and the Egyptian military. Indeed, that hostility only deepened during the subsequent rule of Anwar Sadat--himself assassinated by Islamic militants in 1981--and then Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak.  

Interestingly, one of those involved in the plot against Sadat was Ayman al-Zawahiri, a member of the Brotherhood who would go on to be Osama Bin Laden’s successor as head of Al Qaeda.   

Meanwhile, in 2004, one of the Brotherhood’s leaders, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, issued a fatwa declaring that it was a religious obligation for Muslims to abduct and kill Americans in Iraq.

And while the Brotherhood has never itself been listed by the US as a terrorist organization, we might note the words of terrorism expert Evan Kohlmann in regard to the Brotherhood: For “someone who is interested in dedicating their lives to a radical Islamist cause, it can be a pathway up.”

Some will argue that the Brotherhood simply reflects--unfortunately, to be sure--the bulk of Egyptian public opinion; a Pew Center poll from June 2012 found that by a ratio of 79 to 19 percent, Egyptians hold a negative view of the US. So perhaps it was inevitable that sooner or later, the Brotherhood would take power in Egypt. 

Yet it was not inevitable that the US would turn such a benign eye on the Brotherhood’s rise to power over the last two years.  Even before protests erupted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011, the US had been quietly supporting supposed “liberal” elements within the protests, ignoring the plain reality that most of the protestors were hardcore Islamists, not Facebook liberals. Indeed, the Obama administration barely seemed to notice that the Islamists were not the same as the liberals.  

A window into such naive administration thinking was opened on February 9--just as Mubarak was about to fall--when James Clapper, appointed by President Obama as Director of National Intelligence, told the House Intelligence Committee that the Brotherhood was “mostly secular” and sought a “betterment of the political order”; as evidence, Clapper noted that the Brotherhood operated many hospitals in Egypt.  Clapper’s upbeat assessment led to an immediate rebuke from reality-based Members of Congress: Intel Committee member Sue Myrick (R-NC), for instance, pointed out the dark side of the Brotherhood: it operated according to “an extremist ideology that causes others to commit acts of terrorism.” Indeed, the reaction to Clapper on Capitol Hill was so fierce that he soon had to “clarify” his remarks. 

Still, it is readily apparent that Clapper’s kindly view of the Brotherhood was part of Obama administration orthodoxy, and there’s no doubt that p.c. thinking--combined with Third World “liberation movement” romanticism--had been suffusing administration deliberations on Egypt all along. After all, this was the administration that came into power rejecting the phrase “Global War On Terror,” preferring instead the anodyne--and also truth-obscuring--“Overseas Contingency Operation.”

By contrast, one who saw the Brotherhood clearly was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born refugee from Islamic violence, who wrote a sober warning in the Wall Street Journal just days after Mubarak’s overthrow: “Anyone who believes that a truly democratic outcome in Egypt is the real goal of the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to understand--or purposefully ignored--the group’s motto.” And that motto is: “Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” 

So that’s the real Brotherhood--not at all “mostly secular.” Instead, it’s a group that has steadily clung to, and nurtured, jihadist ideology from its inception.

Yet the misreading of Morsi and the Brotherhood has continued to the present day. All during 2011 and 2012, reporters were told that the Brotherhood would voluntarily hold itself back from power, being content, instead, with a role in a coalition government alongside the thin crust of Egyptian liberals and secularists. That hope was blown away in the January 2012 parliamentary elections, when Morsi’s party won nearly 38 percent of the national vote, and still another Islamist party, even further over on the Islamist scale, won another 28 percent. In other words, Islamist forces took nearly two-thirds of the seats in the new parliament. 

Then, on June 24, Morsi was elected to the presidency. As Reuters put it, “In a reversal of fortunes unthinkable a year and a half ago, an Islamist jailed by Hosni Mubarak has succeeded him as president of the biggest Arab nation.” Finally, after 80 years in the wilderness, the Brotherhood could claim one of its own--as leader of Egypt. And the reaction of the Obama administration? Headline in Politico that day: “White House Congratulates Egypt’s Morsi.”

So Morsi’s victory was a big deal, right?  Sure it was--but even after the Brother assumed office, we in the West were assured that it wasn’t that big a deal because, after all, the military would still retain the real clout.  As NPR’s Peter Kenyon asserted the day after Morsi’s ascension, “The military, dominated by figures from the old regime, still holds all the levers of power.”

Indeed, Morsi himself was depicted as a mumbler and a bumbler--inviting the question, of course, of how he ever rose so high in the Brotherhood if he was so inept. Yet many reporters  repeated the same cliche: Morsi would be nothing more than a “figurehead.”

Then on July 8, just days into his presidency, Morsi proved that he was, indeed, much more than a figurehead; he reinstated the Islamist parliament that the generals had dissolved just a month before. Even after Morsi had directly confronted his supposed puppet-masters, US reporters continued with their Panglossian take. As Time magazine wrote of Morsi’s action, “His decree reinstating parliament sounds confrontational, but it can serve the purposes of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the military.” Translated: Nothing to see here, folks; all’s well, just move along.  Meanwhile, of course, Egyptian Islamists--now embraced by the government, no longer imprisoned--openly and routinely preached ferocious and murderous opposition to the US.

Finally, this past Saturday, news came from Cairo that could not be depicted as anything other than extraordinary and confrontational. The headline in the Washington Post: “Egypt’s Morsi replaces military chiefs in bid to consolidate power.” What had transpired was the dismissal of Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister and top military chief, as well as his deputy, army chief of staff Sami Anan. As the Post’s Ernesto Londono put it, their ouster “suggested that the Brotherhood is willing to act more quickly and assertively in taking control of key institutions than analysts had predicted.” 

Across the board, analysts had not predicted Morsi’s power-grab--that’s for sure. And as a result, the Brotherhood, having bared its political fangs, shouldn't have seemed so meek and mild anymore.  Yet even so, Londoño continued to put his journalistic trust in the “experts,” adding in his story, “Analysts said the move could trigger a backlash and further polarize a nation in which many are wary of the intentions of the country’s first Islamist president.”  

As we can see, once again, the journalists and analysts had spoken: Thing aren’t so bad. Really, there’s no problem. The pundits, having been wrong every step of the way, now repeated, yet again, that things would be all right.

As for Morsi himself, he didn’t seem worried about any “backlash”; he simply plowed ahead. Meanwhile, Americans in both political parties were transfixed by the news of VP nominee Paul Ryan, and so nobody in Washington seems to have done anything--no phone call from the Situation Room, no signal from the Israelis, no threat to cut US foreign aid--to try to thwart or undo Morsi’s precipitous action.

And so within a mere three days, the news from Cairo was no longer the possibility of a backlash against Morsi, but, rather, acquiescence to Morsi. The turnabout in Egypt was complete. As the headline in Tuesday’s Post read, “Egypt reacts with respect to president’s new power.” One must ask: Was it respect? Or was it fear? Reporter Ernesto Londoño wrote, “A month ago, as President Mohamed Morsi was sworn in, Egyptians who loved and loathed him could agree on one fact: The Islamist would be a relatively powerless leader.  But just weeks into his tenure [Morsi] has cast aside his rivals and consolidated power with stunning speed and shrewdness.”

So, finally, the scales are falling from Western eyes, right? No more illusions, right? Well, not really. Even as Londono, the Post’s man in Cairo, was admitting to being stunned, the Post’s Karen DeYoung, reporting on the Obama administration’s reaction to the news from Egypt, was still sounding serene. In addition to Londoño’s front-page news story, the Post touted DeYoung’s piece, signaling a second story inside the paper, an inside-dope analysis, sourced to the Obama administration. The headline: “From alarm to relief in Washington amid Egypt’s military shakeup.” Got that? All’s well. We’re handling it. Now just go ahead and re-elect us.  

DeYoung began her piece by acknowledging that the Obama administration’s first reaction to the news of the generals’ ouster was “deep alarm,” adding, “political developments in Egypt during the past year have occurred at a speed that has often overwhelmed US policy makers.” Indeed, one constant for US policymakers had been the steady presence of Field Marshall Tantawi, commissioned into the Egyptian army in 1956, and chief of the military since 1991. But now, suddenly, in defiance of all the “analysts” and their supposed wisdom, Tantawi was gone. 

So should any of this news be disturbing to Americans? You know, the fact that a venerable military leader was simply flicked from power by a supposed “figurehead”?  And nobody in DC had a clue? Nevertheless, DeYoung assured her readers, there was no reason to be disturbed, because the man Morsi picked to replace Tantawi, Gen. Abdel Al-Sissi, is also a friend to America. As she put it, Al-Sissi is “well-known to US officials,” and, according to an administration bigshot she quoted, Al-Sissi has “espoused cooperation with the United States and the need for peace with neighbors.” 

So does that settle the matter? Is it simply a case of one pro-American general being replaced by another pro-American general? The answer, of course, is “no”--because it makes all the difference in the world as to who hired you. Tantawi, the ousted general, was a product of the Mubarak political machine; even with Mubarak now gone, it could be presumed that Tantawi shared his old boss’s worldview. And evidently, that’s how Morsi saw Tantawi--and that’s why Morsi got rid of him. Meanwhile, every other Egyptian military officer, from Al-Sissi on down, got the unmistakable message: There’s a new boss, and he’s not the same as the old boss.  Thus the Brotherhood’s policy is now the military’s policy.  

Proving that he is indeed a sure-footed operator, Morsi immediately awarded the ex-military chief, Tantawi, with the nation’s highest military honor, and the other ex, Anan, with the second-highest military honor In “The Godfather II,” Michael Corleone summed up the strategy: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” And that’s what Morsi was doing. That these two suddenly retired military men would be willing to sit for a photo op and accept their medals from the new president can only be taken as a strong signal to the remaining military: don’t even think about a coup. In other words, the last possible check on Islamist power in Egypt has now been unchecked.    

Yet as we have seen, the Obama administration feels “relief,” because the new military leader, reporting to the new Islamist president, espouses “cooperation with the United States.” But after so many wrong calls, what confidence can we have that the Obama administration has it right? Or that it will ever get it right? And what of the reporters who cover--or cover for, even cover-up for--the Obamans? What do any of them know? And will any of them ever be held accountable for their credulous reporting?  

How could they all have missed the reality of what was happening--this Islamist takeover of Egypt? How could they all have been so stupid?

Or maybe it wasn’t stupidity.

Next, in Part Two: New Uses for Useful Idiots.  


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