Quotes of the day

President Obama played his fourth round of golf in five days on Thursday after breaking from his vacation to condemn the violence in Egypt.

After wrapping up his public address, in which he announced the cancellation of joint military exercises with Egypt next month, Obama departed for the Mink Meadows Golf Club in Vineyard Haven…

The round at Mink Meadows is Obama’s first; he has also played two rounds at the Vineyard Club in Edgartown and hit the links at Farm Neck on Sunday.


It is clear that the region’s old status quo, dominated by imperious rulers who fixed elections, ruled by fiat and quashed dissent, has been fundamentally damaged, if not overthrown, in the three years since the outbreak of the uprisings optimistically known as the Arab Spring. That was amply illustrated on Wednesday in Egypt, where a reversion to the repressive tactics of the past was met with deep outrage by Islamist protesters who had tasted empowerment.

What is unclear, however, is the replacement model. Most of the uprisings have devolved into bitter struggles, as a mix of political powers battle over the rules of participation, the relationship between the military and the government, the role of religion in public life and what it means to be a citizen, not a subject.

Middle East historians and analysts say that the political and economic stagnation under decades of autocratic rule that led to the uprisings also left Arab countries ill equipped to build new governments and civil society. While some of the movements achieved their initial goals, removing longtime leaders in four countries, their wider aims — democracy, dignity, human rights, social equality and economic security — now appear more distant than ever.


The current military government is much more ambitious, with its aim to dismantle the Brotherhood and destroy it as a political force. Unlike Mubarak, the generals have tapped into real, popular anger against the Brotherhood – after its many failures in power – and helped nurture that anger into something ugly and visceral. It’s no surprise when armies use force. That’s what armies do. But it is scary to see ordinary Egyptians, “liberal” political parties and much of the country’s media class cheering it on so enthusiastically.

Democratic transitions, even in the best of circumstances, are uneven, painful affairs. But it no longer makes much sense to say that Egypt is in such a transition. Even in the unlikely event that political violence somehow ceases, the changes ushered in by the July 3 military coup and its aftermath will be exceedingly difficult to reverse. The army’s interventionist role in politics has become entrenched. Rather than at least pretending to rise above politics, the military and other state bodies have become explicitly partisan institutions. This will only exacerbate societal conflict in a deeply polarized country. Continuous civil conflict, in turn, will be used to justify permanent war against an array of internal and foreign enemies, both real and imagined.


It’s important to note that the Egyptian military isn’t yet all in — for an example of an all-in, maximum-violence Middle East eradication campaign, please see Syria. But I don’t much doubt that the bloody crackdown on the Brotherhood will continue, despite the heartfelt pleas from the White House and the near daily phone calls from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. And one reason is Syria: Egyptian generals can’t help but notice that the world has stood idly by as Bashar al-Assad has presided over the deaths of some 100,000 Syrian citizens. In the Middle East, you can, in fact, get away with murder.

The Egyptian military will ultimately fail in its campaign to uproot the Brotherhood, because the group is quite popular in many sectors of Egyptian society and its members are expert at underground living. And the Egyptian military has given the Brotherhood something it seeks: mass martyrdom, which is the most potent motivational tool a theocratic movement has in its arsenal. Egypt is falling into ruin because the Brotherhood is anti-democratic, revanchist, anti-Christian and power-mad, and because the Egyptian military couldn’t conceive of a way to marginalize it without resorting to mass violence.

This leaves the U.S. in the difficult position of having no one to support.


Lynch’s assessment is endorsed by Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA expert in the region and a conservative commentator at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy. “For radical Islamists who thrive on tyranny, the Nile Valley has again become exceptionally fertile ground,” Gerecht says. “The secular crowd blew it. They can try to walk away from the military now … but it’s too late. Egyptian society is badly, probably irretrievably, polarized with the potential for horrendous violence. The secular crowd who thought they’d pulled off a ‘coup-volution’ with Morsi’s downfall have guaranteed that we only see devolution in Egypt, either to an increasing sad, morally corroding, impoverished society, where liberals have no future, or to an explosion that may consume the country.”…

In the saddest irony of all, the ultimate outcome could be a return to the Arab ancien regime: the pre-Arab Spring world of retrograde military rule, with radical Islamists as the generals’ chief opposition. “There have already been calls by extremists, such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, current chief of al-Qaida, to renounce the electoral box and rely on force as the most effective means to establish God’s kingdom on earth,” says Gerges. “Although the majority of Islamists will not buy Zawahiri’s faulty goods, some would do so out of rage at the hijacking of the toppling of the first democratically elected Islamist president in Egypt’s modern history.”

As it has for the last two years, the Obama administration is still struggling with the appropriate response. But the perception abroad is that the administration has vacillated without any coherent policy. Initially during the Arab Spring the administration defended its old autocratic allies, such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Yemen’s Ali Saleh. Then it moved to championing the young secularists in the street, with hopes of liberal democracy that now look as naive as the visions of the George W. Bush-era neoconservatives. After the election of Morsi, the administration lurched in yet another direction, embracing the Islamist president and the Muslim Brotherhood, even to the exclusion of secularists. And when Morsi was ousted on July 3, the administration avoided calling it a coup so as not to jeopardize its aid relationship with the Egyptian military.


[W]ith past administrations there was, at the very least, the media intuition that something was happening in foreign policy; the current media intuition is that despite episodic news events that must be reported on, nothing is happening.

Nothing is happening because Obama has no grand geopolitical conception. He and his top officials are not great European-style improvisers like Kissinger. They don’t have a plan for America, like Holbrooke had, to be a great moral force while promoting its geopolitical interests at the same time. They don’t intend to upend a utopian ideology (communism) like Reagan did. And unlike the elder Bush team, they have no design for stabilizing the world once that ideology was, in fact, upended. (After all, jihadism and terrorism are disease germs like malaria, which can be suppressed but probably not wholly eliminated. This is a different order of threat from communism.) In sum, Obama offers only a negative: I am not George W. Bush. He started wars. I will end them, and avoid future ones. I will kill individual terrorists as they crop up. That’s all, thank you.

And so Obama, because he has no overriding vision, is completely dependent on events falling his way. If the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks engineered by Kerry founder, if Iran’s new president proves a disappointment or a mere delayer, if there is a particularly significant terrorist attack, Obama will be remembered as a forgettable, ineffectual foreign policy president.


If a serious case could be made that Egpyt is headed towards stable, authoritarian rule, it would be one thing. In that instance, it might be plausible to invoke Henry Kissinger’s famous comment about Chile and add that a country shouldn’t be allowed to go hardline Islamist. But the problem is this: Is Obama being a realist when it comes to Egypt? Or is he being utterly unrealistic about what the future holds for Washington’s ties with Cairo? America’s track record, when it comes to supporting corrupt and authoritarian regimes, particularly in the Middle East, is a mixed one. Obama, you could even say, is inadvertently doing what he said he wanted to end in his Cairo speech: “empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, and…promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity.”

For Egypt appears to be headed toward, at best, an armed truce, and, at worst, a civil war. The Islamists are being further radicalized. America will be blamed. How does this end the “cycle of suspicion and discord” that Obama identified and lamented in June 2009?…

Obama, aloof as ever, wants nothing to do with foreign policy. But a renewed debate is going to erupt in America over continuing aid to what amounts to an armed junta in Egypt. Senator Rand Paul was widely ridiculed when he proposed an amendment ending aid to Egypt, but perhaps he no longer looks so ridiculous at a moment when the Washington Post is calling for suspending it until the generals move to restore democracy. At a minimum, Obama should threaten suspension. Surely he does not want to go down in history as the enabler of tyranny?


Sen. Rand Paul is hammering his fellow senators for keeping billions in financial aid flowing to Egypt’s military — even as Cairo’s security forces massacre anti-government activists.

“This is something that those who voted in Congress are going to have to live with,” Paul told The Cable on Thursday. “The question is: How does their conscience feel now as they see photographs of tanks rolling over Egyptian civilians?”…

“Congress is way out of touch on this issue,” said Paul. “These people who believe in projecting American power, really believe in projecting American weakness. They don’t want us to respond to words with actions or obey our own laws.”…

“For those who think more weapons is engaging us with the Egyptian people, ask an Egyptian,” he continued. “When you’re protesting in the streets and you’re run over by an American tank, you’re not going to be appreciative of American engagement.”


This refusal to take a firm stand against massive violations of human rights is as self-defeating for the United States as it is unconscionable. Continued U.S. support for the Egyptian military is helping to push the country toward a new dictatorship rather than a restored democracy. Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, the coup leader, increasingly is styling himself as a national savior in the mode of such former dictators asGamal Abdel Nasser; Wednesday’s bloody assault represents his crushing of civilian moderates in the interim cabinet who had called for compromise with Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Appropriately, their leader, Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, resigned.

It is difficult to imagine how the assault on the Brotherhood, which won multiple elections and is still supported by millions of Egyptians, can be followed by a credible transition to democracy. More likely, it will lead Egypt toward still greater violence. It may be that outside powers cannot now change this tragic course of events. But if the United States wishes to have some chance to influence a country that has been its close ally for four decades, it must immediately change its policy toward the armed forces. That means the complete suspension of all aid and cooperation, coupled with the message that relations will resume when — and if — the generals end their campaign of repression and take tangible steps to restore democracy.


[T]he U.S. should offer a firm and concrete ultimatum that future aid is conditioned on Egypt’s undertaking a series of changes. For starters, the Egyptian regime should unequivocally apologize for the slaughter of protesters; the officers who ordered Wednesday’s massacre should be held to account and court-martialed; and there should be no further willful mass killings. If Egypt doesn’t comply, 100 percent of the U.S.’s military aid should be suspended.

There are costs to cutting off aid. The U.S. would lose its leverage over Egypt — although leverage seems to have no value if it can’t be used at a time like this. The U.S. also risks losing valuable intelligence that Egypt’s military would otherwise provide about jihadist groups in the Sinai.

But the costs are worth it. The status quo is simply too problematic, pragmatically and morally. It’s time to threaten Egypt’s aid — and, if necessary, to suspend it.


Furious editorials demanding an immediate cutoff of aid to Egypt in both the New York Times and the Washington Post tell the tale. We still don’t get it. These papers, like the rest of America’s establishment, have learned nothing from our misplaced optimism about the Arab Spring. There were never any true liberals in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood was never moderate. The revolts were driven by economic failure, not a craving for democracy. Democracy failed because nobody in Egypt truly understood or wanted it to begin with

This leaves us naively hoping for a Middle Eastern future modeled on our own hugely different social assumptions. Not content to simply long for a “democratic transition,” we actually assume that one is taking place, even as events before our eyes disprove this fantasy at every stage. One man, one vote, one time. It happened in front of us, yet we refused to see it. Egypt’s secularists and military did see what was happening and took action. They weren’t democrats either, but at least they understood their opponents…

What we ought to be doing now is tending to America’s key interests and giving up ill-founded fantasies of liberal democracy in a still thoroughly illiberal region. In any case, Times and Post notwithstanding, our capacity to influence events in Egypt is fast disappearing. With their literal and political survival at stake, the actors on the ground are no longer much subject to what we have to say. The Gulf states are giving more money than we are, and they want the Brotherhood crushed. So whether the military stabilizes Egypt or we get a civil war, it’s now largely out of our hands. The best we can do is keep the treaty with Israel intact and the Suez Canal open and secure.




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