Shadow Government

Who’s Losing Egypt?

Egypt is chaotic and the blame rests on the Muslim Brotherhood, the opposition, the military and the Obama administration. 

The Islamists bear the most blame because they are the group that had the best chance to lift Egypt out of a cycle of oppression and violence by simply being what they said they would be when they eked out an electoral victory last year: democrats. They broke their word; indeed, they showed themselves to be exactly what their critics said they were: revanchist and violent religious bigots who, as Talleyrand said of the Bourbon court, "learned nothing and forgot nothing" --  in this case, about the reason for the revolution that overthrew Mubarak, as well as the aftermath that revealed a nation clamoring for an end to political oppression and economic ineptitude. The Brotherhood turned the Arab Spring's goal of a nascent democratic polity on its head by assuming their victory was a mandate (from heaven?) to create another radical Islamic republic like Iran -- this one Sunni. They even took time and effort to persecute Christians and repress women while bungling the economy all the while.  Small wonder that the 47 percent who voted against them took to the streets and many of their own supporters grew cold to them. 

Next up for blame is the opposition, especially the leaders, who, though rightly outraged at the actions of the Brotherhood, gambled that secretly calling on the military to oust Morsy would afford them a chance to put Egypt back on the path to a truly representative democratic state. This bet might have made some sense if the opposition had spent the last year catching up to the Brotherhood by unifying their forces and organizing politically so that they'd be ready for the next elections. But they did not do that in the interregnum between Mubarak's fall and the Brotherhood's victory and they failed again to do it while the Brotherhood was in power. They had left themselves with no option but to once again rely on the military to take power and take Egypt back almost to square one. Maybe they are Bourbons, too. 

And the military shares blame, of course.  It is understandable that this element of Egyptian society felt threatened by the rise to power of its long-time opponent, one that shamed it in 1981 by infiltrating the security forces and killing its head of state.  And I cannot blame them for thinking, as the opposition does, that the Brotherhood had its chance and now deserves to be eliminated from the political playing field.  Looking back at the 1989 to 1991 fall of the Communists, most of them could not reform themselves and I doubt the vast majority of the Brotherhood can either.   But Gen. el Sisi's apparent policy of massacring his opponents almost wholesale over a period of several days is not going to heal Egyptian society.  It is one thing to confront armed and violent members of the Brotherhood with lethal force; it is quite another to shoot down peaceful protestors in camps, such as the daughter of a Brotherhood leader.  Egypt is still on the road to building a state that is more democratic in nature-the Egyptians are unlikely to give up the vote now that they have it.  But we are a long way from that goal and in the meantime the military can afford to let protestors languish in camps for months if that is what it takes to preserve its role as defender of the people and honest broker.  And by all means, one way to demonstrate clearly that the military is on the side of all Egyptians is to turn that force on the Brotherhood thugs that have destroyed upwards of fifty churches since Morsy was removed. 

Last, but not least, and certainly most unhappily for the United States, the president bears considerable blame.  He worsened our standing in the Arab world by vacillating on every crisis in the Middle East to date; he persisted in his naiveté by trusting in the Brotherhood; he made a mockery of his foreign policy by appearing not to understand what a coup is; and he made a joke of U.S. law by pretending that if he doesn't use the word coup he doesn't have to suspend aid.  Four and half years of fecklessness and refusing to understand that the United States must lead in the world or no one else will has left us perilously short on prestige. And prestige is not some throwback to a monarch's bragging rights; it is a very real element of power by which nation-states husband the security of their citizens. Elliott Abrams and Donald Kagan explain this well in their very good volume on the topic. President Obama's administration has made clear its contempt for this concept and we are the less secure for it.

What are the costs of this attitude and these deeds? Egypt will now pass into a phase of being tutored and funded by the Gulf states; and Israel, Iraq and Jordan -- to varied but important degrees our only allies in the immediate vicinity -- have every reason to doubt our resolve. Israel must conclude that it is on its own; Jordan can only hope that Israel will help her; and Iraq has to decide if the ascendency of the radical Islamic powers and their thuggish minions means it will soon have to choose a side.

Nice work by a president who was going to preside over an administration that was to be so intensely "not Bush" that the world would voluntarily return to peace and harmony.   


Shadow Government

Is There an Inter-Agency Dispute Over the State Department's Iran Report?

According to expert testimony this summer before two House panels, the State Department's recent report on Iran's activities in the Western Hemisphere, which argues that the country's activities there are "waning," is marred by a lack of inter-agency unanimity. In two hearings (here and here) on the Congressionally mandated report on Iran in the Western Hemisphere both members and expert witnesses hotly contested State's conclusion.

The second hearing, which occurred on Aug. 1 before a joint House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, shed new light on what may be inter-agency disagreement about the content of the State Department report. 

Matthew Levitt, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, testified that the "people who wrote this report did not, in a timely manner, consult with people who have the information. Those people, both within the department and elsewhere are quite upset that they were not properly consulted."

Michael Braun, former Chief of Operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration followed by testifying that "the report was written in a vacuum. I don't think that the authors physically met with probably some of the most important players in town. It was poorly written by unseasoned, probably, analysts that contributed and I would sense that there wasn't a strong leadership involved as well."  

This is no small matter. The department claims, as it did in an Aug. 1 letter to Senator Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican, that the report "represents the clearest and most current assessment by the intelligence community on Iranian activities, capabilities, and intentions in the hemisphere." Both sides cannot be right.

At issue as well is the recent 500-page report released by Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman detailing how Iran has systematically built a clandestine intelligence network throughout the region "designed to sponsor, foster and execute terrorist attacks." Some members of Congress are upset that the State Department did not factor that tome into its report to Congress. 

A senior department official told the Miami Herald that the Nisman report was issued too late to be incorporated into their report but that it would review the report and "reassess" its present position if need be. Some believe that may provide State the opportunity to deflect ongoing Congressional criticism by producing a more serious assessment of Iranian activities in the hemisphere. That remains to be seen.

It is difficult to explain State's ostrich-like reaction to discussing Iranian activities in the hemisphere openly and forthrightly. It may be that they truly believe that Iranian activities in the region are "waning," despite the troubling evidence to the contrary. Or they may simply want to avoid openly discussing issues our neighbors in the region would rather not have to address publicly. Either possibility is simply unsatisfactory.

We are all adults here. Honestly assessing and responding to threats to regional stability and U.S. security constitutes neither alarmism nor waving the bloody shirt. Moreover, it is better to conduct that now, rather than after some preventable incident. Let's hope the State Department undertakes a serious reassessment of its report -- in which all relevant agencies, offices, and departments are allowed to contribute without a preordained conclusion.