By Barry Rubin
Not only is the Obama Administration, as I’ve written for the last year, favoring radical Islamist forces–despite the fact that these are anti-Western, pro-terrorism, building dictatorships, and openly antisemitic and anti-Christian–but now even the establishment media is admitting it.
A friend of mine said, “Oh, they are probably saying that the Brotherhood is sounding radical publicly but privately reassuring U.S. officials that they are moderate.”
“No,” I replied. “That’s the old way of doing things when it was important to be, or at least to pretend to be, somewhat balanced. Now they say that the Brotherhood sounds moderate both publicly–ignoring all evidence to the contrary–and privately. Those who disagree are merely Republicans trying to defeat Obama in the election, and so should be ignored. The mass media today in such matters is worse than our worst nightmares of a decade ago.”
And so for the first time in U.S. history an American government, to the applause of the vast majority of the mass media, is backing an anti-American authoritarian movement. Here’s how the New York Times explains it:
“The Obama administration has begun to reverse decades of mistrust and hostility as it seeks to forge closer ties with an organization [the Muslim Brotherhood] once viewed as irreconcilably opposed to United States interests.”
Any serious foreign policy analyst should see three red flags in this paragraph:
First, of course the U.S. government must deal with Egypt’s government but that doesn’t mean it should publicly proclaim that the Brotherhood is a nice group and give what amounts to an unconditional endorsement of it.
Indeed, the Obama Administration and media are using a cheap trick. They confuse the proper, responsible policy of dealing with those in power wihile doing something quite beyond that: a self-destructive policy of rushing to insist that sworn enemies of freedom and the United States are really nice guys and there’s no problem with having them in power.
As I’ve written before, it’s possible to elect a dictatorship. The Egyptian people have a right to do so but that doesn’t mean the West should like it.
Doesn’t anyone remember that the Obama Administration has been apologizing for all the bad regimes America supported in the past? Now Obama is using the exact same argument: claiming that we must be nice to them because they are in power. What’s the difference between that and the historic relationship to the Mubarak regime? At least Mubarak supported U.S. interests. These people don’t. They have openly supported murdering Americans, especially in Iraq!
In 1979 an Islamist revolution occurred in Iran. The United States quickly recognized that new regime and tried to be buddies with it. We all know how that worked out.
Second, why should the burden of reversing “decades of mistrust and hostility” be exclusively on the United States. Doesn’t the Brotherhood, which benefits from U.S. engagement, need to do that also or even beforehand? Why is there no conditionality here, no hint that the Obama Administration or New York Times understands how hostile the Brotherhood has been and continues to be? If the U.S. president won’t demand a quid pro quo (something in exchange for his concessions) who is going to look after U.S. interests?
Third, by saying the Brotherhood was “once viewed as irreconcilably opposed to United States interests” the author suggests this is no longer true. We know that the Obama Administration thinks the Brotherhood has changed. Yet there is no evidence in terms of deeds, ideology, or statement made in Arabic that the Brotherhood has done so.
Thus, Obama has given away all U.S. leverage and assets beforehand, just as he did by announcing a year ago, during the revolution’s opening days, that he would be happy to accept a Muslim Brotherhood government.
So the Brotherhood’s moderation is assumed. The science is settled; the debate is over.
“The reversal also reflects the administration’s growing acceptance of the Brotherhood’s repeated assurances that its lawmakers want to build a modern democracy that will respect individual freedoms, free markets and international commitments, including Egypt’s treaty with Israel.”
Wow, yes that’s it. The Obama Administration believes what the Brotherhood says and not what has been said by Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and others including many moderate Egyptians. No one has bothered to look at the actual radical record of Brotherhood lawmakers in the last parliament! Obama has chosen his friends and he’s on the wrong side.
“And at the same time it underscores Washington’s increasing frustration with Egypt’s military rulers, who have sought to carve out permanent political powers for themselves and used deadly force against protesters seeking an end to their rule.”
This is nonsense. Of course, the military has used force, though rarely deadly force. But what evidence is there that the military wants “permanent political powers”? On two occasions it put forth some demands and then retreated within a few hours when pushed by the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet even when moderates protested in the thousands the army either ignored them or broke up the demonstrations.
Doesn’t this tell you something?
In fact, the administration has only criticized and pressured the army, not the Islamists. So here’s an understatement:
“…As the Brotherhood moves toward an expected showdown with the military…over who should control the interim government—the newly elected Parliament or the ruling military council—the administration’s public outreach to the Brotherhood could give the Islamic movement in Egypt important support. It could also confer greater international legitimacy on the Brotherhood.”
It only took a year to figure that out. Yes, the Brotherhood gains more support because of U.S. policy. Some Egyptians argue the Americans back the Brotherhood so they might as well join the winning side. Others argue that the Brotherhood has intimidated the Americans so they are heroes who should be supported.
In other words, Obama isn’t just observing but is affecting events. Now, note how the Obama Administration avoids this issue:
“It would be `totally impractical’ not to engage the Brotherhood `because of U.S. security and regional interests in Europe,’ a senior administration official” said. But we are not talking about holding talks, we’re talking about becoming apologists for Islamism, a position announced and defended in a detailed explanation by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It is entirely predictable that as the revolutionary Islamists take anti-American and dicatorial stances the Western media will underreport them and the Obama Administration will ignore them, if only to defend the mistaken ideas they hold and the mistaken policy Obama has staked out.
Notice the use of the word “engage.” Earlier, the Obama Administration spent much of its effort engaging Iran and Syria, claiming this was necessary. One thing about this president, and the complicit media, is that they never examine past failures when the precise same strategy is repeated (domestic example: “Stimulus” followed by “Jobs Bill.”)
How do we supposedly know the Brotherhood is moderate? Because that is what it tells the Western journalists and diplomats. But that’s not what it tells the Egyptian people or its own members: “the official said.…`They’ve been very specific about conveying a moderate message’….” Indeed, the State Department tells us that the Brotherhood has pledged to maintain “universal human rights” and previous Egyptian government commitments, presumably the peace treaty with Israel.
And, of course, the Brotherhood would never lie to U.S. officials in secret, easily deniable and non-binding chats that run totally contrary to the policies its leaders have advocated every day for decades (including the same week as this New York Times article appeared) and that fit its ideology. The fact that they doubt Obama would do anything about it if they trampled those commitments also makes them less likely to keep such promises.
The fact that Senator John Kerry is leading this effort is even scarier. He has been wrong about every Middle Eastern issue, notably his failed engagement policy with Syria and Iran. Might Kerry learn something from this experience about how radical forces can lie to you and manipulate you into supporting their repressive regimes?
Of course not.
Will anyone in the mass media compare Kerry’s positions on engaging Iran and Syria with his making the same mistake now by engaging the Arab Islamists?
Again, of course not. So the public won’t hear people say: Hey, hasn’t this policy already failed twice under this administration?
Kerry’s foolishness is endless. He told the reporter, “The Brotherhood’s leaders said they were eager to work with the United States and other Western countries, especially in economic areas.” Oh, they want American money. If that doesn’t prove they’re moderate what does?
And here’s an interesting twist, the kind of thing that makes the New York Times the kind of newspaper it is:
“The administration’s willingness to engage with the Brotherhood could open President Obama to new attacks by Republicans who are already accusing him letting Islamists take over a pivotal ally. Some analysts, though, said the overtures amounted to a tacit admission that the United States should have begun such outreach to the region’s Islamist opposition long ago.”
Did you catch that?
First, the Republicans (boo!) will criticize Obama without any basis and, second, the real mistake was that the United States (Bush?) should have engaged Islamists even sooner!
So the idea that Obama is wrong about the Brotherhood is dismissed a mere partisanship. Thus, there need be no actual discussion of whether this charge is true! The Times readers are conditioned to reject anything associated with Republicans. The idea that Obama let (I prefer the words “helped,” cheered,” and “declared harmless”) Islamists take over a pivotal ally is now officially banished. And if you hear someone say otherwise, know that he is a Republican trying to sabotage Obama so ignore that person. Immediately put hands over ears.
Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, is the person quoted as arguing that the United States missed chances to build ties to “moderate Islamists” earlier. Should America apologize for keeping the Brotherhood waiting? And what about the effort to build ties with “moderate Islamists” like Hizballah, the Iran regime, and Syria’s government which is not Islamist but allied with the Islamist bloc?
But here’s Hamid’s really interesting point: “Now the Brotherhood knows it is in a stronger position and it is almost as if the U.S. is chasing them and they are sitting pretty.”
Yes, that’s it. They view Obama policy not as one of friendship but of weakness. Thus, they will make no concession—except patience and mouthing soothing words in English—in the pursuit of their radical, anti-American agenda.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, will be published by Yale University Press in January. Latest books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com
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