Obama’s Middle East Mess

When we don’t support our potential allies and encourage constitutional rule, Egypt is the result.

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online


In Egypt the Obama administration has managed to alienate the military, secular constitutionalists, the Islamists, and the proverbial street all at once. How and why?

First, we have never articulated a consistent policy in the Middle East, partly because we cannot distinguish constitutional government from one-vote/one-time plebiscites.

Second, this administration seems to harbor a distrust of governments that are more secular than not, and are pro-Western, as if they might somehow might be inauthentic or imposed from abroad.

Third, our Middle East policy, such as it is, is just a loud “reset,” as if not being George Bush means anything at all.

Country by country, chaos and violence arise, as our stature sinks.

Qaddafi was a monster, but a monster in rehabilitation who might have been coaxed and prodded to have the next generation of Qaddafis morph into a more transparent society. Getting rid of him became the aim, without any thought of what might follow, much less any concrete plan of engagement to ensure something better. The result was Benghazi and a Mogadishu-like failed state overrun by Islamists and terrorists.

In Iraq, we simply ran away, without a residual force to engage and keep the Maliki government on a constitutional course; the result is that Iraqi airspace belongs to our enemies and we have no influence — and no mechanism to monitor resurgent al-Qaeda groups that we once obliterated in that country.

In Iran, for some reason, we did not support the pro-Western reform movements in the summer of 2009, and de facto legitimized the anti-American theocrats. The result is that we earned contempt from the Islamists and bitterness from their opponents — as Iran races toward nuclear capability.

In Egypt, we suddenly turned on Mubarak, but did not insist that the ascendant Muslim Brotherhood respect consensual government, and then were surprised when they proved to be as predictably thuggish as their nature. The result of this flip-flop-flip is that we are reduced to playing word games about coups, and lacked the courage to cut loose the Muslim Brotherhood, whose master plan all along was to turn a minority win in a plebiscite into something like the post-Shah Iranian elections and theocracy.

Now we can only hope that the military restores order, and soon restores a constitution, with elections on the distant horizon that do not lead to a repeat of the Morsi takeover. (As a general rule, American-trained revolutionaries like Morsi are not more sympathetic to the country that gave them sanctuary, nourished them, and allowed them to prosper. More often, they ignore magnanimity and instead turn on us with loud soapbox speeches on Western decadence. Everything in Morsi’s past history, both while in the U.S. and abroad, predicted what he became.)

In Turkey we have kept quiet as Erdogan has systematically undermined the constitutional state, and dreams of carving out an Islamist Ottoman hegemony in the eastern Mediterranean.

In Syria redlines turned into pink lines, as the aim apparently was to get rid of Assad by bluster — an even more feeble policy than lead-from-behind in Libya, given that we neither had the will to remove Assad nor, had we removed him, could we have forged any secular consensual replacement. Who knows the nightmare to come if the Benghazi investigations finally disclose details about weapons transported to Libya with U.S. facilitation that are now making their way into Syria?

Our policy at this point should be to support constitutional government and the rule of law — and to assume Islamist movements of all types simply do not share those goals, and never will, as we see with Hamas, which sought plebiscites to find legitimacy for their subsequent lawlessness and illegitimacy.

The tragedy is that lots of reformers in Iran, former American allies in Iraq, Christians in Syria and Egypt, and pro-Western secularists in North Africa have had very little support, while we blustered, pontificated, sermonized, and did nothing other than legitimize those who went after them and despise us.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His latest book is The Savior Generals, published this spring by Bloomsbury Press.

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