by Bruce Thornton
The New York Times headline on Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to Egypt said it all: “US Is in a Quandary.” That’s putting it mildly. Better words for this administration’s foreign policy are “confused,” “contradictory,” and “delusional.”
Start with Clinton’s meeting with newly elected Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi. Clinton suggested to the Muslim Brother that breaking the war of wills with the military leaders running the show for now requires “dialogue and compromise, real politics.” The US, she added, would strive to “support the democratically elected government and to help make it a success in delivering results for the people of Egypt.” Morsi was happy to listen to Clinton chanting the “democratically elected government mantra,” given the $1.5 billion in aid given Egypt every year, and the promise of even more “economic assistance.”
The unexamined and delusional assumptions in the administration’s approach to Egypt are legion. The first and most important is the magical thinking that a “democratic election” in a country lacking democratic traditions, principles and beliefs is anything more than machinery for redistributing power. This mistake, by the way, transcends political party. It compromised George Bush’s foreign policy as well, which relied on simplistic notions of “democracy” and “freedom” for its policies across the region. Not even the disaster of “free elections” empowering the terrorist outfit Hamas in Gaza could disabuse the administration of this article of faith.
The Obama administration continues to make the same mistake. It works off a simplistic calculus in which “dictators” are bad and “democratically elected governments” are good. The legitimate calculation, however, is which form of rule serves the security and national interests of the United States. If a country has beliefs and principles compatible with democratic government, then it is more likely to serve our interests, or at least not actively subvert them. If not, however, then promoting “democratic elections” will very likely unleash forces in a country damaging to those interests.
What the democracy peddlers forget is that in a true liberal democracy, elections are just the expression of political principles and ideals, the most important being the basic rights all humans possess by virtue of being human, such as freedom of speech and religion, which cannot be taken away by the government, nor limited because of race, sex, belief, or religious creed. Next, in a liberal democracy violence is proscribed as an instrument of politics, replaced by law and procedures subjected to statutory limits and accountability. These core beliefs naturally lead to the idea of tolerance for those holding different ideas or beliefs, with conflict decided through non-violent political processes that involve negotiation and compromise, with everybody respecting the outcome and working for change through the political process. All these principles must be second nature to citizens in true democracies.
These obvious truths from Political Science1 should have suggested to our political leaders that they exercise prudence in dealing with the recent revolutions in the Middle East, and put our own interests and security at the center of our policies. But addled with the heady wine of democracy promotion, Obama used American cruise missiles to remove Muammar Gadaffi, a murderous thug who nonetheless had been behaving himself as far as our interests were concerned. What we got in his place is congeries of militias and terrorist outfits like the al Qaeda-affiliated Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which includes veteran killers of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq; and thousands of assault rifles, machine guns, mines, grenades, antitank missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles capable of bringing down commercial airliners flooding the black markets throughout the Middle East. Meanwhile, the head of the Libyan National Transition Council has announced, “The constitution will be based on our Islamic religion,” which means gender apartheid, the death penalty for “apostates,” and virulent hatred of America and Israel.
Despite that debacle, Obama went ahead and abandoned Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, another murderous thug who nonetheless had maintained the cold peace with Israel and kept a lid on the Islamist Muslim Brothers. First, the Brothers were magically transformed, in the words of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, into “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.” This is the same organization whose Supreme Guide, Muhammad al-Badi’, has preached that the “improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue life.” After the Brothers and other Salafist parties took 70% of the vote in the first round of elections, other commentators counseled us not to worry, since the responsibility of governing would require pragmatism and compromise in order to deliver the social order and economic boons for which the Egyptian people were presumably pining. Sadly, we indulged this same delusion back in 1979 with the Iranian revolution, when the Islamist fundamentalism of the Ayatollah Khomeini was dismissed as mere rhetoric. Iran’s continuing genocidal rhetoric, brutal suppression of dissent, and march to the possession of nuclear weapons should make the folly of that mistake obvious.
Apparently not, though, since we’re repeating that same error in our handling of Egypt, where free elections have brought that country no nearer to true liberal democracy. What we have got instead is increasing persecution and murder of Coptic Christians, the facilitation of terrorist attacks on Israel, and violent attacks on protestors and dissidents. As for the nature of this new “democracy,” given that 60% of Egyptians in a Pew poll from last year say that laws should strictly follow the teachings of the Koran, we can bet that it won’t look anything like what we imagine a true democracy to be. And we shouldn’t be surprised, given the Muslim Brothers’ draft platform of 2007, which proclaimed that “Islam is the official state religion” and “the Islamic sharia is the main source for legislation.” Clearly a majority of Egyptians agree with the Muslim Brothers about the kind of political-social order they have voted for, and it’s not a democratic one.
Hence the fatuity of Clinton’s call for “dialogue and compromise, real politics,” or the administration’s statement from last year accepting “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.” Such ideals we take for granted require a deep soil of principles and beliefs that in the West took centuries to develop. Nor is there anything in Muslim history, theology, or jurisprudence to indicate compatibility between these liberal democratic ideals and Islam.
On the contrary, Western ideals like the separation of church and state, with its attendant principle of tolerance and equal rights for those of different faiths, are anathema to traditional Islam. If, as the Koran teaches, Muslims are the “best of nations” and their faith the expression of a perfect social-political-economic order revealed by Allah himself and evident in the life and sayings of his prophet Mohammed, why should any true Muslim “tolerate” infidels? As for human rights, the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam makes it clear that the only Islamic “human right” is the right to live as a devout Muslim in harmony with Sharia law, or to hear the “call” to Islamic conversion without interference or temptation from decadent Western cultures. This sort of triumphalist chauvinism makes “politics” as we understand it — non-violent “dialogue,” compromise with those who believe differently, and acceptance of their success — nothing but irreligious folly.
Obama’s Middle East policy has been an abject failure. His “outreach” to the Muslim world, replete with groveling flattery of Islam, has created nothing but contempt for his weakness. His assault on our key ally Israel, the only true liberal democracy in the region, has earned no credit with the states that still refuse to accept Israel’s existence. His chummy relationship with Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan ignores that country’s increasing Islamization and hostility to Israel. Meanwhile, Iran continues down the road to nuclear weapons, and Bashar al Assad keeps slaughtering his citizens. And through it all, the United States has little or no influence on events.
Rather than chanting the mantra of “democracy,” our foreign policy establishment needs to deal with reality rather than wishes, and predicate policy on one core principle: what serves the national interests and security of our country?
©2012 Bruce S. Thornton