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1979–81 Redux?



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The Obama administration should call in Jimmy Carter to give them a briefing on what follows the end of a pro-U.S. authoritarian regime in the Middle East. The administration had better very carefully plan for all contingencies in Egypt. Thanks to brilliant political maneuvering, the “largely secular” Muslim Brotherhood — which, in early-Khomeini fashion, serially insisted that they were not interested in political power even as they grabbed it — has outsmarted both the military and the so-called secularists. For now, they control the country at the center of the Arab world, whose population exceeds 80 million and whose military is supplied by America.

The Brotherhood will, once it carefully consolidates power, begin Islamicizing the country in the mold of Hamas and Turkey, as it thanks the West for supporting democratic elections that brought it into power but, of course, will never again be held so freely and openly. If trends continue, we may see an arc of Islamic “republics” from Turkey all the way through the Middle East to the Atlantic Ocean, all brought to power through the toppling of corrupt authoritarians, followed by “free elections,” followed by subversion of the revolution, Iranian-style.

At some far-off day, of course, the proverbial “people” may tire of sharia law and Islamism, as they have in Iran, but that will be long after most of us are dead. The oil-rich Gulf sheiks will hedge as they always do; on the one hand they don’t like any elections, but on the other, they can claim their sharia-based monarchies are the ideal that the Brotherhood is striving for. We haven’t seen a conventional war in the Middle East since 1973, but if Syria follows the Egypt/Libya model, the ingredients for it — a multi-front alliance against Israel — will be there again. This time the aggressors would be armed, in part, with U.S. rather than Soviet weapons. 

We should assume that the Brotherhood will insist that we continue massive aid to Egypt, given their democratic rise to power, even as they call for the recapture of Jerusalem and a new holy war against Israel. And if a poll were taken in Egypt, I’d imagine that most people there would favor the soon-to-be-nuclear Iranian theocracy over the West, making the old calculus that the Arab strongmen want Iran denuclearized more than we do sort of obsolete. I think we will soon discover that the Shiite/Sunni split does not compare to the new anti-Western zeal of these infant Islamic republics, which, if it came down to it, would rather see Iran go nuclear than the West prevent it from doing so.

At this point, we have few if any options. Perhaps we could engage carefully with the Muslim Brotherhood, cutting back 10 percent in our aid for each step it takes to dismantle the democratic process that empowered it. That probably won’t take long.



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