American influence in the Middle East is ebbing fast. Dr. Henry Kissinger must find it painful to listen to the news. As secretary of state he managed to detach the Arab world from the Soviet grip and neutralize Arab nationalism. He achieved this end by proving to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt that more was to be gained from friendship with the United States than from hostility. Here was an example of the basic grounding of diplomacy between states that friends are to be rewarded and enemies punished. Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, understood this very well, and even Syrian President Hafez Assad, by nature truly antiAmerican, was prepared to join the anti-Saddam Hussein coalition for the sake of what he could then gain.
The Muslim Brothers are every bit as antiAmerican as Arab nationalists, and their Islamist expression of it is only coloring. When President Obama made it plain that he preferred the Muslim Brothers to Mubarak, he was rewarding natural enemies and dumping allies, in effect overturning Kissinger’s achievement. The more Obama speechifies about “inclusion” and “democracy,” the more he encourages the Muslim Brothers to act with impunity, and the more he puts on the spot General Abdul Fattah Sisi, Egypt’s new rais, or leader. So the stakes rise. On one hand, Muslim Brothers have shot and killed 70 security agents or policemen, and use mosques as torture chambers and snipers’ posts, and on the other hand General Sisi widens the arrest of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and is even setting about reprieving Mubarak. Throngs of Egyptians who a couple of months ago were pro-America now demonstrate shouting, “Death to America.”
Exclusive and ideologically antidemocratic, the Muslim Brothers are not convincing when they claim to be defending democracy. But Obama’s stance is in the process of convincing former friends of the United States to put in place a different balance of power. The Saudi prince responsible for high policy has even rushed to Moscow, as Egyptian president Nasser would have done in bad old days. The presumption has to be that the United States now has no strategic or economic interest in the Middle East, and is willing to let the Muslim Brothers do their worst.