Politics & Policy

Talk Like an Egyptian

And sound like a neocon.

In his remarks following the resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak last week, President Obama echoed the pro-democracy protestors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. When he said, “something in our souls . . . cries out for freedom,” he sounded a lot like George W. Bush. The Wall Street Journal quipped: “We are all neocons now.”

Well, maybe not all. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is snuffing out the Cedar Revolution — a body blow to American and European strategic interests, not to mention what this means for the people of Lebanon.

Gazans went to the polls five years ago, when President Bush was vigorously promoting his Freedom Agenda. But elections in an un-free environment produced only a parody of democracy: one man, one vote, one time. The leaders of Hamas, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and a terrorist militia pretending also to be a political party, were happy to have voters hand them power. They do not plan to let voters take that power away again anytime soon. 

Turkey’s 80-year-old experiment with secularism appears to be over. Statues of Kemal Atatürk, modern Turkey’s founding father, still stand, but the AKP, an Islamist party that has held power since 2003, is strangling Kemalism, and the Turkish military no longer has the strength to break its grip. In recent days, more than 150 serving and retired military officers have been arrested. Meanwhile, it’s been reported that the Turkish army will start training the army of Syria, a client of Iran. Yet Turkey remains a member of NATO.

Iran’s rulers believe — not without justification — that they are spearheading a global revolution against the Great Satan, the Little Satan, and all the Satans in between. They believe nuclear weapons will assist this effort — also not without justification. They treat domestic dissidents more brutally than Mubarak ever dreamed of doing. Nevertheless, this week tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets chanting, “Death to the dictator!” Members of the Iranian parliament called for the two most prominent opposition leaders to be sentenced to death for stirring unrest. The regime prohibited coverage by major media. Submissively, major media gave the demonstrations short shrift. Obama, on this occasion, offered a few words of praise for the protestors’ “courage.”

In Pakistan, portraits of the nation’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, hang in thousands of offices and classrooms. But those who remain committed to his vision of a homeland for Muslims that also is free and tolerant toward non-Muslims are an increasingly endangered species.

And in Arabia, the long-ruling al-Saud family fights terrorism with one hand and funds it with the other.

Obama, last week, waxed optimistic. He said that in Egypt, “the moral force of nonviolence . . . bent the arc of history toward justice once more.” The examples above, however, suggest that an immoral force of violence is bending a competing arc of history toward Islamist totalitarianism.

No national-security challenge looms larger. Yet key advisers to Obama seem clueless. Testifying before Congress last week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was asked about the Muslim Brotherhood — an organization that is to Islamism what the Comintern was to Communism. He called the Brotherhood “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence.” A spokesman was later sent out from the director’s office to “clarify” that ludicrous statement. Your tax dollars at work.

Your money also has been invested in Egypt’s military. Over the past three decades, American officers should have taught Egyptian officers, by word and example, what it means to be a professional soldier: The U.S. military is stronger, not weaker, because it doesn’t aspire to run the government, because it keeps politics and politicians at arm’s length.

The mission of Egypt’s military at this juncture ought to be straightforward: Clear a space in which a democratic culture can develop — and then protect that space from anti-democratic forces. Egypt’s ruling officers should guarantee freedom of speech, the press, and worship — not least for Egypt’s persecuted Christian minority. They should make it possible for new political parties to organize and put forward ideas, principles, policies, and candidates in safety.

If Egypt’s military is not up to this task, America’s investment has been wasted. It’s nice, I suppose, that there are Egyptian pilots who can fly F16s, but, really, how does that benefit the average Egyptian or American?

And no, I don’t buy the argument that we equipped and trained the Egyptian military in exchange for a promise not to use that equipment and training against Israel. Egypt’s military leaders are not stupid. They know it would not be in their interest, or Egypt’s, to fight another war against the Jewish state. They know that even with guns and skills made in America they likely would lose were they to attack people whose back is against the wall — almost literally. Another Egyptian defeat would bring humiliation and other inconveniences. 

Of course, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood take a different view. Sacrificing a generation or two of Egyptians in exchange for the annihilation of the Zionist entity would, in their calculation, represent a bargain — not for the Egyptian nation but for the Islamic world.

How can American power be used to support those in Egypt and elsewhere who share our commitment to human rights? How can American power be used to weaken the enemies of freedom — those who want to destroy us, our allies, and the entire democratic experiment?

The answer to those questions is the foundation upon which coherent, effective policies can be constructed and implemented. But that requires not just talking like an Egyptian. It also means walking the walk. And, yes, those who do that will look a lot like neocons.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism. © 2011 Scripps Howard News Service

Clifford D. MayClifford D. May is an American journalist and editor. He is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ...


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