Monday, January 6, 2014

Defending Obama's Middle East Policy

Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon do not, officially, speak for the Obama administration. Yet, they both served as important counterterrorism officials during Obama’s first term.

Benjamin worked on counterterrorism in Hillary Clinton’s State Department. Simon was a senior director for North Africa and the Middle East at the National Security Council.

Today, both men speak only for themselves, but, at the least, they give us some insight into the mindset of the crack Obama foreign policy team. Keep in mind, this team was running American foreign policy during the Arab Spring. How did that work out?

At a time when al Qaeda is running wild throughout the Middle East and Libya, at a time when most people, left and right, have correctly identified the cause as the power vacuum left by America’s withdrawal from the region, Benjamin and Simon blame it all on…  you guessed it… the Egyptian military and the Tea Party.

No kidding. No joke. Chagrined to see the Egyptian military taking the fight to the terrorist group called the Muslim Brotherhood, Benjamin and Simon declare that repressing terrorist groups is bad because it leads to a proliferation of terrorism. They even suggest that if the violence that is engulfing the region today spills over to the West, the fault will lie with the Egyptian military.

In their words:

As the violence increases, and the radicalization of Islamists deepens, Egypt’s crisis threatens to add fuel to the ongoing terrorist activity across North Africa and to spawn a new wave of attacks against Western targets just as the anti-Islamist crackdown that began in the late 1970s aided the rise of Al Qaeda.

Of course, the Obama administration actively supported the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian military has declared it a terrorist organization and has indicted its leaders for inciting violence. As we speak, it is hard at work trying to suppress the godfather of Islamic terrorist organizations.

Benjamin and Simon believe that repression always breeds rebellion. It’s an old narrative. It goes back to Hegel. It shines through in Marxist thinking.

Many intellectuals glom on to the narrative and impose it on reality. They did it in 1989 when the Chinese government cracked down violently on democracy protesters in Tienanmen Square. At the time, semi-serious thinkers like Nicholas Kristof predicted that the crackdown would surely lead to an uprising against the autocrats who were ruling China.

How did that prophecy work out? Keep in mind, the democracy demonstrators had what we would consider perfectly legitimate goals. The Muslim Brotherhood does not.

Benjamin and Simon offer their narrative-driven perspective on events in Egypt:

The situation in Egypt is bound to worsen and the military clearly knows this, though some delude themselves that enough brutality will bring submission. Criminalizing the Brotherhood, which renounced violence in the 1970s and honored that pledge through the inept tenure of President Mohamed Morsi, shows that a line has been crossed, and that the army’s promises of a return to democracy were empty.

The turn against the Brothers is a fateful error. Repression coupled with political exclusion has long been understood to drive radicalization, and the great hope of the Arab Spring was that the passing of the authoritarian regimes would put an end to arbitrary rule and brutality. Instead, the war against the Brotherhood will make violence the rational choice for fence-sitters.

Note the way the authors mention that the Brotherhood renounced violence. As its leaders are being put on trial for fomenting violence, do you still think that the Brothers should be taken at their word? And if we are going to take them at their word should we take literally what they say about Israel and Jews? And doesn’t the Brotherhood support wife beating and female genital mutilation? Shouldn’t that count as violence?

And why do these authors believe that the Muslim Brotherhood is the best hope for democracy in Egypt? 

Since Benjamin and Simon used to work for the Obama administration, they are naturally inclined to shift the blame to Republicans, especially Tea Party Republicans like Michele Bachmann:

Western governments must recognize the real possibility that a new cycle of conflict could produce more terrorists who wish to target Americans and the West. Rightly or wrongly, Islamists view the status quo as supported — even engineered — by the United States. It doesn’t help when American lawmakers like Michele Bachmann visit Egypt to praise the military regime and condemn the Brotherhood, as she did recently.

Astonishing… The Middle East is an unfolding catastrophe. The New York Times yesterday reported correctly that a goodly part of the fault lies with the Obama administration. And two former high officials in the Obama administration blame it on Michele Bachmann. 

Obviously, they had no problem when Hillary Clinton traveled to Egypt to embrace Mohamed Morsi when he was elected president of Egypt. For all we know, it was their idea.

If these two writers represent the thinking of the Obama administration it’s no wonder that the Middle East is going up in flames.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

After the fall of Fallujah to the black flag, Obama's Middle East policy is indefensible. And that's just the latest news...

What he's reeling from is the consequence of posturing himself as an all-powerful communicator and conciliator, and the efficacy he said would occur by abandoning the traditional American geopolitical strategy of stability.

It's a failure. And a disaster.