By Barry Rubin
It’s the end of 2011 and also the end of the old order in the Middle East. It would be an exaggeration to say that it’s the end of U.S. interests in the region but it sure looks like the beginning of the end for a lot of them. The problem isn’t just Obama policy and the advance of revolutionary Islamism but the decline of the most basic logic and common sense in evaluating the world.
Here’s an example of how the mass media, Western foreign policy establishment, and Obama Administration miss the most obvious possible points as the Muslim Brotherhood (and lots of other enemies) run rings around them.
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Egyptian police and prosecutors raided the offices of 17 groups which are either “pro-democracy” movements or their Western funders. Two of the groups were the taxpayer-funded Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. (Talk about ways to antagonize the United States!) The U.S. government was outraged and protested.
A number of people were quoted but gave no clue to the real political significance of the event. They talked about how civil society groups played a central role in the revolution; how this is an attempt to stem protests.
The New York Times informs us: “The raids were a stark escalation in what has appeared to be a campaign by the country’s military rulers to rally support by playing to nationalist and anti-American sentiment here.” Talk about Western chauvinism! The newspaper only gave the names of the two U.S. groups and not a single one of the Egyptian organizations targeted! The Washington Post at least included another U.S. group, Freedom House, the German Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and two Egyptian nongovernmental organizations: the Arab Center for Independence of Justice and Legal Professions and the Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory.
But what does it all mean? Well, there are two ways to answer that question:
1. The military wants to keep control of the country and make itself more popular. Thus, the military is the main enemy for the U.S. interest that democracy be quickly instituted. Therefore, the U.S. government and media should demand that the junta turn over power faster to civilians. This is the media and Obama Administration response.
2. The army knows it is going to turn over power to the new parliament and president at some point between June 2012 and June 2013. The moderate forces have attacked the armed forces and portrayed it as the enemy. Yet the moderates lost the elections and are weak. Ultimately they cannot threaten the army’s privileges.
In contrast, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists are strong and won the election. They have made deals with the military; they no longer participate in the Tahrir demonstrations; the army has backed down to their demands on virtually every issue. The Islamists are willing to let the army have its economic power and privileges. It doesn’t mind corruption by the generals
And the Islamists also hate Western influence and know that this Western aid is benefitting their moderate rivals.
Consequently, the military is acting in its own interests in bashing critics while also objectively it helps the Islamists get rid of their mutual—albeit weak—rival and root out Western influence. Not only is this a win-win situation for the Islamists but the army takes the blame! And what is the West’s response? To demand that the civilians—that is, the Islamist victors in parliamentary elections—get power even faster!
In short, the result is a total win for Islamists (rivals get smashed, Western influence weakened; army blamed; power handed over sooner) ; largely a win for the army (since the Obama Administration won’t dare cut off aid); and total defeat for the moderates and the West.
Not a single mass media, foreign policy establishment, or government source will make that simple point.
And so while former British prime minister Tony Blair finally calls for helping the moderates, he’s a year late for Egypt and Tunisia and two or three years later for Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iran.
At a speech given in southwestern Iran, the country’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says what everyone in the Middle East knows
“Some of the regional governments, clinging to the hope that cooperation with the United States and its allies, and the implementation of their plans will help them stay in power, have been ensnared in a trap, which will finally” lead to their downfall in the hands of the United States.
But Ahmadinejad was not saying that they would be overthrown because of the wrath of their own people, which he has often claimed in the past. This time he said that they would fall because America would abandon them. He’s largely right, you know. So far the United States has accepted or even helped greater Islamist control over Egypt, the Gaza Strip, Iran, Libya, Syria, and Tunisia.
Well, true, the Saudis get to buy $30 billion in U.S. weapons to defend themselves against Iran since it knows Washington won’t do the job. I guess that’s clever salesmanship, perhaps Obama’s secret plan to fix the economy. You help create massive threats, show you won’t defend allies, and then charge them lots of money to buy weapons to defend themselves!
Has anyone seen a single article in the Boston Globe, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the Los Angeles Times,Newsweek, the New York Times, Time Magazine, or the Washington Post (with the possible exception of Jackson Diehl) that makes the opposite argument?
No? Well, here’s a more accurate assessment of that organization.
Among the things we don’t have to worry about are:
And finally for those who have read this long, here’s a quote from my 1982 book, The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict, pp. 162-163:
“…Despite the undemocratic nature of Arab leadership, there is no reason to accept the…argument that more responsive and representative regimes would have been more conciliatory [toward Israel]. If anything, greater faithfulness to ‘The Street’ would have created a greater degree of militancy. ”
Coverage of Egyptian raids:
Explanation of title: What American child didn’t grow up hearing the famous ad of that wonderful fruit-flavored serial: “Silly rabbit! Trix are for kids!” The rabbit would try various ruses or dress up in disguises (Distanced from Israel? Apologies for past U.S. policies? Friend of Islam?) But the kid would always uncover his plan, catch him, and deny him any cereal.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and Middle East editor and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books include Israel: An Introduction (Yale, 2012); The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).