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January 5, 2012 2:03 pm

President Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood

avatar by Arik Elman

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Barack Obama speaks in Cairo. Photo: Chuck Kennedy.

Turns out, Senator Lieberman’s compliment to Israel, delivered on behalf of the White House, was, apparently, rather premature. Despite Washington’s wishes, Jerusalem has no intention to open a dialogue with the main benefactors of the Tahrir revolution – the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. This decision puts Israel, again, at sharp odds with Obama administration, which has just sent a friend request to the Brotherhood.

Not being too eager to put a presidential face stamp on this new policy of engaging virulent anti-Semites and oppressors of women, the administration has found its spokesman in Senator John Kerry. Fresh from his attempts to orchestrate the transfer of the Golan Heights to the “reform-minded” and “trustworthy” regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has had no problem offering his expert analysis on all things Arab – according to Kerry, the Islamization of the Arab politics throughout the Middle East is “the new reality”, so America must adjust to dealing with “democratic governments that don’t espouse every policy or value you have”.

Of course, this unpleasant task can be made easier if you pretend that your new partner is, in fact, much more amenable to reason than he really is. That’s why the administration is playing the role of public relations agent for the Brotherhood, taking at face value its promises to “respect individual freedoms” and even to keep the peace with Israel. Once, long, long ago, the administration’s expressions of faith in the Israeli commitment to peace were much less enthusiastic than today’s cheerleading for the political movement that proclaims as its credo “Allah is our objective; the Quran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader; Jihad is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations.” How they must be laughing in Cairo.

In Israel, this display of gullibility is met with increasing desperation. Recalling that just a year ago President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton had dismissed their warnings about the inevitable Islamist accession after Mubarak, Israel’s National Security Council has recommended to Prime Minister Netanyahu to try to “educate” Obama on what the “Ikhwan” really means for the future of Egypt and for the peace with Israel. Not too subtly, the English website of the Israeli daily “Israel Today”, widely regarded as supportive of Netanyahu, has illustrated this report with a decidedly non-presidential photo of Obama. Nevertheless, even the Netanyahu-bashing “Haaretz” took a break from bemoaning the onset of the dark night of Jewish fascism to declare that “Allah won” and to blame Obama for his decision “to stick a knife in Mubarak’s back”.  Right now, in Israel, there are simply no takers for the idea (apparently, still quite popular in Washington) that Obama and his team know what they want in the Middle East and have a plan on how to get there.

It’s not as if the current management of the only superpower didn’t have any previous data on the prevailing trends in Arab democracy. In fact, precisely such an experiment was conducted by the Bush administration, when it forced Israel to agree to “free and fair” democratic elections for the Palestinian parliament in January 2006. In spite of the Oslo Accords that prohibited Hamas from participating in government as long as it doesn’t renounce violence, Washington insisted that the elections will be inclusive, and got its wish – and then some. The decisive Hamas win left the United States with no viable policy option and opened the gates of Hell to all that followed – economic sanctions, Fatah-Hamas split, Islamist coup d’état in Gaza in 2007, Israeli blockade, operation “Cast Lead” and overall certainty that no meaningful peace agreement can be conducted as long as the Palestinian Authority is partially governed by a group that mandates the destruction of Israel. If George W. Bush was serious in his attempt to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, his insistence on “democracy” doomed all his subsequent efforts.

At least Bush has learned his lesson. In his interview with the Wall Street Journal the former President’s guru on democracy, Nathan Sharansky, said that in 2007 Bush explained to him that he intends to support Mubarak to prevent Islamist takeover of Egypt. Sharansky evidently disapproved, and was delighted when the new President pulled the rag from under the Egyptian autocrat. Yet even he has warned that the United States and the free world can’t just ask for free elections and proclaim themselves satisfied with any result. According to Sharansky, Western recognition and support for the winners of the first democratic elections must be conditioned on their commitment to the build-up of the institutions of the free society, not of the Islamic state.

President Obama has ignored the Palestinian precedent. Since the so-called “Arab Spring” began, Obama has embraced the policy of no demands and no conditions in his treatment of the Islamist forces surging to replace the secular dictators. While it was completely unrealistic to expect that the American President might give the Egyptian strongman a green light to massacre his people demanding freedom, it was not unrealistic to expect that America, which keeps Egypt afloat, will articulate in no uncertain terms its expectations from the Egyptian revolution, its red lines and conditions. Instead, the administration has chosen the path which possibly corresponds with President Obama’s anti-colonial frame of mind, and rejected the very idea that America can dictate anything to the revolting peoples of the Middle East, who are shaping their own destiny. In this worldview, the Islamization of the Arab lands is not something that America can object to, but a natural and inevitable development. Indeed, the Obama response to the Arab turmoil was very Ron Paul-like.

Even on the subject of peace with Israel, Washington kept its cool, until the newly-empowered terrorists slaughtered Israeli civilians at the Sinai border and the newly-emboldened Egyptian masses stormed the Israeli embassy. Since then, the administration has been speaking from both corners of its mouth – it expresses at every opportunity its firm but unfounded belief that Egypt will keep the peace with Israel and it implicitly blames Israel for failing to keep up good relations with its Muslim neighbors. Moreover, Washington continues to badger and berate the only force in Egypt genuinely committed to peace – the military, pushing the generals to accommodate the Islamists’ demands for the rapid transfer of power. Small wonder that the Brotherhood’s leaders believe they can resort to all kinds of tricks to render the peace treaty meaningless? Unless the President and his emissaries learn to articulate demands and warnings instead of suggestions and requests, their dialog with the Egyptian Islamists will become yet another step on the path that will lead to a new war – and not in a very distant future.

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