Foreign Affairs

Let’s Get Our Priorities Straight in Egypt

Watching the events in Egypt unfold, I’m getting a serious feeling of deja vu.  Does anyone remember the last time a sense of unbridled euphoria, irrespective of reality, overcame great numbers of people?  I’ll give you a hint:  Think about two words that could best describe the emotional mood of the Egyptian people, coupled with what they have been demanding.  What are Egyptians filled with?  Hope.  What have they demanded and received?  Change.  Hope and change.  Sound familiar?

Don’t get me wrong.  Freedom is a beautiful thing.  But note that I said freedom, not democracy.  Democracy brought the Nazis to power in Germany, and Hamas to power in the Gaza Strip.  Those entities and others elected by the people crushed freedom once they had attained power.  Speaking of Nazis, guess which entity in the Middle East aligned themselves with Hitler during WWII?  If you said Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, go to the head of the class.

And whole you’re at it, send National Intelligence Director James Clapper to the back row.  If the man truly believes what he said about the Muslim Brotherhood, that they are “largely secular” and “have eschewed violence,” he’s done something very few people can do:  He’s made the attachment of his name to his job title an oxymoron.

Yet there’s something even more troubling about what Clapper said.  If it reflects the sentiments of one profoundly misguided individual, that’s bad enough.  Yet has anyone else in this administration gone on the record to condemn the Muslim Brotherhood?  Before leaving the job, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said reform in Egypt “has to include a whole host of important nonsecular actors that give Egypt a strong chance to continue to be [a] stable and reliable partner.”

Whose the largest most well-organized “nonsecular actor” in Egypt?  For everyone, with the apparent exception of James Clapper, the answer is the Muslim Brotherhood.  Because a press secretary never says anything that hasn’t been preapproved by the White House, does Gibbs’ assertion indicate that the Obama administration intends to support the Muslim Brotherhood if they assume the reins of power?

Bill O’Reilly asked the President what he thought of the Muslim Brotherhood in his Super Bowl Sunday interview.  He asked whether it was a threat.  Obama’s answer?  “What I want is a representative government in Egypt.  And I have confidence that if Egypt moves in an orderly transition process, that we will have a government in Egypt that we can work with together as a partner.”

One can only wonder how far such a partnership might go.  There is more than a little irony in the idea that those currently supporting democracy in Egypt per se might be inadvertently advocating the emergence of yet another Islamic state completely antithetical to American interests.  One every bit as repressive and brutal, if not more so, than the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

Is democracy that leads to Sharia law acceptable?  What would those caught up in the current euphoria think if that were to happen?  What would they say to Egypt’s Coptic Christians, women, or others who would automatically be reduced to second-class status (or worse) by the emergence of an Islamic state?  What would they say about a government controlled by a group whose slogan, “Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest objective,” is the essence of theocratic totalitarianism?

Here’s one thing they wouldn’t be able to say:  Sorry, we didn’t know who we were dealing with.

What can the United States do to clarify its position?  There is no perfect answer, but perhaps the best course is this:  When bedrock principles are in conflict, we must be consistent with respect to
them.  The two principles in conflict here are the commitment to freedom enshrined in our founding documents, and the commitment to national security enshrined in the same documents.

Which one gets priority?  The answer ought to be obvious.  Yet when one looks at an administration that refused to “meddle” in Iran—the one attempt to express democracy that would have adhered to both bedrock principles—the same administration that has expressed no particular allegiance to American exceptionalism even as it refuses to categorically disavow a Muslim Brotherhood that has spawned virtually every Islamic terrorist organization in the world today, obvious is in terribly short supply.

By the way, the answer is national security first, everything else second, for the simplest of reasons:  If America falls, freedom, throughout the world, goes with it.

Contradictory?  Infuriating?  Absolutely—until one considers the alternative of a worldwide Islamic caliphate governed by Sharia.

That’s the big picture, of which Egypt is only a small part.  Does that mean a so-called clash of civilizations is inevitable?  Not necessarily.  But ask yourself this:  Which scenario makes one more likely?  One in which the United States recognizes the possibility and prepares for it, or one in which we continue to talk about “overseas contingency operations” and “man-caused disasters” even as Islamists continue to pursue their ambitions without restraint?

Let me be as politically incorrect as possible:  If it comes to war, I want us to win and them to lose.

Those who would “split the difference” in their characterization of the Muslim Brotherhood might
want to consider what it would sound like if one substituted the word Nazis for the words Muslim Brotherhood.  Still willing to split the difference?

Words matter.  So do principles and so do priorities.  If the Obama administration wants to split the difference between democracy and national security, it should say so.  And the gaggle of Republicans vying for the presidency should make its priorities equally as clear.  That’s what freedom, as opposed to democracy, is all about.

We probably can’t stop Egyptians from voting themselves into Islamic slavery if they desire to do so.  But we don’t have to help them do it by pretending one “non-secular actor,” aka the Muslim Brotherhood, is the same as any other.

Remember what hope and change looked like in 2008.  Then recall what it led to in 2010.  That’s the difference between one man, one vote, and one man, one vote—one time.

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