Barack Obama’s quest for that elusive foreign policy “win-win”

The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration believes Egypt’s newly elected president Mohammed Morsi – he of the Muslim Brotherhood – could become a U.S. ally. It describes the administration as cautiously upbeat about Morsi. He thus joins a growing list of hostile leaders with whom Obama believes (or believed) he can successfully work. The list includes Assad in Syria, Ahmadinejad in Iran, Putin in Russia, and the folks who run Pakistan.

Obama apparently plans to bring Morsi into the fold through his usual two-prong approach – a charm offensive (the U.S. intends to “make a strong impression” on Morsi, says the Post) coupled with an analysis that shows how the relationship with the U.S. can be “win-win.”

Obama’s charm worked well enough with journalists, celebrities, and local politicians when he was climbing the political ladder. It has been considerably less successful with the likes of Putin.

As for Obama’s belief in his ability to identify “win-wins” that other interested parties somehow missed, the arrogance on display here is staggering. First, it assumes superior intelligence on Obama’s part. Second, it assumes a more profound understanding of our adversaries’ interests than that possessed by our adversaries. Third, it assumes away their deepest desires – things like conquest, or otherwise obtaining outsized influence, and vindicating their religion.

As far as I can tell, Obama has yet to sell, or charm his way into acceptance of, any of his “wins-wins.” The worst of our enemies have ignored him. Others like Putin and Pakistanis have figured out that the Clown Prince of Diplomacy is indeed offering them a “win,” and have snapped up the “quid” without delivering the “quo.” Sort of like Obama tries to do on the domestic front. It’s the familiar, “I win, you lose” approach, also known as America stabbing itself in the back.

Small wonder, then, that as far as I can tell, the last person to have been won over by Obama’s combination of charm and intellect was David Brooks, five years ago.

What about the specific case of Egypt? We should recognize at the outset that, as in Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and Russia, Obama isn’t dealing with David Brooks. As the Post reports, Morsi is on record as saying that 9/11 is an inside job. It’s naive to assume that this man is a pragmatist.

To be sure, the U.S. possesses the leverage conferred by vast amounts of aid to Egypt. But what can Obama coerce Morsi into doing, or not doing, on that basis? Obama will seek assurances that Egypt won’t attack Israel. These assurances will be easy for Morsi to provide in some fashion. Egypt is not prepared to attack Israel until the balance of power shifts, nor would the Egyptian military permit such a suicide mission at this juncture. So, Morsi can give Obama the assurance he wants without really giving up anything. And, of course, he can quickly “evolve” out of the assurance if the opportunity arises.

The assurance not to attack Israel is probably all that’s required to satisfy Obama. Unfortunately, it will leave Morsi with plenty of room to engage in mischief against Israel. But this shouldn’t upset Obama, who has engaged in a bit of such mischief himself.

Obama probably will not care deeply about what Mosri does, or attempts to do, domestically. Whatever actions Morsi takes on this front, Obama can always say that the Egyptian president is a “moderate” compared to some other faction, and that to cut our aid would be to play into the hands of extremists who might well attack Israel.

In any event, don’t expect Morsi to curb his underlying Islamist domestic agenda to satisfy the American president. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood aren’t in politics to fulfill a vague urge to serve Egypt. They have a very clear religiously and ideologically based agenda. Perhaps they can be stopped by force or the threat of force (e.g., by the Egyptian military). It’s unlikely they can be stopped by threats to cut aid.

Egypt does, then, offer the prospect of a win-win, assuming that one is prepared to define saving face as a “win.” Morsi gets American aid and is permitted to do what he wants; Obama gets to claim that he has prevented a shooting war between Egypt and Israel.

Having been humiliated by Putin, spurned by Ahmadinejad, and played by the Pakistanis, Obama has reason to consider saving face a win.

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