It turns out that President Obama isn’t any better at picking winning regimes abroad than he is at picking winning businesses at home. Today, the government of President Morsi, which Obama had supported almost unreservedly for a year, was toppled by the military in response to mass protests.
Some will say that Obama didn’t pick the Egyptian regime, the people of Egypt did, in an election. But an American president has no obligation to cozy up to the elected leaders of foreign governments. Obama demonstrated considerable hostility towards Netanyahu, whom Israelis elected far more decisively than the Egyptians elected Morsi (as did Bill Clinton, who as president promoted Bibi’s electoral ouster). And an American president certainly has no obligation to continue to support an elected foreign leader when he takes anti-democratic measures, as Morsi did.
So why was Obama so supportive of Morsi? Scott and I have suggested that it’s because Obama sees the Muslim Brotherhood as the wave of the future in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, although Obama is quite intelligent, he’s no student of history. Nor is history easy to predict, even for its most astute students.
Why did Obama decide that the Muslim Brotherhood is the wave of the future in the Middle East? I don’t know. But I do know that for a “progressive” like Obama, being the wave of the future is essentially the same thing as being on the right side of history, and being on the right side of history is essentially the same thing as being right.
So my guess is that Obama believes that the Muslim Brotherhood is the force in the Middle East that comes closest to being right, at least when it comes to that region. I don’t deny the possibility that Obama also believes (for no particularly good reason other than perhaps his own supposed power of persuasion) that the Muslim Brotherhood can evolve into something a bit more palatable to Western tastes. But I do believe, and have said before, that Obama’s belief in the Brotherhood’s status in history rests at least in part on his personal sympathies.
It’s possible that the Muslim Brotherhood is, indeed, the wave of the future. But its ignominious ouster in Egypt certainly represents a setback. Indeed, I consider it the best news to come out of the region since the Iraqi Sunnis turned on al Qaeda and effectively ousted it from Anbar province.
Keep in mind, however, that al Qaeda is back to some degree in Iraq. Similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood can’t be counted out permanently in Egypt. Bad decisions by the Obama administration contributed to al Qaeda in Iraq’s comeback, and similarly bad decisions could help the Brotherhood in Egypt.
For example, Obama has called on the military not to arrest Brotherhood members. That strikes me as the recipe for a counter-revolution in the not too distant future.
I don’t pretend, however, to know what history has in store, and I submit that we’re better off assuming that we don’t know. Our guide in the Middle East and elsewhere should not be determinism, but rather some combination of our values and our national interests.
That sounds obvious. But in Egypt this past year, Obama’s actions were, I believe, at odds with both our values and our interests.
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