Nature abhors a vacuum

Yesterday, Saudi Arabia promised to compensate Egypt for every bit of aid that the U.S. or other Western countries might withdraw in the response to the Egyptian military’s crackdown against its Muslim Brotherhood opponents. This move highlights the growing irrelevance of the U.S. in the Middle East — a positive development in the short-term, given that U.S. Middle East policy is set by President Obama. As we know, nature abhors a vacuum.

It’s worth noting, as the Washington Post does, just how unusual and risky the Saudi move is:

[T]he unusually bold foray into foreign policy represents a big risk for the traditionally staid and cautious kingdom, jeopardizing its reputation as the leader of the Muslim world, reigniting a simmering power struggle with rivals Qatar and Turkey, and potentially harming its relationship with Washington.

But the Saudis understand the stakes in Egypt. Indeed, says the Post, they view the struggle against the Muslim Brotherhood “in almost existential terms.”

What’s existential for the Saudi regime isn’t necessarily existential for the U.S. But America also has a strong interest in seeing the Brotherhood defeated. As I expressed it a few days ago:

World peace and order depend on the extent to which key nations are ruled by governments with no strong desire to wage or promote war. These days, fortunately, nearly all key nations are so ruled, including, I submit, Russia and China. Iran and, arguably, North Korea are the two exceptions.

Egypt’s military leadership has no strong desire to wage or promote war. We see this from its willingness to crack down on Islamist militants in the Sinai who are committed to provoking Israel.

The Muslim Brotherhood wants to wage war throughout the Middle East, at a minimum. Indeed, one of the military’s grievances against Morsi was his increasing willingness to have Egyptians pour into Syria to fight.

The standard line, by those who favor a cut-off of U.S. aid to Egypt, in response to Saudi financial backing of Egypt is that, sooner or later, Egypt will need Western support in the form of tourism, trade, and IMF assistance. This is probably true.

But the Egyptian military seeks a window during which it can crush the Muslim Brotherhood. If it achieves this non-negotiable priority, it can then attempt to negotiate its way back into the moderately good graces of Western liberals.

In this regard, it should be noted that, sooner or later, the U.S. may be governed by an administration that takes a more realistic, national interest-based view of the Middle East.

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