Posted on 12-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

On September 12, 2012 the alliance between Egypt and the United States appears to have officially faded away.  Its end was not surprising. Under Sadat and then Mubarak, Egypt became an American ally and one of the biggest recipients of American aid after Israel.  Then the Pharaoh was swept away by the Arab spring and Egypt began its messy transition to democracy.  The much ballyhooed freedom agenda of George W. Bush withered away when it became clear that the popular franchise would not magically bring friends of the United States to power.

The transition in Egypt has been interesting to say the least.  Pharaoh Mubarak was forced out of power after popular protests, but the departure (like Tunisia) was stage managed by the army.  The Egyptian generals were showing signs that what they would live with was a “managed” democracy like Turkey until the 1990s and Pakistan today.  The civilians could rule within the margins set by the men in khaki.  If so, that belief was misplaced.  In August, the newly elected Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi – a former leader of the Muslim brotherhood – fired his military chiefs and nullified their constitutional declaration that gutted his office.

So far Morsi has not ended the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel, but it is clear that relations with Egypt had changed.  The embassy attacks highlight just how much.  The Libyan attacks were met by apologies of the Libyan government and were condemned by the government and people.  Indeed, the Libyan attacks appear to be more of a planned attack than triggered by the anti-Islam film.

In contrast the response from Morsi for a failure of his government to honor its diplomatic obligations has been….crickets.  For domestic consumption Morsi has ordered his embassy in Washington to try to make the pointless effort to prosecute the twits who made the movie that was used as an excuse for the riots.  David Frum speculates that Morsi is using this to solidify his power base.  Notably, President Obama’s statement today pointedly did not mention the Egypt attacks but evidently has sent the message to Egypt that it has the obligation to protect American diplomatic establishments.  This evening the Egyptian police dispersed the crowds without violence.

This evening Obama also gave an interview that made a now obvious point.  Egypt is not an ally, but is not an enemy either.  Clips of the interview from the Rachel Maddow show below:

 

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This is a huge strategic change in the Middle East.  Left unsaid (unless it is in the full interview to be aired tomorrow) is what happens to the huge aid package that went to the former ally.  The conduct of Morsi in the last couple of days is not likely to endear his government to Congress – where many on the right are already fulminating at the abandonment of the dictator to allow the election of Islamists to office.  Will the drying up of American military aid encourage Morsi and the khaki clad men who remain in line for now to temper their actions?  It is unlikely that the Obama administration would use this to encourage a Latin American style coup and it should not.  It complicates the strategic situation for Israel, which is already facing the possible replacement of the devil it knows in Syria with chaos.  It makes Netanyahu’s obsession of a war with Iran even crazier.

Ultimately, I am not upset about the end of an alliance forged with an unpopular dictator rather than with a government backed by public support.  The former is inherently unstable and makes the United States look away from abuses that tarnish our reputation by association.  The latter are generally more enduring.  Far too many foreign policy hawks pine for the client state relationships that existed in the Cold War.  They gave a type of negative stability but cost America in the long run.  Other countries have interests too and they will not always align with ours.  That is the basic principle that in coming years will guide American relations with India, Brazil, South Africa and other countries with whom we will have warm relations without a NATO style alliance. In the long run it is a healthier and more mature approach.

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[…] year I commented that the Egyptian alliance appeared to have run its course.  Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim […]


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