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Commentary & Opinion

Herbert London: American Foreign Policy Through The Eyes of Egyptians

For intellectuals and government officials in Egypt, American foreign policy is an enigma. From Syria to Afghanistan questions are posed about the stance of the Obama administration. To cite one example, an official asked, how do you explain the president’s argument for bombing Syria only to end up not bombing Syria?

Most significantly, Egyptian analysts ask why the U.S. spends its resources and sacrifices its blood to fight al Qaeda, but continues to assert the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate force. For Egyptians, there is sufficient evidence to maintain the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda are united for purposes of logistics and funding, despite cleverly designed arguments to conceal the relationship. Even the trade of five terrorists for one American captive has alarmed the Egyptian foreign policy councils.

Egyptians ask as well why MoammarKhadafy was displaced and Libya bombed only to see the al Qaeda flag flying over every major Libyan city. Khadafy may not have been a reliable ally, but he did provide a degree of national stability. In fact, three million Egyptians once found employment in Libya. Now the Libyan landscape is littered with dead bodies and chaos reigns.

Egyptian analysts continually peppered me with questions about Iraq, noting that the precipitous withdrawal of American forces from that nation ushered in a civil war and, perhaps, most notably, the influence of Iranian forces.

This query was invariably followed by a statement that the U.S. encouraged al Qaeda through its support of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan and then wondered why the Taliban emerged as a national force. With the anticipated withdrawal of American troops from this nation, future stability is clearly in question.

And then there is the major issue: how can the U.S. engage in rapprochement with Iran over the nuclear weapons issue when Iran cannot be trusted and an Iran with enough fissile material for a bomb will invite nuclear proliferation throughout the region?

Whether one accepts the questions is irrelevant. Even if simplistic in formulation, they represent a majority of elite opinion. President Obama is regarded as “a rank amateur” and, in the minds of the many I met, incapable of dealing with regional issues.

The Egyptians were perplexed about the president’s reluctance to release the spare parts for the Apache helicopters promised to them. On April 23, 2014 the Obama administration reversed itself and decided to send the helicopters that were urgently requested by Cairo, even though the arms embargo imposed by the Obama team last year, after the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi, will not be lifted.

As a consequence of U.S. vacillation, the Egyptians are increasingly cynical. For them, the Obama administration and Republicans like John McCain and Lindsay Graham who defend and rationalize the role of the Muslim Brotherhood are in Alice In Wonderland. The security concerns of Egyptians should be the same security concern of the United States. The terror that afflicted and still hangs over the Egyptian nation is the terror Americans were forced to confront on 9/11. Yet, as Egyptians remark, “the Obama team doesn’t get it.”

Whether the U.S. hasn’t explained its position sufficiently or the explanation is inexplicable, Egyptians are generally perplexed. That remains a problem since Egypt as the most populous Arab state, is often considered the first among equals in the Sunni world. Its policies have been the linchpin on which regional positions depend. If Egypt turns away from the United States, its position will influence others. Healing the apparent rift between Egypt and the U.S. should be at the top of the Obama foreign policy agenda. I don’t know if that is the case, but it is certainly worthy of someone’s attention.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries atwww.londoncenter.org


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