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August 20, 2013

Never Mind

Today, Aaron David Miller argues that President Obama's Egypt policy makes perfect sense.  It doesn't just make sense, it makes perfect sense.

The only thing that's really clear about U.S. Middle East policy these days is its stunning lack of clarity. Neocons and liberal interventionists alike protest the confusion loudly, and a great many others with less ideological baggage silently scratch their heads.

Anomalies, contradictions, confusion, and more than a little hypocrisy abound...

Still, even while it seems confused and directionless, Barack Obama's Middle East policies have logic and coherence. Indeed, they follow strict directives that the president has imposed. I call them BHO's Five Commandments, and they tell you all you need to know about why the president does what he does from Cairo to Damascus.

You may be startled to learn that the first of BHO's five commandments is to pretty much ignore the middle east:

Commandment No. 1: Care more about the middle class than the Middle East.

Obama may not be able to fix either one. But there's no doubt he'd rather be remembered as a president who tried to repair America's broken house than one who chased around the world on a quixotic quest to fix somebody else's. Immigration reform, the budget, making Obamacare work, continuing to focus on infrastructure, education -- these are things that are important to the American people and to the legacy of a president who is of one of only 17 elected to a second term. Time's running out. Why squander it on problems he cannot fix, like Syria? 

I suppose ignoring Egypt altogether might make sense to somebody, somewhere, but it really doesn't sound like the sort of analysis you would find in a magazine that calls itself Foreign Policy, which is where this article appears.  So I perused the editorial titles from a list of columns written by Mr. Miller and found one entitled Dumb and Dumber.  It argues that the United States should not suspend aid to Egypt, even though there is a U.S. law that forbids foreign aid to a country whose government has just been overthrown by a military coup.  Mr. Miller opens that article with this:

I've come up with some pretty dumb ideas during the course of my career in diplomacy and government (see: inviting Yasir Arafat to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum). But what I'm hearing in Washington these days about suspending U.S. assistance to Egypt is even dumber.

Truth be told, I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Miller.  While I really can't say how dumb his other ideas might be, I agree that aid to Egypt should not be suspended.  But, poor Mr. Miller.  No sooner does he open his trap about it, the Obama administration announces plans to cut aid to Egypt.

The Obama administration has temporarily halted the delivery of weapons to the Egyptian military as well as some forms of economic aid to the government, despite deciding not to officially describe the military takeover as a coup. The office of Senator Patrick Leahy, the head of the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, told The Daily Beast on Monday that the administration has implemented these changes over the past month as it formulates an official determination on the coup.

Well, does that make the Obama adminstration dumber than dumb in the view of Mr. Miller?  Not exactly.  Let's go back to Obama's perfect Egypt policy and commandment number two to find out why.

Commandment No. 2: Pay attention to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama's critics argue he's already paid too much attention to the wars, drawn the wrong lessons from both, and as a result overcorrected and abdicated U.S. leadership. But you really can't pay too much attention to the two longest wars in U.S. history -- wars that cost more than 6,000 American lives, thousands of serious casualties, trillions of dollars, and a great deal of U.S. credibility.

Obama's current approach toward Syria and even Egypt has in fact drawn the right lessons from these wars: he's intuitively grasped the limit of U.S. influence in changing the nature of Middle Eastern societies caught up in internal conflict. If we couldn't reshape what happens in Kabul and Baghdad with hundreds of thousands of troops and trillions of dollars, how are we going to have an impact on what Egypt's generals do or don't do with a trifling $1 billion or so?

Fascinating analysis we have here.  Did you get that part that asks, how are we going to have an impact on Egypt's generals with a trifling billion dollars or so?  A short four weeks ago Mr. Miller said that the idea of pulling that trifling billion was even dumber than some of his own dumb ideas, but today?  Oh, never mind.  Now it's a perfect idea.

It's a little scary that we have what seems to be an entire industry, the mainstream media, fully prepared to declare Obama the embodiment of perfection, regardless of which direction his decisions take.  For Obama's admirers "yes" and "no" are equally brilliant answers.  

Posted by Tom Bowler at 04:39 PM | Permalink

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