Thursday, August 15, 2013

U.S. caught between supporting rebels against a dictator in Syria and support for the military killing civilians in Egypt

Having just watched a fifth-year episode of Aaron Sorkin's television drama, The West Wing, in which a North Korean pianist requests asylum in the United States, in the midst of "serious negotiations" around a nuclear treaty, negotiations that could be thwarted should President Bartlett agree with the request to defect, we listened as all major players called the request "complicated"....and a decoding of that word would have to include "dangerous".
Dangerous would also have to be used to depict the current ironic, ambivalent and "complicated" position of the United States, in openly arming the rebels fighting to depose Syrian dictator, Assad, while at the same time continuing to send $1.5 billion dollars to the Egyptian military who today are reported to have massacred at least 628 of their own citizens and wounded some 4000 others. Mosques are transformed into morgues, filled with unclaimed bodies, and foreign reporters' video shows family members acknowledging that when they remove their deceased family member, they have to sign a document that asserts the death of that family member was "from natural causes" while, in the words of one family spokesman, "there are bullet wounds to his neck that killed him."
And then the president of the United States goes to the podium on Martha's Vineyard to "denounce the use of violence on the streets of Cairo" and cancel scheduled joint military exercises with the Egyptian military in September, as a sign that "things are not normal" between the two countries, without pulling the plug on the $1.5 billion in aid to the Egyptian military.
Calling for reconciliation from the safety and security of Martha's Vineyard, while women wail in the streets of Cairo that bullets bearing the insignia of the United States and, by inference, American complicity in this massacre, will lead to increased recruitment of American enemies seems an appropriate juxtaposition of the two realities.
The U.S. cannot, despite some reported eighteen attempts to broker a compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military over the last three weeks, wash the blood off her hands in both Syria and in Egypt, just as they could not in Iraq where today another three dozen people were killed by roadside bombs, presumably planted and detonated by AlQaeda "knock-offs" to borrow a phrase from the fashion economy.
Closing embassies, while necessary and appropriate in the face of authentic intelligence of their imminent danger, does not address the fundamental Achilles' Heel in the American foreign policy approach. It is an approach that reaches too soon for the hard power of guns, missiles, fighter jets and drone aircraft in a war with terrorists armed with home-made bombs, the ingredients and methods of construction are available to all on the internet. Progressively, American "power" is being seen as less than effectual in Egypt and potentially in the Middle East, if the dozens of calls from the United States Secretary of Defence to the head of the Egyptian military, bolstered by visits from Republican Senators McCain and Graham, to head off this latest blood bath have been shown to be completely ignored by their "allies" in the Egyptian military.
It will be increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the American government to maintain the ruse that it is not "at war" with Islam, following the slaughter of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters of deposed Egyptian president Morsi. And the "Brotherhood" itself has blood on their hands also, given the reports of stached arms in Brotherhood strongholds, ready for deployment against the Egyptian military who literally razed their protest encampment to the ground before opening fire with first tear gas and soon afterward, assault rifles.
Should today turn out to be a pivotal turning point in relations between the United States and the Middle East, especially with respect to a long-standing ally and supporter, Egypt, the U.S. will have only itself to thank for the debacle and the repercussions that could redound for decades. Egypt is unstable, verging on civil war, with the high handed actions of the military eroding trust in their ability to serve the people of Egypt and the U.S. is fully complicit in this betrayal, if not overtly, then certainly covertly through their support of the military. (And covertly could be even more dangerous in the long run, because when ordinary people in mass numbers perceive a betrayal has been jointly inflicted on innocent countrymen and women, their outrage could be expected to last for decades, and vengeance knows no bounds in such a cauldron.)
Even though the "Brotherhood" itself comprises only 10% of the Egyptian population, it clearly accounts for much more than 10% of the conflagration and the military has clearly been "spooked" by their fear of its return to power, a return that, by definition, means the atrophy of the traditional military power in that country.
Just as in Nigeria, where Christians have been slaughtered by Islamic radicals for months, if not years, today reports from Egypt shone light on the destruction of Christian churches as the beginning of the revenge of the Brotherhood in the midst of their blood-boiling anger.
Hostilities now would appear to preclude anything remotely resembling reconciliation, as both sides harden their position, partly out of fear and partly out of desperation, just another face of fear.
And as one former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Nicholas Burns, put it in an interview on PBS  tonight, this conflict could continue for decades. Given Egypt's strategic significance in the Middle East, and her importance to the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz, and her formerly strict adherence to the peace treaty with Israel, one has to wonder out loud, just how much of history is being overturned and left in a chaotic vacuum of political default tonight, while Egypt's face, reputation, honour and future face triage both at home and around the world.

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