Our View: Incoherence

Posted: August 16, 2013

Current administrative dithering as to whether the military takeover in Egypt constitutes a “coup” merely underscores the incoherence of what passes for White House policy relative to the Middle East.

For the record, if what Egypt’s army officers perpetrated was not a coup, we hardly know the meaning of the word. But when continued aid to Cairo hinges on a creative interpretation of the word, the Obama administration can be counted on to fudge, no matter what the law dictates. And, in this case, the law militates against extending such aid to regimes seizing power through such means.

Still, such is the nature of the perennially topsy-turvy Middle East that backing the bloodstained Egyptian military against the congenitally repressive Muslim Brotherhood may be the right call — that is, if we want some measure of order and constitutional government restored. But the White House, fickle to the end, can’t seem to make up its mind. Which hardly comes as a surprise, when one considers that this administration pretty much stood idly by as the Brotherhood, democratically elected though it may have been, took one of America’s foremost allies in the region down a path toward religious totalitarianism. If ever there were a time to use foreign aid as leverage . . .

We could say that “standing idly by” has been the administration’s modus operandi in the Middle East. After all, it did absolutely nothing to lend even symbolic, rhetorical assistance to the pro-Western reform movement that arose in Iran during the summer of 2009.

But inertia has not always been the administration’s fallback course. In Iraq, for instance, the United States simply packed up and went home, and refused to leave a rotating residual force to keep a crushed al Qaeda at bay — and the Maliki government on an even keel.

In Libya, the White House decided Moammar Gadhafi was such an intractable monster that he needed to go — even though, a quarter-century before, Ronald Reagan had cowed him into submission with one huge bombing run. Still, even after making this determination, President Obama opted to “lead from behind” and largely ceded the dirty work to NATO allies.

Finally, in Syria, the administration’s tack was intercession through bluster. It didn’t work; Bashar al-Assad remains in power. This is not to say we should have rushed headlong into that messy fray, as certain interventionist Republicans suggested. What can, and should, be said is that Mr. Obama’s retreat from “red-line” ultimatums made America look irresolute, even weak.

The bottom line, as classicist and commentator Victor Davis Hanson has observed, is this: “Our policy at this point should be to support constitutional government and the rule of law — and to assume Islamist movements of all types simply do not share those goals, and never will, as we see with Hamas, which sought plebiscites to find legitimacy for their subsequent lawlessness and illegitimacy.”

Speaking of Hamas, did you notice we went through this litany without mentioning Israel? Any bets the renewal of peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians will yield any fruit?