The Cost of Willful Blindness

This space predicted crisis as the overriding context for the Obama Administration in 2011.  It didn’t take long.

Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey have all provided new challenges for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East to go along with preexisting challenges in Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.  So far the challenges have been met with meaningless rhetoric and the distinct impression that the administration is simply not sure what to do or say.  It’s understandable.

There is, actually, little that can be done in the immediate sense and rhetoric can be a minefield of unintended consequences.  The administration faces consequences based on decades of misdirected foreign policy.  Policy has maintained stability as its goal.  So much for stability!

History should teach us that autocratic, repressive regimes will, eventually, fall.  We should have learned that attaching yourself to regimes absent consideration of values is chimera.  Secretary Rice put it clearly “we have opted for stability as opposed to democratic reform, we have seen neither”.  For decades we have protected and supported corrupt regimes and by extension a value system totally in opposition to our own in the interest of oil and oil price stability.  We left $100 on the night table in the belief that we had covered our excesses.  We have eschewed values as a guiding principal.  We will now face the price to be paid for willful blindness.     

Sectarian violence, never long absent in the Middle East, will escalate.  Repressed Islamist influences will look to the current situation as a vehicle to gain and consolidate power.  The call to all manner of cultural, militaristic and religious Jihad will accelerate.  In Egypt, long a fulcrum of Middle East politics the massive grassroots organization behind the Muslim Brotherhood will move to the forefront in the context of a toppled Mubarak government.  Islamist influences will, as they have before, generate intimidating violence as a path to stifle dissent and procure power throughout North Africa.  “Experts” opine that in Egypt the key to stability is the military, apparently forgetful of the fact that it was Army officers who murdered President Sadat over reconciliation with Israel.  The “experts” are apparently unaware that the military in Egypt is a hot bed of Islamist influences.  Perhaps they are also unaware of the role that the leading center of Islamic learning and opinion, Al-Azhar University in Cairo, has recently, and yet again redefined the call to Jihad in ever broadening terms.  Perhaps also unaware that the Muslim Brotherhood’s long standing strategic imperative has been to use existing democratic institutions as the path to control and elimination of those selfsame institutions!  One man, one vote; one time!

What of Israel? Israel’s western flank has been dominated by the peace treaty with Egypt.  Egypt has mitigated the impact of Hamas along the Gaza border.  Considering the political movement in Turkey, Hiz’bAllah dominant in Lebanon and the potential of Mubarak falling Israel is, once again, surrounded.  

The “stability” bought with billions of dollars left on the night table is coming to an end, will the billions continue to be offered?  Or, will a new era in values based foreign policy replace it?  Will we finally focus our effort and our money in support of those who share our values and will stand shoulder to shoulder against the rising tide of political Islam?  Will we, finally, face the fact that a “Clash of Civilizations” is indeed in the offing.  Will we adopt an energy policy that disconnects us from totalitarian regimes in the Middle East?  Or will we maintain the fiction that “engagement” will somehow mute the dynamic influences that dominate the conversation in the Middle East?

Or, maintain willful blindness in the face of history and the facts on the ground.