Wanted: A Grand Strategy for America

NEWSWEEK’s new columnist on Obama’s Egypt debacle and the vacuum it exposes.

President Obama in front of the Sphinx during a tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza following his Cairo speech in June 2009. Mandel Ngan / AFP-Getty Images
President Obama in front of the Sphinx during a tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza following his Cairo speech in June 2009.

“The statesman can only wait and listen until he hears the footsteps of God resounding through events; then he must jump up and grasp the hem of His coat, that is all.” Thus Otto von Bismarck, the great Prussian statesman who united Germany and thereby reshaped Europe’s balance of power nearly a century and a half ago.
Last week, for the second time in his presidency, Barack Obama heard those footsteps, jumped up to grasp a historic opportunity … and missed it completely.
In Bismarck’s case it was not so much God’s coattails he caught as the revolutionary wave of mid-19th-century German nationalism. And he did more than catch it; he managed to surf it in a direction of his own choosing. The wave Obama just missed—again—is the revolutionary wave of Middle Eastern democracy. It has surged through the region twice since he was elected: once in Iran in the summer of 2009, the second time right across North Africa, from Tunisia all the way down the Red Sea to Yemen. But the swell has been biggest in Egypt, the Middle East’s most populous country.
In each case, the president faced stark alternatives. He could try to catch the wave, Bismarck style, by lending his support to the youthful revolutionaries and trying to ride it in a direction advantageous to American interests. Or he could do nothing and let the forces of reaction prevail. In the case of Iran, he did nothing, and the thugs of the Islamic Republic ruthlessly crushed the demonstrations. This time around, in Egypt, it was worse. He did both—some days exhorting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to leave, other days drawing back and recommending an “orderly transition.”

The result has been a foreign-policy debacle. The president has alienated everybody: not only Mubarak’s cronies in the military, but also the youthful crowds in the streets of Cairo. Whoever ultimately wins, Obama loses. And the alienation doesn’t end there. America’s two closest friends in the region—Israel and Saudi Arabia—are both disgusted. The Saudis, who dread all manifestations of revolution, are appalled at Washington’s failure to resolutely prop up Mubarak. The Israelis, meanwhile, are dismayed by the administration’s apparent cluelessness.

Last week, while other commentators ran around Cairo’s Tahrir Square, hyperventilating about what they saw as an Arab 1989, I flew to Tel Aviv for the annual Herzliya security conference. The consensus among the assembled experts on the Middle East? A colossal failure of American foreign policy.

This failure was not the result of bad luck. It was the predictable consequence of the Obama administration’s lack of any kind of coherent grand strategy, a deficit about which more than a few veterans of U.S. foreign policy making have long worried. The president himself is not wholly to blame. Although cosmopolitan by both birth and upbringing, Obama was an unusually parochial politician prior to his election, judging by his scant public pronouncements on foreign-policy issues.

Yet no president can be expected to be omniscient. That is what advisers are for. The real responsibility for the current strategic vacuum lies not with Obama himself, but with the National Security Council, and in particular with the man who ran it until last October: retired Gen. James L. Jones. I suspected at the time of his appointment that General Jones was a poor choice. A big, bluff Marine, he once astonished me by recommending that Turkish troops might lend the United States support in Iraq. He seemed mildly surprised when I suggested the Iraqis might resent such a reminder of centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule.

The best national-security advisers have combined deep knowledge of international relations with an ability to play the Machiavellian Beltway game, which means competing for the president’s ear against the other would-be players in the policymaking process: not only the defense secretary but also the secretary of state and the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. No one has ever done this better than Henry Kissinger. But the crucial thing about Kissinger as national-security adviser was not the speed with which he learned the dark arts of interdepartmental turf warfare. It was the skill with which he, in partnership with Richard Nixon, forged a grand strategy for the United States at a time of alarming geopolitical instability.

The essence of that strategy was, first, to prioritize (for example, d├ętente with the Soviets before human-rights issues within the U.S.S.R.) and then to exert pressure by deliberately linking key issues. In their hardest task—salvaging peace with honor in Indochina by preserving the independence of South Vietnam—Nixon and Kissinger ultimately could not succeed. But in the Middle East they were able to eject the Soviets from a position of influence and turn Egypt from a threat into a malleable ally. And their overtures to China exploited the divisions within the Communist bloc, helping to set Beijing on an epoch-making new course of economic openness.

The contrast between the foreign policy of the Nixon-Ford years and that of President Jimmy Carter is a stark reminder of how easily foreign policy can founder when there is a failure of strategic thinking. The Iranian Revolution of 1979, which took the Carter administration wholly by surprise, was a catastrophe far greater than the loss of South Vietnam.

Remind you of anything? “This is what happens when you get caught by surprise,” an anonymous American official told The New York Times last week. “We’ve had endless strategy sessions for the past two years on Mideast peace, on containing Iran. And how many of them factored in the possibility that Egypt moves from stability to turmoil? None.”

I can think of no more damning indictment of the administration’s strategic thinking than this: it never once considered a scenario in which Mubarak faced a popular revolt. Yet the very essence of rigorous strategic thinking is to devise such a scenario and to think through the best responses to them, preferably two or three moves ahead of actual or potential adversaries. It is only by doing these things—ranking priorities and gaming scenarios—that a coherent foreign policy can be made. The Israelis have been hard at work doing this. All the president and his NSC team seem to have done is to draft touchy-feely speeches like the one he delivered in Cairo early in his presidency.

These were his words back in June 2009:
America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles—principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

Those lines will come back to haunt Obama if, as cannot be ruled out, the ultimate beneficiary of his bungling in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood, which remains by far the best organized opposition force in the country—and wholly committed to the restoration of the caliphate and the strict application of Sharia. Would such an outcome advance “tolerance and the dignity of all human beings” in Egypt? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Grand strategy is all about the necessity of choice. Today, it means choosing between a daunting list of objectives: to resist the spread of radical Islam, to limit Iran’s ambition to become dominant in the Middle East, to contain the rise of China as an economic rival, to guard against a Russian “reconquista” of Eastern Europe—and so on. The defining characteristic of Obama’s foreign policy has been not just a failure to prioritize, but also a failure to recognize the need to do so. A succession of speeches saying, in essence, “I am not George W. Bush” is no substitute for a strategy.

Bismarck knew how to choose. He understood that riding the nationalist wave would enable Prussia to become the dominant force in Germany, but that thereafter the No. 1 objective must be to keep France and Russia from uniting against his new Reich. When asked for his opinion about colonizing Africa, Bismarck famously replied: “My map of Africa lies in Europe. Here lies Russia and here lies France, and we are in the middle. That is my map of Africa.”

Tragically, no one knows where Barack Obama’s map of the Middle East is. At best, it is in the heartland states of America, where the fate of his presidency will be decided next year, just as Jimmy Carter’s was back in 1980.

At worst, he has no map at all.


The Wall Street Journal
"The depiction of [Khomeini] as fanatical, reactionary and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false," wrote Mr. Falk. "What is also encouraging is that his entourage of close advisers is uniformly composed of moderate, progressive individuals."


After carrying on in this vein for a few paragraphs, the professor concluded: "Having created a new model of popular revolution based, for the most part, on nonviolent tactics, Iran may yet provide us with a desperately needed model of humane governance for a third-world country."


Whoops.



The Times is at it again. Last week, the paper published an op-ed from Essam El-Errian, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Guidance Council, who offered this soothing take on his organization: "We aim to achieve reform and rights for all: not just for the Muslim Brotherhood, not just for Muslims, but for all Egyptians." Concurring with that view, Times reporter Nicholas Kulish wrote on Feb. 4 that members of the Brotherhood "come across as civic-minded people of faith."

It's easy to be taken in by the Brotherhood: Eight decades as a disciplined, underground organization, outwardly involved in charitable social work, have made them experts at tailoring messages to separate audiences. The Brotherhood has also been careful to distinguish itself from the Salafist followers of Sayyid Qutb, himself a Muslim Brother who developed the concept of takfir, which allows one Muslim to denounce another Muslim as an apostate and treat him accordingly. "The thought of the Brotherhood doesn't have the tendency to . . . take violent measures," Muhammad Habib, the Brotherhood's former deputy supreme guide, told me in Cairo in 2006.


But if that counts for moderation in the context of intra-Islamic politics, it hardly makes the Brotherhood moderate by Western standards. Hassan al-Banna (1906-1949), the Brotherhood's founder, was an admirer of the fascist movements of his day, and he had similar ambitions for his own movement.


"Andalusia, Sicily, the Balkans, south Italy and the Roman sea islands were all Islamic lands that have to be restored to the homeland of Islam," he wrote in a message dedicated to Muslim youth. "As Signor Mussolini believed that it was within his right to revive the Roman Empire . . . similarly it is our right to restore to the Islamic empire its glory."
Today the Brotherhood has adopted a political strategy in keeping with Banna's dictum that the movement must not over-reach on its way toward "[subjugating] every unjust ruler to its command": "Each of these stages," he cautioned his followers, "involves certain steps, branches and means." Thus the Brotherhood has gone out of its way in recent weeks to appear in the most benign light, making an ally of former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei and forswearing any immediate political ambitions.


But that doesn't mean the Brothers don't have an idea of what they're aiming for. "We think highly of a country whose president is important, courageous and has a vision, which he presents in the U.N., in Geneva, and everywhere," the Brotherhood's Kamal al-Hilbawi told Iran's Al-Alam TV earlier this month, referring to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust and 9/11 denials. "We think highly of a country . . . that confronts Western hegemony, and is scientifically and technologically advanced. Unfortunately, these characteristics can be found only in the Islamic Republic of Iran. I hope that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia will be like that."
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Nor should there be any doubt about what the Brotherhood is aiming against. "Resistance is the only solution against the Zio-American arrogance and tyranny," Muhammad Badie, the Brotherhood's supreme guide, sermonized in October. "The improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained . . . by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue life."


Such remarks may come as a rude shock to James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence who last week testified in Congress that the Brotherhood was "largely secular" (a remark his office later retracted). They may also surprise a coterie of Western analysts who are convinced that the Brotherhood is moving in a moderate direction and will only be further domesticated by participation in democratic politics. Yet the evidence for that supposition rests mainly on what the Brotherhood tells Westerners. What it says in Arabic is another story.


In 2005, candidates for the Brotherhood took 20% of the parliamentary vote. Gamal al-Banna, Hassan's youngest brother, once told me they command as much as 40% support. Neither figure is a majority. But unless Egypt's secular forces can coalesce into serious political parties, the people for whom Islam is the solution won't find the fetters of democracy to be much of a problem.


The Wall Street Journal

Major Hasan, 'Star Officer'

Every branch of the military issued a final report on the Fort Hood massacre. Not a single one mentioned radical Islam.

By DOROTHY RABINOWITZ

In a month of momentous change, it was easy to overlook the significance of another revolutionary event. Who would have believed that in the space of a few weeks the leaders of the three major European powers would publicly denounce multiculturalism and declare, in so many words, that it was a proven disaster and a threat to society?

One after another they announced their findings—Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, Great Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, and France's President Nicolas Sarkozy. Multicultural values had not only led to segregated communities: They had, Mr. Cameron noted, imposed policies of blind toleration that had helped nurture radical Islam's terrorist cells.

There can be no underestimating the in-so-many-words aspect of these renunciations. This was multiculturalism they were talking about—the unofficial established religion of the universities, the faith whose requirements have shaped every aspect of cultural, economic and political life in Western democracies for the last 50 years. Still, they were out there—words coolly specific, their target clear.


They came at a fitting moment, just as Americans had been handed a report providing the fullest disclosures so far about the multiculturalist zeal that had driven Army and medical school superiors to smooth Nidal Malik Hasan's rocky way through training, promote him, and, despite blatant evidence of his unfitness, raise not a single concern. Maj. Hasan, U.S. Army psychiatrist, would be assigned to Fort Hood where, in November 2009, he opened fire, killing 12 fellow soldiers and a civilian employee, and wounding 32 others.
rabinowitz
Associated Press
Maj. Hasan at the Bell County Jail after his shooting spree at Fort Hood.
In this report, titled "A Ticking Time Bomb" and put out by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, there is a detail as dazzling in its bleak way as all the glowing misrepresentations of Dr. Hasan's skills and character, which his superiors poured into their evaluations of him. It concerns the Department of Defense's official report on the Fort Hood killings—a study whose recital of fact made no mention of Hasan's well-documented jihadist sympathies. Subsequent DoD memoranda portray the bloodbath—which began with Hasan shouting "Allahu Akbar!"—as a kind of undefined extremism, something on the order, perhaps, of work-place violence.


This avoidance of specifics was apparently contagious—or, more precisely, policy. In November 2010, each branch of the military issued a final report on the Fort Hood shooting. Not one mentioned the perpetrator's ties to radical Islam. Even today, "A Ticking Time Bomb," co-authored by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) and Susan Collins (R., Maine), reminds us that DoD still hasn't specifically named the threat represented by the Fort Hood attack—a signal to the entire Defense bureaucracy that the subject is taboo.

For the superiors in charge of Hasan's training at Walter Reed and his two years at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the taboo was of a more complicated order—one that required elaborately inventive analyses through which Hasan's stated beliefs, ominous pronouncements, and evident unconcern with standards of behavior required of an officer could all be represented as singular virtues, proof of his exceptional value to the Army. It could not have been easy. Still, they managed.
They did so despite Hasan's astounding trail of performances, each more telling than the next. To fulfill Walter Reed's academic requirement for a presentation on a psychiatric theme, Hasan proffered a draft consisting almost entirely of wisdom from the Quran arguing for the painful punishment and liquidation of non-Muslims. Hasan evidently viewed the Quranic verses as a sufficient presentation—a view his superior didn't share, given its lack of any mention of a psychiatric theme. When that guide warned him the presentation was "not scholarly" and might prevent his graduation, Hasan revised. The finished product was not much different. Still, Hasan was allowed to graduate.

He went on to his medical fellowship, where he soon delivered another class lecture, this one on the Islamist theme that the West, in particular the U.S military, had mounted a war on Islam. The presentation brimmed with views sympathetic to Osama bin Laden, the motives of the 9/11 perpetrators, and suicide bombers. It so infuriated his classmates that their outraged eruptions caused the instructor to end the presentation.

There would be more of the same to come. One classmate witness told investigators that Hasan sought every possible opportunity to share his radical Islamist sympathies. His highest obligation, he told classmates, wasn't to the Constitution, which he had sworn to protect and defend, but to his religion.

His Islamist sympathies would attract the interest of the FBI, which soon picked up on this U.S Army major's contacts with a terrorist suspect, unnamed in the Senate report. The agency would, however, have no continuing great interest in Hasan. Among other reasons, its agents had seen the impressive evaluation reports characterizing Hasan as an authority on Islam—one whose work even had "extraordinary potential to inform national policy and military strategy," as one of his superiors put it in his officer evaluation report.


The same Hasan who set off silent alarms in his supervisors—the Psychiatric Residency Program Director at Walter Reed was one of them—would garner only plaudits in the official written evaluations at the time. He was commended in these as a "star officer," one focused on "illuminating the role of culture and Islamic faith within the Global War on Terrorism." One supervisor testified, "His unique interests have captured the interest and attention of peers and mentors alike." No single word of criticism or doubt about Hasan ever made its way into any of his evaluations.

Some of those enthusiastic testaments strongly suggested that the writers were themselves at least partly persuaded of their reasoning. In magical thinking, safety and good come to those who obey taboos, and in the multiculturalist world, there is no taboo more powerful than the one that forbids acknowledgment of realities not in keeping with the progressive vision. In the world of the politically correct—which can apparently include places where psychiatrists are taught—magical thinking reigns.
A resident who didn't represent the diversity value that Hasan did as a Muslim would have faced serious consequences had he behaved half as disturbingly. Here was a world in which Hasan was untouchable, in which all that was grim and disturbing in him was transformed. He was a consistently mediocre performer, ranking in the lowest 25% of his class, but to his evaluators, he was an officer of unique talents.

He was a star not simply because he was a Muslim, but because he was a special kind—the sort who posed, in his flaunting of jihadist sympathies, the most extreme test of liberal toleration. Exactly the kind the progressive heart finds irresistible.

A decision as to whether Maj. Hasan will go to trial—it would be before a military court-martial —should be forthcoming next month. He stands charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder, committed when he turned his laser equipped semi-automatic on members of the military at the Soldier Readiness Center. The likelihood is that the trial will go forward. If it does, the forces of multiculturalist piety, which played so central a role in advancing this Army major and concealing the menace he posed, will be the invisible presence on trial with him. 


 NEWS RELEASE
Zionist Organization of America

ZOA:  Israel should state – if Egypt cancels treaty, so will Israel,
may retake oil wells/Sinai


The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has urged the Israeli government to make it clear that, in the event that Egypt cancels the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, as several prominent Egyptian figures have proclaimed in recent days, Israel will also cancel the treaty and rescind its major concessions under it. This means that it would consider retaking the Sinai desert; its four oil wells, developed by Israel; re-establish its former air force bases there; and re-build Yamit, the Jewish town from which 5,000 Jews were forcibly removed as part of the treaty. The U.S. should also consider ending its $2 billion in annual aid to Egypt if it cancels the treaty.

ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “The Egypt-Israel peace treaty is a legal, contractual undertaking by both sides. It requires the faithful performance of all treaty obligations. It is both absurd and unthinkable that Egypt can retain all of Israel’s concessions, while Israel loses Egypt’s obligation to maintain peace and recognition.

“We also urge that, if Egypt cancels the treaty, the U.S. must also consider cancelling all further aid to Cairo and removing its military advisers, who have expertly trained Egypt’s armed forces. The more than $60 billion in aid over three decades has enabled Egypt to build up one of the largest armies in the Middle East, twice the size of Israel’s, with over 1,000 tanks, 300 F-15 fighter jets, over a dozen warships, missiles and chemical weapons.


“If Egypt had abrogated the treaty, shall we say, six months or a year after the treaty was originally signed in 1979, there would be simply no question that Egypt would not able to keep the concessions made by Israel under the treaty as if nothing had happened. It would also be unthinkable that the U.S. would start, or continue, to give $2 billion in U.S. annual aid to a country that had just flagrantly abrogated the very treaty under which it was to receive U.S. aid.

“In fact, top U.S. officials have recently told me that the $2 billion in aid would likely not continue if Egypt cancelled the treaty. They also told me that they would surely be using U.S. aid as leverage to pressure any future Egyptian government not to abandon this treaty.

“It makes no difference that 30 years have passed since the signing of the treaty. The treaty was not a limited one of thirty, or a hundred years. Egypt cannot renounce the treaty without automatically forfeiting whatever it gained by it. Israel should be making this crystal clear to those in authority in Egypt as well as to whomever else may come to power in Cairo. By doing so, Israel may play a valuable, stabilizing and restraining influence on Egypt. By showing that significant negative consequences could flow from Egypt abrogating the peace treaty, Israel would reduce the likelihood of Egypt doing so.”