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Opinion

Opinion

Opinion: U.S. shouldn’t cut its ties with Egypt

August 24, 2013

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— Egypt today is a zero-sum game. We’d have preferred there be a democratic alternative. Unfortunately, there is none. The choice is binary: The country will be ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood or by the military.

Perhaps the military should have waited three years for the intensely unpopular Mohamed Morsi to be voted out of office. But Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi seems to have calculated that by then there would be no elections — as in Gaza, where the Palestinian wing of the Brotherhood, Hamas, elected in 2006, established a one-man-one-vote-one-time dictatorship.

What’s the U.S. to do? Any response demands two considerations: (a) moral, i.e., which outcome offers the better future for Egypt, and (b) strategic, i.e., which outcome offers the better future for U.S. interests and those of the free world.

As for Egypt’s future, the Brotherhood offered nothing but incompetent, intolerant, increasingly dictatorial rule. In one year, Morsi managed to squander 85 years of Brotherhood prestige garnered in opposition — a place from which one can promise the moon — by persecuting journalists and activists, granting himself the unchallenged power to rule by decree, enshrining a sectarian Islamist constitution and systematically trying to seize the instruments of state power. As if that wasn’t enough, after its overthrow the Brotherhood showed itself to be the party that, when angry, burns churches.

The military, brutal and bloody, is not a very appealing alternative. But it does matter what the Egyptian people think. The anti-Morsi demonstrations were the largest in recorded Egyptian history. Revolted by Morsi’s betrayal of a revolution intended as a new opening for individual dignity and democracy, the protesters explicitly demanded Morsi’s overthrow.

And which alternative better helps secure U.S. strategic interests? The list is long: (1) a secure Suez Canal, (2) friendly relations with the U.S., (3) continued alliance with the pro-American Gulf Arabs and Jordanians, (4) retention of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, (5) cooperation with the U.S. on terrorism, which in part involves (6) isolating Brotherhood-run Gaza.

Every one of which is jeopardized by Brotherhood rule.

What, then, should be our policy? The administration is right to deplore excessive violence and urge reconciliation. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing this is possible in any near future. Sissi crossed his Rubicon with the coup. It will either succeed or not. To advocate a middle way is to invite endless civil strife.

The best outcome would be a victorious military magnanimously offering, at some later date, to reintegrate the more moderate elements of what’s left of the Brotherhood.

But for now, we should not be cutting off aid, civilian or military, as many in Congress are demanding. It will have no effect, buy no influence and win no friends on either side of the Egyptian divide. We should instead be urging the quick establishment of a new Cabinet of technocrats, rapidly increasing its authority as the soldiers gradually return to their barracks.

Generals are very bad at governance. Give the reins to people who actually know something. And charge them with reviving the economy and preparing the foundations for a democratic transition — most importantly, drafting a secular constitution that protects the rights of women and minorities. The final step on that long democratic path should be elections.

After all, we’ve been here. Through a half-century of cold war, we repeatedly faced precisely the same dilemma: choosing the lesser evil between totalitarian (in that case, communist) and authoritarian (usually military) rule.

We generally supported the various militaries in suppressing the communists. That was routinely pilloried as a hypocritical and immoral betrayal of our alleged allegiance to liberty. But in the end, it proved the prudent, if troubled, path to liberty.

The authoritarian regimes we supported — in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Chile, Brazil, even Spain and Portugal (ruled by fascists until the mid-1970s!) — in time yielded democratic outcomes. Gen. Augusto Pinochet, after 16 years of iron rule, yielded to U.S. pressure and allowed a free election — which he lost, ushering in Chile’s current era of democratic flourishing. How many times have communists or Islamists allowed that to happen?

Regarding Egypt, rather than emoting, we should be thinking: what’s best for Egypt, for us and for the possibility of some eventual democratic future.

Under the Brotherhood, such a possibility is zero. Under the generals, slim.

Slim trumps zero.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Comments

jafs 1 year, 4 months ago

Well, CK conveniently forgets that Morsi was democratically elected.

Of course, he then turned out to be dictatorial, which was a big problem.

However, I tend to think there must be a better way than supporting a "brutal and bloody" military takeover of the country, involving massive amounts of slaughter.

If our options are really as limited as he suggests, then I say that neither one is acceptable, and we should remove ourselves from the conflict, and let them sort it out.

There's no real moral difference between totalitarian and authoritarian, in my view.

Steve Jacob 1 year, 4 months ago

We told the military do not fire on protesters and they did. Empty threats does not help the US.

jafs 1 year, 4 months ago

What's your point?

If they acted in ways that we don't support, then we should remove our support, right?

buffalo63 1 year, 4 months ago

It scares me that for the first time I can agree with CK's column. It also amazes me that talking heads and members of Congress try to tell the President what he should do, which is easy when they don't have the responsibility for any decision on the situation in Egypt.

jafs 1 year, 4 months ago

So you think we should support the "brutal and bloody" miltary?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 4 months ago

I'm glad Obama drew a line in the sand with Syria. Now the Egyptian military leaders know we're serious when we say our continued support is conditional on them behaving in a certain way.

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