Cairo was the symbol of President Barack Obama’s policy in the Middle East. Now,
it might also be the symbol of its failure.
Barack Obama always mocked
George W. Bush’s paternalistic approach to foreign policy, according to which
developing countries should be treated with the method of “divide and conquer,”
when some get the stick, while others get the carrot.
Obama was right.
Bush indeed saw the world in black and white. After all, he was the one that
coined the term “axis of evil” and promised his nation to “rid the world of the
evil-doers.” But at the same time, with respect to “the good guys,” Bush kept
the golden rule of his predecessors – a superpower does not abandon its
The US, which competed with the Soviet Union for the affiliation
of the developing countries around the world, understood that in authoritarian
regimes, the ruler is the state.
Therefore, when you earn the trust of
the ruler his country will be on your side. The name of the game was
co-dependence: America kept the rulers in power, and the rulers promoted
American interests in the region, or as Henry Kissinger stated, “America has no
permanent friends or enemies, only interests.”
Egypt’s president Anwar
Sadat made history when he shifted his country’s allegiance from the USSR to the
US. One might say that both parties made a good deal: Egypt received financial
and military support, while America received the loyalty of the leader of the
After Hosni Mubarak’s coming to power, he continued to
provide the US with stability in world’s most unstable area. In return, his
country received annual aid of a billion dollars.
This money helped
Mubarak build one of the strongest armies in the Middle East. That same army
guarded America’s interests in the region, and at the same time saved Mubarak’s
regime from the threat of the Islamic opposition.
The years went by, but
Egypt’s relevance to America did not fade. No wonder Obama chose Cairo as his
first visit as a president.
When the regional earthquake dubbed the “Arab
Spring” (or rather Islamic winter) began, Mubarak looked to his allies in
America for support. In this era, when rulers are crowned and removed from power
by the media, a clear statement by an American president can be
On January 28, the American vice president, Joe Biden, stated
that Mubarak shouldn’t step down, and that he is “an ally of ours. And he’s been
very responsible on geopolitical interest in the region.” Less than a week
later, his boss, Barack Obama, had already firmly demanded the exact
The next day, Mubarak’s 30-year term came to an end. The final
phone conversation between Obama and Mubarak lasted 30 minutes; one minute for
every year of loyalty to the American interests.
Despite the fact that
the revolution did not bring the liberal fractions to power, the US continued
pouring money into the Egyptian economy, and thus backed Mohamed Morsi’s regime.
Paradoxically, it was the return of the secular leadership, backed by the
military, that convinced America to halt its aid.
Sure, Abdel Fatah
Sisi’s counter- revolution was everything but democratic, but one cannot ignore
the fact that his regime is much closer ideologically to the US and its allies
than that of his Islamic adversary.
In the meanwhile, another Arab ruler,
Syria’s Bashar Assad, began struggling for his survival. The uprising in Syria
rapidly changed into a bloody civil war. Unlike in Mubarak’s case, Assad’s
patron stood loyally by his side. The climax of this loyalty was of course
during the aftermath of the chemical attack killing around 1,400 civilians.
Russian President Vladimir Putin faced down the entire western world to prevent
a possible attack by the US that could have ended Assad’s regime.
the US: the chemical weapons crisis in Syria underlined another important
phenomenon: the decline in America’s credibility.
Obama’s “50 shades of
red” game with Assad has signaled to the world that sometimes when an American
president speaks, he doesn’t mean business.
Egypt’s popular de-facto
leader, Sisi, did the math. He remembered Obama’s indecisiveness during Egypt’s
uprising and the Carter-like abandonment of Mubarak, not to mention Obama’s lack
of support for Sisi’s government. On the other hand, he saw how Russia treats
its allies and how far it’s willing to go to keep them in power.
Thursday, Russia’s most high-ranking delegation (including foreign minister
Sergey Lavrov and the defense minister Sergey Shoygu), has landed in Cairo and
received the red-carpet welcome. The final results of the visit are still not
certain; but it looks like the two countries are headed for a major arms deal
and military cooperation. But, more than anything, this deal signals to America
that every ally, and even patron, is replaceable.
We might be witnessing
a historical process, resulting from America’s policy (or rather lack of
policy). All the signs indicate Cairo no longer trusts the Obama
Therefore, the Russian bear is becoming a more preferred
partner and even patron than Uncle Sam.
In his 2012 article named “After
America,” Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former US national security adviser, has
predicted that “Russia, while perhaps engaging in wishful thinking (even
schadenfreude) about America’s uncertain prospects, will almost certainly have
its eye on the independent states of the former Soviet Union.”
seems that Russia’s wishful thinking is not only becoming reality, but is also
growing further then Brzezinski could have ever imagined.
holds a master’s degree in international relations and a bachelor of law degree
from the University of Haifa. He currently works as a parliamentary assistant
and legal adviser in the Knesset.