In 1949, the Communist takeover of China rattled the US foreign policy
establishment to its core. China’s fall to Communism was correctly perceived as
a massive strategic defeat for the US. The triumphant Mao Zedong placed
China firmly in the Soviet camp and implemented foreign policies antithetical to
For the American foreign policy establishment, China’s fall
forced a reconsideration of basic axioms of US foreign policy. Until China went
Red, the view resonant among foreign policy specialists was that it was possible
for the US to peacefully coexist and even be strategic allies with
With Mao’s embrace of Stalin this position was discredited.
The US’s subsequent recognition that it was impossible for America to reach an
accommodation with Communists served as the intellectual architecture of many of
the strategies the US adopted for fighting the Cold War in the years that
Today the main aspect of America’s response to China’s
Communist revolution that is remembered is the vindictive political hunt for
scapegoats. Foreign Service officers and journalists who had advised the US
government to support Mao and the Communists against Chiang Kai Shek and the
Nationalists were attacked as traitors.
But while the “Red Scare” is what
is most remembered about that period, the most significant consequence of the
rise of Communist China was the impact it had on the US’s understanding of the
nature of Communist forces. Even Theodore White, perhaps the most prominent
journalist who championed Mao and the Communists, later acknowledged that he had
been duped by their propaganda machine into believing that Mao and his comrades
were interested in an alliance with the US.
As Joyce Hoffmann exposed in
her book Theodore White and Journalism as Illusion
, White acknowledged that his
wartime report from Mao’s headquarters in Yenan praising the Communists as
willing allies of the US who sought friendship, “not as a beggar seeks charity,
but seeks aid in furthering a joint cause,” was completely false.
wrote, the report was “winged with hope and passion that were entirely
What he had been shown in Yenan, Hoffmann quotes White as having
written, was “the showcase of democratic art pieces they (the Communists) staged
for us American correspondents [and] was literally, only showcase
Contrast the US’s acceptance of failure in China in 1949, and its
willingness to learn the lessons of its loss of China, with the US’s denial of
its failure and loss of Egypt today.
On Sunday, new president Mohamed
Morsy completed Egypt’s transformation into an Islamist state. In the space of
one week, Morsy sacked the commanders
of the Egyptian military and replaced them
with Muslim Brotherhood loyalists, and fired all the editors of the state-owned
media and replaced them with Muslim Brotherhood loyalists.
implemented a policy of intimidation, censorship and closure of independently
owned media organizations that dare to publish criticism of him.
revoked the military’s constitutional role in setting the foreign and military
policies of Egypt. But he maintained the junta’s court-backed decision to
disband the parliament. In so doing, Morsy gave himself full control over the
writing of Egypt’s new constitution.
As former ambassador to Egypt Zvi
Mazel wrote Tuesday
in The Jerusalem Post
, Morsy’s moves mean that he “now holds
dictatorial powers surpassing by far those of erstwhile president Hosni
In other words, Morsy’s actions have transformed Egypt from a
military dictatorship into an Islamist dictatorship.
The impact on
Egypt’s foreign policy of Morsy’s seizure of power is already becoming clear. On
Monday, Al-Masri al-Youm
quoted Mohamed Gadallah, Morsy’s legal adviser, saying
that Morsy is considering revising the peace accord with Israel. Gadallah
explained that Morsy intends to “ensure Egypt’s full sovereignty and control
over every inch of Sinai.”
In other words, Morsy intends to remilitarize
Sinai and so render the Egyptian military a clear and present threat to Israel’s
security. Indeed, according to Haaretz
, Egypt has already breached the peace
accord and deployed forces and heavy weaponry to Sinai without Israeli
The rapidity of Morsy’s moves has surprised most observers.
But more surprising than his moves is the US response to his moves.
Obama administrations officials have behaved as though nothing has happened, or even as
though Morsy’s moves are positive developments.
For instance, in an
interview with The Wall Street Journal
, one administration official dismissed
the significance of Morsy’s purge of the military brass, saying, “What I think
this is, frankly, is Morsy looking for a generational change in military
reported that Egypt’s new defense minister, Gen.
Abdul-Fattah el-Sissi, is known as a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer. But the
Obama administration quickly dismissed the reports as mere rumors with no
significance. Sissi, administration sources told the Journal, ate dinner with US
President Barack Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan during
Brennan’s visit to Cairo last October. Aside from that, they say, people are
always claiming that Morsy’s appointments have ties to Morsy’s Muslim
A slightly less rose-colored assessment came from Steven
Cook in Foreign Affairs
. According to Cook, at worst, Morsy’s move was probably
nothing more than a present-day reenactment of Gamal Abel Nasser’s decision to
move Egypt away from the West and into the Soviet camp in 1954.
likely, Cook argued, Morsy was simply doing what Sadat did when in 1971 he fired
other generals with whom he had been forced to share power when he first
succeeded Nasser in 1969.
Certainly the Nasser and Sadat analogies are
pertinent. But while properly citing them, Cook failed to explain what those
analogies tell us about the significance of Morsy’s actions. He drew the dots
but failed to see the shape they make.
Morsy’s Islamism, like Mao’s
Communism, is inherently hostile to the US and its allies and interests in the
Middle East. Consequently, Morsy’s strategic repositioning of Egypt as an
Islamist country means that Egypt – which has served as the anchor of the US
alliance system in the Arab world for 30 years – is setting aside its alliance
with the US and looking toward reassuming the role of regional
Egypt is on the fast track to reinstating its war against Israel
and threatening international shipping in the Suez Canal. And as an Islamist
state, Egypt will certainly seek to export its Islamic revolution to other
countries. No doubt fear of this prospect is what prompted Saudi Arabia to begin
showering Egypt with billions of dollars in aid.
It should be recalled
that the Saudis so feared the rise of a Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Egypt that in
February 2011, when US President Barack Obama was publicly ordering
then-president Hosni Mubarak to abdicate power immediately, Saudi leaders were
beseeching him to defy Obama. They promised Mubarak unlimited financial support
for Egypt if he agreed to cling to power.
The US’s astounding sanguinity
in the face of Morsy’s completion of the Islamization of Egypt is an
illustration of everything that is wrong and dangerous about US Middle East
Take US policy toward Syria.
Syria is in possession
of one of the largest arsenals of chemical and biological weapons in the world.
The barbarism with which the regime is murdering its opponents is a daily
reminder – indeed a flashing neon warning sign – that Syria’s nonconventional
arsenal constitutes a clear and present danger to international security. And
yet, the Obama administration insists on viewing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s
murderous behavior as if it were a garden variety human rights
During her visit with Turkey’s Islamist Foreign Minister Ahmet
Davutoglu last Saturday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton didn’t even
mention the issue of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons. Instead she
continued to back Turkey’s sponsorship of the Islamist-dominated opposition and
said that the US would be working with Turkey to put together new ways to help
the Islamist opposition overthrow Assad’s regime.
Among other things, she
did not rule out the imposition of a no-fly zone over Syria.
most likely to be harmed from such a move would be Israel, which would lose its
ability to bomb Syrian weapons of mass destruction sites from the
Then of course, there is Iran and its openly genocidal nuclear
weapons program. This week The New York Times
reported a new twist in the Obama
administration’s strategy for managing this threat. It is trying to convince the
Persian Gulf states to accept advanced missile defense systems from the
This new policy makes clear that the Obama administration has no
intention of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Its actions on the
ground are aimed instead at accomplishing one goal: convincing Iran’s Arab
neighbors to accept Iran as a nuclear power and preventing Israel from acting
militarily to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The missile shields
are aspects of a policy of containment, not prevention. And the US’s attempts to
sabotage Israel’s ability to strike Iran’s nuclear sites through leaks,
political pressure and efforts to weaken the Netanyahu government make clear
that as far as the US is concerned, Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is not the
The prospect of Israel preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear
weapons is the problem.
Several American commentators argue that the
Obama administration’s policies are the rational consequence of the divergence
of US and Israeli assessments of the threats posed by regional developments. For
instance, writing in the Tablet
online magazine this week, Lee Smith argued that
the US does not view the developments in Egypt, Iran and Syria as threatening US
interests. From Washington’s perspective, the prospect of an Israeli strike on
Iran is more threatening than a nuclear-armed Iran, because an Israeli strike
would immediately destabilize the region.
The problem with this
assessment is that it is nonsense. It is true that Israel is first on Iran’s
target list, and that Egypt is placing Israel, not the US in its crosshairs. So,
too, Syria and its rogue allies will use their chemical weapons against Israel
But that doesn’t mean the US will be safe. The likely
beneficiaries of Syrian chemical weapons – Sunni and Shi’ite terrorist
organizations – have attacked the US in the past. Iran has a history of
attacking US shipping without a nuclear umbrella.
Surely it would be more
aggressive in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz after defying Washington
in illegally developing a nuclear arsenal. The US is far more vulnerable to
interruptions in the shipping lanes in the Suez Canal than Israel is.
reason Israel and the US are allies is that Israel is the US’s first line of
defense in the region.
If regional events weren’t moving so quickly, the
question of who lost Egypt would probably have had its moment in the spotlight
But as is clear from the US’s denial of the significance
of Morsy’s rapid completion of Egypt’s Islamic transformation; its blindness to
the dangers of Syrian chemical and biological weapons; and its complacency
toward Iran’s nuclear weapons program, by the time the US foreign policy
establishment realizes it lost Egypt, the question it will be asking is not who
lost Egypt. It will be asking who lost the Middle
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