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US Foreign Policy, Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

The Obama administration, though they would not characterize it as such nor have much desire to acknowledge it at all, have attempted  a strategic detente with the “moderate” elements of political Islam.

This policy has not been entirely consistent; Syria, for example, is a quagmire the administration has wisely refrained from wading directly into despite the best efforts of R2P advocates to drag us there.  But more importantly, under President Obama the US supported the broad-based Arab Spring popular revolt against US ally, dictator Hosni Mubarak, and pushed the subsequent ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Libyan revolution against the entirely mad Colonel Gaddafi. These appear to be geopolitical “moves” upon which the Obama administration hopes to build.

I would like to emphasize that there is one legitimate and valid strategic pro to this sub rosa policy; namely, if everything went well, it would provide the United States with powerful triangulation against revolutionary, apocalyptic, radical Islamism as expressed by al Qaida and various Salafi extremist movements. There are reasons, rooted in takfirism, strategy and the politics of lunacy that our terrorist enemies frequently hate and revile the Brotherhood as traitors, apostates or whatever. Isolating the most actively dangerous and violent revolutionary enemies from a large mass of potential allies is, at least, a good strategic goal.

It is also my view, that this “outreach” is as politically sensitive  to the Obama administration as was the China Opening was to Nixon and about which they have been equally opaque and misleading for fear of a domestic backlash. The weird, foot-dragging, dissembling, embittered, kabuki drama inside the Beltway about public statements and intelligence on whether Benghazi was caused by obscure crackpot Islamophobic film makers or a well-orchestrated terrorist attack  is in my view due to a major foreign policy strategy never having been framed in public for what it is. I’m sure people will differ strongly with me on this (which is fine), but I would characterize detente with Islamists as a strategic shift on par with the “Pivot to Asia”.

The downside here is that first, things are not likely to come out well at all, as unfinished revolutions tend to give birth to monsters; and secondly, any detente with “moderate” political Islam is an uncertain gamble based on certain exceptionally optimistic conceptions of not only what the Brotherhood might do, but about it’s very nature.

While the removal of Arab dictators resonated with American values , it was questionable realpolitik while the administration’s de facto support of  Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faction over poorly organized secular liberal modernists was an act of realpolitik that required a compromise of the democratic values so recently invoked to justify abandoning Mubarak. This was cynical diplomatic flexibility worthy of Talleyrand.

Unfortunately, the most democratic thing – perhaps the only thing – about Mr. Morsi and his Brotherhood supporters was his election.

The Egyptian people who are subjected now to thuggery from both Morsi’s Islamist stormtroopers and from the security forces of the Egyptian military are less sanguine than are the Brotherhood’s cheerleaders inside the administration. The Egyptian people, in fact, seem to be in revolt against domination by the Muslim Brotherhood’s shadow government.

The first question to ask in assessing if the Obama administration policy here is wise would be “What is the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood?” Americans love to personalize foreign policy, but if  Morsi were to be toppled or die, the Brotherhood will remain what it currently is, the best organized political force in Egypt and one widely influential throughout the Arab world and the West itself.

I am not an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood, nor am I an Arabist by education. Most of us aren’t – a group that I fear includes most of the Obama administration officials involved in shaping this policy. Almost fifty years after King Faisal determined to export Wahhabism, more than thirty years since Khomeini’s Revolution and more than ten years since 9/11 the USG still has less in-house expertise related to Islam than it did about the Soviet Union and Communism a decade after the Berlin Blockade.

Perhaps we all should begin learning more?

Here is an analysis from FPRI; it is extremely critical but it touches on organizational aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood that I have not seen elsewhere (hat tip to David Ronfeldt). Feel free to suggest others, both for and against. The Brotherhood is a very large group with a long history that includes violence , terrorism and subversion on one hand and peacefully representing expressions of pious, middle-class, social conservatism in other places and times:

Lecture Transcript: What Every American Should Know about Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Delivered by Eric Trager 

….Two years ago when I was doing my dissertation fieldwork in Cairo, I sought out interviews with leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood, and I was referred to a man named Muhammad Morsi, now the President of Egypt. At the time, President Mubarak was ill and had gone off to Europe for operations amid a lot of mystery surrounding his health. I asked Muhammad Morsi whether the Muslim Brotherhood would run a presidential candidate if Mubarak died tomorrow. Here is what he said:

[From an audio file played by Trager]

Eric Trager: You don’t see the Muslim Brotherhood nominating a presidential candidate [if Mubarak dies tomorrow]?

Muhammad Morsi: No… because society is not ready… Our society is not ready yet to really defend its worth. We want a society to carry on its responsibilities, and we are part of this society. Another thing, if we are rushing things, then I don’t think that leads to a real stable position.

When he made that statement, I don’t think he was lying, and I don’t think he was being coy. I think that he didn’t expect that he would be faced with this reality in a mere six months. He did not expect that Mubarak would step down six months later and, to be completely honest with you, neither did I. My dissertation was entitled “Egypt: Durable Authoritarianism”—until the revolution.

What did Morsi mean when he said that the Brotherhood was trying to build a society? Let me give you some background on the Muslim Brotherhood. It was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, who was a schoolteacher in Ismailia. The Muslim Brotherhood’s goal was then—and remains now—to establish an Islamic state in Egypt. The way it pursues this goal is by trying to Islamize Egyptian society. Through social services, education, and the mosque, it sought to make Egyptians more religious and more Islamic as a grassroots strategy for building an Islamic state. That’s very, very different from a strategy that says, “We’re going to run for president, run for the Parliament, and use that power to transform society.” Rather, the Brotherhood says, in effect, “We’re going to Islamize society to build towards power.” It was a long-term strategy; it took them 84 years before they ran for and won the presidency. So Morsi told me in 2010 that the Muslim Brotherhood was not going to run for the presidency because it was not done Islamizing Egyptian society….

Read the rest here.

Kelly Vlahos Spoons John Nagl Over COIN

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

There is quite a buzz going in mil and defense blogger circles over the recent op-ed savaging in The American Conservative by Kelley Vlahos regarding Dr. John Nagl and COIN. Unfortunately for Vlahos, little of it that I have seen online or privately is favorable – including from some people who I know are less than well-disposed toward COIN or the COINdinistas.

Speaking as someone who was one of the earlier voices to remark that the political moment of pop-centric COIN had passed, I found Vlahos’ post to largely be ill-tempered, context-distorting, schadenfreude.

But hey, judge for yourself. My comments will be in normal text:

Learning to Eat Soup with a Spoon 

….Then Tom Ricks, Washington Post correspondent-court scribe, conducted a full-blown high school popularity contest, literally ranking the “brains behind counterinsurgency’s rise from forgotten doctrine to the centerpiece of the world’s most powerful military.” In this cringe-worthy “top ten” published in Foreign Policy in December 2009, Ricks places “King David” Petraeus at Number 1, and then Nagl, whose Oxford dissertation-turned-Barnes-and-Noble-bestseller Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife made him a counterinsurgency “scholar,” among other bright lights of the time. Nagl, Ricks predicted, would be “in a top Pentagon slot within a year or two.”

That was just three years ago. Today, there is no better symbol for the dramatic failure of COIN, the fading of the COINdinistas and the loss that is U.S war policy in Afghanistan than this week’s news that Nagl is leaving Washington to be the headmaster of The Haverford School, a rich preparatory school (grades k-12) for boys on Philadelphia’s Main Line.

Hmmmm. I guess General Petraeus as CIA Director and General Mattis as Combatant Commander of CENTCOM are therefore examples of a rare form of career failure.

And really, only a subpar military officer would involve himself in educating young people. Shame on you, John Nagl, for joining such a shady group of misfits.

….That’s right — Nagl, once called the Johnny Appleseed of COIN, who reveled in his role as face man, tutoring reporters with practiced bookish charm on the “the new way of war,”  and burnishing his personal story to convince everyone that he was a counter-insurgent before his time — a modern T.E. Lawrence — is packing up for good. Turns out that despite all the high hopes, the COINdinistas hit the brass ceiling with a smack, especially once it became clear that the magic they sold was a bag of beans….

Again, most of the COINdinistas, so-called, have not hit some kind of brass ceiling  nor are they secretly running the Army or the administration. Most are  in perfectly respectable but unremarkable ranks, institutional positions or jobs in the private sector. HR McMaster is now a brigadier major general, Con Crane is a director at the US Army Military History Institute, Kalev Sepp is a lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School, Montgomery McFate holds the Minerva Chair at NWC,  General Jack Keane sits on several corporate boards, Fred Kagan is still at AEI,  Andrew Exum is at CNAS, David Kilcullen is the  CEO at Caerus Associates and so on.

By Washington standards, this is a relatively modest level of policy influence or promotion (Petraeus and Mattis excepted). If you want to look at rapid advancement through political connections, consider Al Haig rising like a rocket from LTC to full general and NATO Supreme Commander due to his proximity to Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Or the unusually gilded career path of Colin Powell.

That said, there are many grounds, theoretical and practical, to find fault with pop-centric COIN theory and FM 3-24, from an anti-empirical legacy assumption of a Maoist model of insurgency, to a fundamental confusion of tactics and operational art with strategy to the hardening of COIN from a fairly flexible emergent doctrine in Iraq into a rigid, micromanaging, ROE dogma in Afghanistan. COIN is ripe for revision, not excision and substantive, informed, critiques of the wars of the past decade are sorely needed by scholars, military officers and defense intellectuals. Irregular conflict is never going away any more than war will go away.

Unfortunately, Vlahos was too busy with gossipy smears on Nagl’s character to make any substantive points of that nature which would have made her column something more than ad hominem rubbish.

An end-timely reminder

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]


I spend a fair amount of effort as you know, trying to monitor the various forms of end-times religion manifesting in the Abrahamic faiths, so it came as a shock to me to find a seam of material on Sunni Mahdism that I hadn’t previously run across, now a year old, from over on my old side of the pond of all places…

Look what happens to London:


And if that isn’t graphic enough for you — and it really isn’t very graphic — look at what happens to New York


The End of Time… A New Beginning…


The first image comes from a poster for a tour of Ireland in October of last year — though why the good people of Ireland should be so worried if London is consumed in sulphurous fog and flame is a little hard for me to understand — while the second graphic advertises a conference in London — though why the good people of London should be so concerned if the city of New York… no, I won’t go there, there’s the Special Relationship, isn’t there?  Is there?

I missed both events, alas, living quietly here in the United States, or I might have heard, in Ireland:

a clear description about life in the grave, the trials of the last day, the major and minor signs leading to the last hour and the day of resurrection including Imam Mahdi, The Dajjal and many more.

I could have taken notes, and published them here on Zenpundit. After all, as the advertisements advertised:

On the Day of Judgment those who pass the test will be rewarded with Paradise.

Cliff’s Notes for Judgement Day — a sure best seller!


Not to worry, I can still study up on the January 2009 London conference, at which Anwar al-Awlaki reportedly hosted a live video question-and-answer session, presumably beaming in from Yemen — even though tickets are no longer available

If I can just get hold of the DVDs…


Sadly, though, they’re out of stock


Okay seriously now — three points:

This is associated with al-Awlaki.  This has slick PR, intercontinental video feeds, and DVDs.  And this is Sunni Mahdism.


Deichman on Veteran’s Day

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Shane Deichman has an outstanding reflection up at Wizards of Oz:

Armistice/Remembrance/Veterans Day

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in the year 1918, “The Great War” ended.

Of course, it couldn’t have been known as “World War I” at the time — because that would mean the insanity of wholesale slaughter and wanton destruction would happen again.  What a difference a generation makes….

92 years after the poppy has come to signify remembrance of those who fell in defense of the State, whether in Flanders Fields or France or the coral atolls of the Pacific or the rolling hills of Korea or the jungles of Vietnam or the deserts of Iraq or the river valleys of the Hindu Kush, today we are living off the interest earned by their blood.

Read the rest here.

“Framing” a Meme Crudely: Prelude to Campaign 2010

Monday, July 26th, 2010


Former Governor, former Presidential candidate and former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Howard Dean unveiled the Democratic Party’s trial balloon for the election of 2012. Normally, I bold all the text in an excerpt but I will do so from this POLITICO post only selectively:

….Appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” Dean, who’s also a former Democratic national chairman and hero of liberals, asserted Fox News failed to vet video footage of a speech misleadingly excerpted to make it appear that Sherrod was boasting of using her post as an Agriculture Department official to discriminate against a white farmer.

“I don’t think Newt Gingrich is a racist, and I don’t think you’re a racist,” Dean told Fox News host Chris Wallace, “but Fox News did something that was absolutely racist. They took a – they had an obligation to find out what was really in the clip. They had been pushing a theme of black racism with this phony Black Panther crap and this business and this Sotomayor and all this other stuff.”

When Wallace interrupted Dean to point out that Fox did not air the excerpted Sherrod footage until after the Obama administration had fired her based on it , Dean shot back “It was about to go on Glenn Beck, which is what the administration was afraid of.”

And Dean mildly rebuked the Obama administration, as well, saying, “We’ve got to stop being afraid of Glenn Beck (a Fox News host) and the racist fringe of the Republican Party. But Fox News was not blameless during this. You played it up.”

Dean dismissed Wallace’s point about timing, asserting “you didn’t do your job,” and charging that Fox News has helped the Republican Party foster racism by focusing on allegations of reverse racism.

“The tea party called out their racist fringe and I think the Republican Party’s got to stop appealing to its racist fringe. And Fox News is what did that. You put that on,” Dean said. “Continuing to cater to this theme of minority racism and stressing comments like this – some of which are taken out of context – does not help the country knit itself

In just this brief section where Dean is quoted, he used the word “racism” or a variant seven times and is paraphrased saying it twice more. Most likely, the transcript of the show will tally more uses of “racist” than just seven to nine in a few minutes of air time. Now either Howard Dean, a wealthy man born into a elite family, a graduate of St. Georges prep and Yale University, a physician and very successful governor, has only a rudimentary vocabulary or Dean was doing a crude imitation of George Lakoff’s  verbal “framing” and testing the Democratic Party’s none-too-subtle campaign theme:”All Republicans are racists”.

The underlying issue here is not about Shirley Sherrod or even racism, but of political power.

It seems likely at this point in time that the Democratic Party is headed for a reprise of their 1994 electoral disaster, despite the Republican Party being incompetent and bankrupt of both leadership and ideas ( in fact, given the demonstrated ineptitude of Micheal Steele as the GOP spokesman, the bast tactical stance for Republicans might be to just shut-up and only speak from unimpeachable ground that 60 % + of the public agrees with).  The war is not going well and the economy is worse, while taxes and spending are going up. That all of this is not the fault of Democrats is irrelevant because enough of it is and having all the power, the voters see them as accountable.. Having decided to govern from the left of center – maybe not Netroots Left, but left of moderate Democrats and Independents, under the aegis of Pelosi and Reid – the Democrats have irrevocably branded themselves for this election cycle and probably the next.

Not having any appealing points for undecided voters and independents leaves the Democrats the option of the hardball attack with the objective of mitigating the damage. How does trying to build an association between the word “racism” and “Republican” do that as it obviously fires up the Republicans to come out and vote by angering them?

Partisan liberals (note: I am not saying all liberals or all Democrats, just the zealous partisans) tend to believe that the only viable explanation for people not accepting their political agenda and exercise of power is a) Stupidity, or b) Evil motivations – among which, racism is the most evil of all.  In other words, there is no “legitimate” basis of democratic disagreement with them, only error and malice. Which is why many partisan liberals today, like the ranters exposed on Journolist, often come across to non-liberals as humorless authoritarians in a way that past liberals like Hubert Humphrey, William Brennan or Barbara Jordan never did. This campaign theme, while partisan liberals enjoy attacking Republicans immensely, isn’t for them either. They already are sure votes and maxed out political donors.

No, the target audience for Dean’s framing are the younger, basically apolitical, white voters who came out and voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and whom polls suggest won’t do so again. A second group are socially liberal, Democratic-leaning, independent swing voters. A coordinated drumbeat of prominent Democrats relentlessly attacking opponents as “racists” is designed to keep the first group at home on election day so that they do not vote Republican and to motivate the second group to come out and vote against them. In swing districts and states this might keep a few seats in Democratic hands that might otherwise go to the GOP and it could permanently tarnish or destroy some Republican politicians and turn them into damaged goods.

This is not a stupid tactic. It might not matter, if public sentiment is as angrily anti-incumbent and anti-Democrat as some polls suggest but such a framing campaign is based upon reasonable evidence that negative memes work, that charges of racism are an effective form of slander in American society, that Republicans are highly unlikely to mount an effective counterattack and that a majority of voters are only dimly aware of the factual details of political life. The prospect of losing power makes it a worthwhile gamble for Democrats – especially if figures whom voters cannot punish, like Howard Dean, lead the charge ( it also helps that a certain percentage of members of Congress of both parties harbor some degree of racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, religious bigotry, misogyny or other unseemly prejudices more obscure and tend to do and say things that give evidence of such beliefs. Public life is a target rich environment for take-down efforts).

Could Republicans respond effectively? Of course. There’s all sorts of ways to go for the jugular here, but they probably will not. Newt Gingrich, for example, could have demolished Dean on live television but he chose not to do so because Newt himself plays the “framing” game far better than does Dean and explaining to the uninformed what Dean was doing diminishes Gingrich’s own future rhetorical effectiveness with said uninformed public. Most other Republican leaders lack Gingrich’s intellectual firepower and debating skills and would either try to ignore the charge of racism (a loser move) or fall into protesting their lack of racism so as to better make themselves the object of ridicule as well as abuse.

The poor Republican Party, so close to power and so far from strategy.

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