– Benjamin Disraeli
Disraeli’s sardonic wisdom remains valid despite all of history’s convolutions and revolutions since his day. Nothing is propelled by blind destiny, because it’s foretold, inscribed on some astrological chart and preordaining consequences that cannot be averted.
Inevitably human hands pull the lever that sets cataclysmic geopolitical events in motion. The human hands that unsettled Egypt, and with it the entire Mideast, are primarily those of the American electorate which elevated Barack Obama to the presidency.
At that pivotal point it should have been clear that the end is near for whatever remnants of delicate equilibrium still endure in this region. Obama ushered in chaos even if he chose Cairo as his venue for the 2009 speech in which he sucked up to Islam. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak significantly absented himself from that milestone sham. He could sense the ill-winds blowing.
This is eerily reminiscent of the series of mind-blowing blunders toward Iran during the term of Jimmy Carter, the past president most like Obama, though hardly as radical. In his memoirs, Ayatollah Khomeini’s first foreign minister Ebrahim Yazdi writes that “the shah was doomed the minute Carter entered the White House.”
The novice president indiscreetly sent all the wrong signals, beginning with an exceedingly public cold shoulder to the shah. The mullahs were heartened and exuded confidence. Increasingly shaken, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi sought to ingratiate himself with Carter by relaxing restrictions on opposition agitators. That further emboldened the religious fanatics and spawned unrest. Carter admonished the shah against quelling the disturbances by force.
Willy-nilly, Carter’s bungling was instrumental in installing a reactionary, repressive theocracy in Teheran. Under the banner of freedom, he boosted the forces of medieval darkness. The shah was a goner and the ayatollahs repaid Carter by holding 52 American embassy staffers hostage for 444 days until he was replaced by Ronald Reagan.
Carter’s indisputable legacy was the bloodshed of the Iran-Iraq War, the carnage at the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center and Israeli embassy, the burgeoning of Hizbullah and Hamas, the co-option of Syria/Lebanon and Gaza into Iran’s evil dominion, massive worldwide terror-mongering and lately nuclear ambitions and rhetoric about wiping Israel off the map.
Yet at the time, American opinion-molders (to say nothing of their hypocrite Western European counterparts) eagerly fell for the clichés and painted the shah as a quintessentially reprehensible ogre, much as – having learned nothing – they now portray Mubarak.
It’s not that either the shah or Mubarak were saints, but street demonstrations (or for that matter elections, like the ones which catapulted Hamas to power in Gaza) aren’t synonymous with democracy, certainly not in the Islamic sphere, which is utterly devoid of democratic traditions and infrastructure.
Democracy above all mandates a preexisting mind-set. It rests on transparency, literacy, tolerance, the rule of law, a context of equity, prevailing rights-oriented legalisms, an autonomous judiciary and nonviolent transfers of power. This isn’t something which certain White House residents, State Department headliners, popular talking heads and syndicated scribblers are likely to admit. Complex reality is less marketable than simplistic slogans.
In the real world, it’s prudent to look out for long-term interests which include reliance, where expedient, on the lesser of given evils in the absence of ideal alternatives. Both the shah and Mubarak were never the worst options. Moreover, betraying them doesn’t only impact on their own personal lots. The rest of this dangerous region watches attentively and the intelligence of its Muslim denizens mustn’t be underestimated.
They may be trapped in their own circuitous reasoning, but their acute perception discerns that precisely those in their midst – like the shah and Mubarak – who dared depart from nationalist fanatic extremism or insular Islam are those whom their Western allies betray.
Compare Obama’s reaction to another bout of Mideastern protests. In 2009, following Iran’s rigged election, thousands took to the streets in defiance of the theocracy that Carter piteously enabled. As pro-democracy demonstrators were killed in Teheran and as its ayatollahs furthered their designs to arm themselves with nukes, the current leader of the free world spared no effort to stress the need to downplay the Iranian fuss.
Obama indeed gave his own people a lesson in moral relativism: “It’s important to understand that, although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, the difference between [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and [Mir-Hossein] Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as advertised.”
Not unexpectedly, Obama informed the unenlightened masses that he wouldn’t take sides: “I take a wait-and-see approach… It’s not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling in Iranian elections.”
Given this, and given the irrefutable reality that colossal differences exist between Mubarak and the Muslim Brotherhood, one must wonder why Obama’s administration couldn’t wait before it took sides – this time against the ruling government.
It’s hard to escape the conclusion that – with brash nonintervention in one instance and impetuous intervention in another – no principle or pattern is involved here. It’s hard to avoid concluding that Obama wasn’t interested in destabilizing the anti-Western ayatollahs but didn’t mind destabilizing the pro-western Mubarak.
In other words, painful as the bottom line is, Obama showed no loyalty to the West’s allies – either on the streets of Teheran or in Cairo’s presidential palace. If anything, his proclivities were anti-Western.
There’s no chance that any Mideastern players would overlook this, as much as Obama and his supporters may deny his apparent inclinations. All moralizing mantras about human liberty ring hollow as Obama is seen keeping his hands off the most rogue of Mideast regimes while selling out his professed teammates.
If anything can conceivably discourage vulnerable local potentates (like King Abdullah of Jordan) from staking their futures on American promises, it’s the evidence of their own eyes. Right now, all American allies – Israelis among them – look like suckers liable to be left high and dry.
The ayatollahs, who were helped by Carter and not hindered by Obama, must be rubbing their hands in glee. Carter’s latest unsolicited kibitzing (“Mubarak will have to leave”) surely instigated much mocking mirth among Teheran’s honchos.
The circle is closed for us too. Carter was the one who twisted Menachem Begin’s arms to cede the Sinai and contract the frigid peace with Egypt. Its durability was anyhow limited because Mubarak is old and ill. We struck a risky bargain with a here-today-gone-sometimes-tomorrow regime. All Egyptian undertakings might disintegrate into the desert sands, leaving us on the precipice of a strategic calamity.
The word to the wise is to cut our losses and – no matter how hard Obama twists our arms – refrain from gullibly duplicating the same inordinate naiveté on our long tortuous eastern flank, where Mahmoud Abbas is more of a hollow- reed staff than any of our Egyptian interlocutors ever were.
To paraphrase Disraeli: It’s not fate, but we who forge our fortunes. We have no one to trust but ourselves.