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Is Egypt Really Obama's to lose?


There are factions on the American left and right that are trying to pull President Obama further into the Egyptian crisis than he clearly wants to go. And who could blame him? It’s a quagmire. Get too involved and he looks like an interventionist. Stay too quiet and he looks like he’s apathetic. Or worse, scared.

But in the process of trying to gain some perspective on the situation, the specters of Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter loom large. If Truman lost China to Mao Zedong, and Carter lost Iran to the mullahs, will Obama lose Egypt to Islamic fundamentalists? For some, it sounds as if the whole future of democracy in the Middle East rests at Obama’s feet.

The inclination is understandable, if a little melodramatic. Diplomacy can play a significant role in these sorts of moments. Further, Obama is a world leader, and America is always looked at for her strength and power in times of global instability.

But how, exactly, is Egypt ours to lose?

For one, this was a revolution that occurred entirely within the borders of a sovereign state. Ecumenically there were Western influences, sure. But it’s not like we’d put any real pressure on Hosni Mubarak to reform over the past 20 years (short of mumbling every now and then about it under our breath, and certainly not loud enough for anyone to hear).

This is simply an idea whose time has come for the people of Egypt. And we should help them get what they want, not only because Egypt is an ally, but because democracy in the Middle East benefits us all.

But the truth is, we already do help Egypt. A lot. We send them 1.3 billion in military aid a year. And beyond that, the only other kind of help we can offer comes with force, the kind of force Obama’s made a fetish out of criticizing.

Obama’s foreign policy is predicated on a belief in the real power of soft diplomacy, the unclenching of fists, and the oratorical equivalent of a hug. And when it comes to the Middle East, he is careful not to make too many demands (unless, of course, you were hoping to build some apartment buildings in East Jerusalem, in which case, he’d really rather you didn’t.)

So how can Egypt be his to lose when he never invested anything in its future or its stability? If you’re going to actually own something you have to have the chutzpah to go in there and make some demands. Otherwise, you’re just renting a timeshare for a week (so, no, you may not paint the walls).

Obama’s made no promises to anyone, and has asked nothing in return. If Egypt falls, and the Muslim Brotherhood takes over, it will have nothing to do with Obama, because Obama’s had nothing to do with it.

Instead, let’s talk about the real owner of the Egypt mess: the United Nations.

As Anne Bayefsky of the Hudson Institute aptly laid out, the UN has ignored Egypt for 30 years.

“There has never been a single resolution of the UN Human Rights Council on Egypt, the Council having been in operation since 2006. Not a single resolution on human rights in Egypt was adopted by the UN Human Rights Commission, the Council’s predecessor in operation from 1946-2006. Neither the Commission, nor the Council, ever appointed an investigator to report specifically on human rights violations in Egypt.”

And what about Israel? Half of the 12 country-specific special sessions of the HRC were directed at Israel alone.

“It is not difficult,” Bayefsky argues, “to figure out why the people of Egypt had nowhere else to go.”

They were essentially abandoned by the UN and by President Obama, both of which prefer to make demands of Israel, but not of the larger Middle East.

President Obama made no investment in the peace and stability of Egypt. He promised nothing and demanded nothing, and so Egypt is not his to lose. But the UN self-righteously claims responsibility for the health of world nations, and every member country (most notably ours) pays them a lot of money to make sure they do just that. The UN thus made substantial investments in Egypt, but like Obama, made no demands. The Human Rights Council has been a colossal failure, and Egypt may end up paying the ultimate price.

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