August 20th, 2013

The Egyptian debacle


For the United States and Europe, this amounts to a colossal strategic failure. Nothing — and certainly not the outcome in Afghanistan or Iraq — was more important than getting Egypt right. President Obama, who began his presidency with an attempt to build bridges to the Arab and Muslim world through a speech in Cairo, has seen his greatest failure in that very city. Post-Tahrir Egypt stands now as a monument to America’s declining influence in the world, even in a nation receiving $1.5 billion in annual aid.

All that American money translated into no ability to restrain a largely American-trained military (including General Sisi). It translated into little ability to persuade Morsi to reach out beyond the Brotherhood and refrain from railroading through a divisive constitution.

The Obama administration has appeared hesitant and wavering, zigzagging from support for Morsi to acceptance of his ouster.

That’s certainly true, as far as it goes. But the author, Roger Cohen, seems clueless because he seems to be surprised or to have expected otherwise, from Obama or from Egypt or from the Brotherhood. Cohen also seems to think the “knave vs. fool” question should be answered “fool” for Obama, and I disagree; I am very distrustful of Obama’s motives and goals in Egypt.

When I started this blog, I chose the name “neo-neocon” because it means “new conservative who used to be a liberal Democrat.” I discovered that “neocon” unfortunately also seems to be used quite often as a pejorative term for people who are eager to wage war to spread democracy or who think liberal democracy is easy to achieve and will just happen if we allow it. This couldn’t be further from what I actually believe. You will find a great deal of verbiage about what I do believe if you go to the right sidebar and read under the category “neocons,” but suffice to say I believe it is very difficult to foster liberty-protecting democracies (or republics) in countries with no such tradition of it, although it should be a very long-term goal.

It seems that the very best interpretation we can give for Obama’s treatment of Egypt is that he has been more naive than the stereotype of any neocon in presuming Egypt would manage the feat virtually unassisted. And most of the pundits of the left or liberal persuasion seemed equally sanguine about the possibilities. Some were knaves and never believed it to begin with, and the rest were fools.

[NOTE: In further news, has Obama suspended military aid to Egypt?]

21 Responses to “The Egyptian debacle”

  1. Mr. Frank Says:

    Obama assumed that giving a speech word sort everything out. He believed his own PR.

  2. southpaw Says:

    Neo – what has changed? A week or two ago, you were suggesting that Obama is fully aware of foreign policy actions, and that he’s got an agenda, counter to traditional US foreign interests, and knows exactly what he’s doing. Many here agree that everything he does is some well orchestrated plot; even when the result is chaos and disorder — that it was all planned — to what end, I haven’t heard yet, but that’s been the meme on this blog for a while.
    I still contend he’s got no idea what he’s doing, and never did. Nothing in his character or work habits suggest he’s ever thought about foreign or domestic policy beyond the next tee time or teleprompter event somebody else planned to prop up his image. He never holds cabinet meetings, he rarely has security briefings – in short, he rarely shows up for work.
    He’s too lazy, too arrogant, and too self confident in the drivel he’s been fed since he was a teen, then in undergrad school, finally at Harvard, to feel the need to do other than what he’s done — which is to apologize for all of us on the world stage, embrace our traditional enemies to show he’s not like the ‘other dummies’ who held the office, and believe the answer to all of he world’s problems is for the US to disengage and back any movement that opposes a “dictator”. No consultation with experts in any of these regions is necessary. No studying the history, no need for debate, no need to meet with anyone. The supreme intelligence that is Obama knows all and sees all, past, present and future. It’s twenty-something college pot smoking diplomacy, where we all get along in a world where America says “I’m sorry”.
    Yes, he’s naïve, and always was. There was never a plan. He’s nothing but a phony intellectual who’s been promoted so far beyond his abilities, it defies description.
    He is the emperor with no clothes, but it is the American people who refuse to admit it. His crowning achievement is to survive monumental, unprecedented incompetence as a president, but it isn’t Obama’s brilliance that’s saved him, but equally monumental ignorance on the part of the governed, who cannot no longer tell a complete fraud from a statesman.
    And to some extent our critics are right; we are arrogant. We are too arrogant ourselves to admit we made a big mistake electing this clever buffoon, and now we sit through the nightly news listening to the media defend the indefensible, rather than admit themselves they might be wrong about the man.

  3. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    You articulate the argument for Obama playing the fool well.

    Let me offer the alternative argument. Obama has consistently backed jihadist elements. Erdogan in Turkey has been transforming Turkey into Islamic governance in spite of democratic protests and Obama supports him. Obama’s actions in Afghanistan and Iraq guarantee the eventual jihadist control of those countries. Ditto Libya where Al Qaeda now has shoulder fired, ground to surface missiles, acquired from Qaddafi’s stockpile. “no threat is more serious to aviation than man-portable air defense systems” (MANPADS) Secretary of State Colin Powell, addressing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, October 2003

    He’s supporting the jihadist opposition in Syria, giving them weapons and fails to assure the public that they won’t be used against us. Now Egypt.

    I have heard him speak in interviews and reveal a detailed understanding of the jihadist threat to this country. When Obama is being honest, he’s articulate. His verbal stumbling when speaking extemporaneously is due to his trying to couch his words in facile deceit. He’s thinking one thing and trying to say another and, trying to do so skillfully enough as to mislead LIV’s and, that is much easier to do with the benefit of a carefully prepared speech than in off the cuff remarks.

    Obama has consistently blocked, obstructed and attacked US domestic energy production, making America more energy dependent.

    Obama is consistently driving America deeper into debt, IMO fully understanding that doing so will bring about sovereign bankruptcy sooner rather than later.

    Obama has done NOTHING to impose constraints on Saudi Arabia, the foremost economic sponsor of terrorism in the world.

    Obama is doing NOTHING to prevent Iran, the foremost sponsor of jihadist terrorism in the world from gaining nuclear weapons capability.

    Obama KNOWS the consequences of this, even John Kerry knows:

    “the region will be far less stable and far more threatened if Iran were to have a nuclear weapon. It will spur a nuclear arms race. It has risks for greater terrorism. It will be destabilizing. ” Kerry said the threat extends beyond the possibility that Iran could actually use the weapon on its enemies, specifically Israel. Iran simply having a nuclear weapon would “spur a nuclear arms race” in the region and could be used to support terrorists groups like Hezbollah, he said.” Interview with SecState John Kerry – March 5, 2013

    That capability will also allow Iran to close the Strait of Hormuz through which 1/3 of the world’s oil passes. Stopping that flow or even imposing excessive fees upon oil tankers would threaten western civilization’s financial stability.

    I would ask you, if all of this does NOT indicate intent, what would?

    “Many here agree that everything he does is some well orchestrated plot; even when the result is chaos and disorder — that it was all planned — to what end, I haven’t heard yet, but that’s been the meme on this blog for a while.”

    I have repeatedly stated what I believe to be Obama’s purpose and goal; the fiscal collapse of the US with the resultant need to impose nationwide, near-permanent martial law. Ostensibly to restore order. Once implemented, the precedent for suspension of key provisions of the Constitution is already established and will be much easier to accomplish.

    The Dept. of Homeland Security’s massive purchase of arms, ammo and machinery is NOT accidental. It did not happen on a whim. Nor is the increasing militarization of the nation’s police forces accidental and is fully supported by the administration.

    I may indeed be wrong and hope that I am. But neither the points nor the facts I’ve cited, nor their implications can be lightly dismissed. Most importantly, what if I’m right?

    “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.” – William Pitt, 1783

  4. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    One final item upon the weight of scales leading toward Obama being a knave is the scandals, especially the IRS and NSA scandals where the mendacity only grows deeper.

  5. neo-neocon Says:


    I don’t understand your point, because I am most definitely not saying anything has changed.

    When I wrote “Cohen also seems to think the ‘knave vs. fool’ question should be answered ‘fool’ for Obama, and I disagree; I am very distrustful of Obama’s motives and goals in Egypt” you should note the part where I say I disagree.

    Most of this post is talking about Cohen’s point of view and that of other people like him, who think Obama is a clueless fool when it comes to Egypt. I do not share that notion, but of course I could be incorrect. That’s why I added “It seems that the very best interpretation we can give for Obama’s treatment of Egypt is that he has been more naive…”

    That’s not my interpretation, as I believe I made clear. But it is a possible interpretation, and many people espouse it.

  6. Richard Aubrey Says:

    On The Belmont Club, a couple of commenters speculated that this could be a very good thing. He has so “thoroughly wrecked” the middle east that, among other things, there are no armies capable of giving the IDF a hard time. The disorganization and bankruptcy will keep the folks so busy they won’t be able to make trouble outside their own borders.
    The exception is Iran, and that means we have a target with reduced deniability.
    Meantime, oil from outside the Gulf continues to come on line. Natural gas likewise.
    The supposition is that a wrecked middle east can’t give anybody else trouble.
    Horrit to contemplate, though. Egypt imports half its food and is running out of foreign exchange unless the oil sheiks pony up. Which they will, for a consideration of some kind. Most likely for the army to continue hammering the Brothers.
    Gonna get ugly, but the Belmont commenters figured it was the best of the possibilities.

  7. sharpie Says:

    Obama is nothing. If not consistent.
    He is nothing. If not consistent.’
    He is not a not-fool. If not consistent.
    He is foolish if not consistent.

    Just trying to arrange the proposition in the manner most amenable to analyis.

    Sir, your baby is crying. Oh, that’s not my baby. It’s my wife’s.

    When destruction is your goal, you don’t really have to be much of a genius.

  8. southpaw Says:

    Neo and Geoffrey –
    Where we disagree is intent — I see your points that it seems inconceivable that taken together, there must be some method to his madness.
    If I understand correctly, you believe it is to make a bigger mess of things domestically and abroad, and thereby justify further centralization of power here.
    I simply don’t see the level of planning behind this that you do. I see an idealist at an arrested stage of development — that stage being somewhere back in the teens and early 20s when he was soaking up the usual naïve, college campus things that young people believe before they grow up. Some never do, and I think that is Obama. I simply don’t think he is as clever as you credit him for being.
    At least not in the means consolidating power and using to oppress. The 2010 elections blew up in his face. That wasn’t planned. The reaction was to break the law and use the IRS and possibly the NSA to destroy political enemies; but he hasn’t succeeded. It’s been exposed, and if it were not for a bunch of pansies in the House, there might be more damage done to his cause. He’s been lucky to a large extent that he’s black, and that the media can’t bring themselves to criticize him.
    From what I can tell, the chaos and disorder are things he expected and plans to exploit – so the argument is that supporting Muslim causes was not only going to create instability, but it was also going to make him look like an idiot for supporting them –my point is it’s done him little good — they don’t give a damn about his intentions or his support. They burned our embassy to the ground, thumbed their noses at him, and they pretend not to notice he’s on their side. Most likely, they stole a lot of weapons they will use against us. He recently closed most of the Middle East embassies because of terror threats — Mission accomplished you say — chaos and disorder, now all he has to do is lower the hammer on us.
    My argument is that looking like and idiot and a naïve fool is not consistent with Obama’s character. He’s a preening, arrogant boy in a man’s body, who cannot accept criticism in any way, or ever admit he was wrong about anything. I’m arguing that he didn’t plan to appear incompetent or weak in order to achieve a higher goal, because he’s simply never been one to sacrifice his public image or ego. He’s what he appears to be — an inexperienced, naïve president, hoping to ram through a few more social programs before his term is out. He supports these people because he cannot admit he’s wrong, because he never admitted being wrong — he is too arrogant to do so.
    He is not a deep thinker or a planner; he’s unable to change strategies in this juvenile world view he’s clung to since he was a teen. He’s a worldly man! he lived in Indonesia! He’s not like the rest of us bumpkins.
    I am betting that 3 years from now we will not be under martial law, or looking at a 3rd term emergency presidency, but a guy who leaves office with a chip on his shoulder, blaming Republicans and everybody else he can think of for whatever mess he leaves behind, hitting the talk show circuits and talking about himself, long after the 3 of us are dead.

  9. vanderleun Says:

    “Lord knows we cannot support a group that stops Muslims from bombing Christian churches.”

  10. Oldflyer Says:

    I expect the knave-fool question will be argued in the history books. Only his Analyst could possibly know, and we know that he is too narcissistic to every submit to analysis.

    Cohen sounds like a doofus. As one who relishes saying I told you so, I predicted here and there from the moment that Mubarak was overthrown, that there were only two entities in Egypt well organized enough to succeed. Need I say, the MB and the Army? When we so naively pushed for early elections, the outcome was obvious. The Army stood aside for awhile; but they could not for the long term.

    The problem is that the Army will never have popular support for long. They will need to find a front with a democratic face. Good luck with that.

    Any friend of Israel’s should be relieved in the short run that chaos reigns in their neighborhood. It gives them some respite. In the longer term, they must shudder to think of a situation in which the MB prevails on one border and Hezbollah on the other. I doubt that they would sit idly if that seemed imminent.

  11. neo-neocon Says:


    I agree he did not want to look naive or incompetent, and to the extent that he does that probably bothers him.

    Nor does planning and intent guarantee success. I have never believed he is especially smart in the sense of deep thought or foreign policy (even given his somewhat twisted intent vis a vis foreign policy and America’s standing in the world), but I have always said he is smart about (1) politics of the domestic variety (2) propaganda for his political victories and that of the Democratic Party (3) strategy for #2 (4) blaming the “enemy” (that is, the Republicans) and demonizing them (5) using the race card in a subtle way, while pretending to take the high road.

    And he is even successful with foreign policy insofar as he wanted to damage America’s standing among nations. He may not have wanted to seem personally incompetent, but he wanted to take the US down a peg or two (or more). In doing that I think he comforts himself that looking personally incompetent is bearable in order to reach that larger goal, although you are correct that looking incompetent is hard for is large ego. But his ego is quite large enough to survive it.

  12. Oldflyer Says:

    Oh, and the United States government simply has to learn to accept the fact that there are great swaths of the world that do not understand, and in many cases will never understand, what democracy really means. As a minimum, we need to let each country find its way at its own pace. Our energy needs to be concentrated on fostering respect for basic human rights, regardless of the governmental form; and, most importantly, maintaining a beneficial relationship with those who have the ability to affect our national interests.

    End of sermon.

  13. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    “I simply don’t see the level of planning behind this that you do. I see an idealist at an arrested stage of development”

    The level of mendacity at the IRS and NSA, which at each level of exposure becomes ever more damning is not indicative of planning? Obama is no idealist, he’s a pragmatic revolutionary. Nor is an arrested stage of development, a massive ego and an ability to delegate to his coterie of shared ideologues mutually exclusive.

    I agree, Obama is not clever but he is politically cunning.

    The 2010 elections did indeed blow up in his face. Overconfidence is ever the weakness of success. He’s clearly working on correcting that mistake. So far polls indicate that LIV’s are still on board and democrat’s chances to regain control of Congress may yet bear fruit. I’ll bet that if democrats do regain control of Congress, Obama will not let the opportunity pass him by…

    “My argument is that looking like and idiot and a naïve fool is not consistent with Obama’s character.”

    No, its certainly not but what indication is there that Obama believes that he has been made to look like an idiot and a naïve fool? He couldn’t be a ‘progressive’ if mere reality were an impediment. He automatically dismisses anything those on the right might say. As for what little criticism there is on the left, that’s easily ascribed to impatience and unfamiliarity with the conditions with which he must deal. By definition, narcissistic egotists never accept personal responsibility, so why would he accept responsibility for his failures?

    Why would he change strategies? He’s been far more successful than Republicans. Obamacare. Fiscal spending without limit. Successful demonizing of his political opponents. Extra and even illegal unconstitutional actions. Comprehensive amnesty for 11-33 million ‘undocumented democrats’ ensuring future one-party rule in America. If I were on the left, I’d be compelled to pronounce him the most successful leftist President, ever… As for foreign policy, he simply doesn’t care. At best, it’s a distraction.

    Regardless of our differences however, I pray you are right and I in the wrong.

  14. Mike Says:

    There is no “best” interpretation for Obama. Why give him an excuse?

    He just sided with the same people who sided with Adolph Hitler and the German Nazis. Fact.

    Need we ever say more than that? That is not enough?

    He is One with every malicious tyrant there ever was. End of story.

  15. reliapundit Says:

    obama can’t be a fool.

    here’s proof:

    the results are too consistent to be the result of incompetence, naivete, mismanagement, or bad luck.

  16. Promethea Says:

    He also had very competently evil advisors, including David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, George Soros, and Valerie Jarrett.

  17. blert Says:

    Barry is a world class Gonnabee.

    aka Reactive Dependent.

    He fits that profile to a T.

    Normally, when given a true executive position, a Gonnabee destroys the institution.

    For corporations that would mean bankruptcy.

    For a nation…

    The emotional baggage that he travels with demands an extra jumbo jet.

    It’s a pretty good bet that he’s behind the revelations about the IRS. That scandal was launched to distract from Benghazigate.

    Go back and check out the timing. The IRS matter had been hanging like a Sword of Damocles for months… then pow, it gets launched by a self query.

    It’s the kind of logic that Moe and Shemp could reckon: get rid of a headache by hammering the big toe.


    It’s obvious that the MB and the Iranians have hooked-up.

    But how? The MB and AQ are not in love.

    The only introducing parties that I know of would be Valerie Girl and Huma Weiner. Both are, de facto, in the diplomatic corps of the opposition jihadi elements.

    I suspect that Barry and his crew are so up past their eyeballs in intrigues that it would astound.

    Unfortunately, the Poltroon-in-Chief can’t plot straight. He’s got the enemy — and their camels — inside his own tent.

    He’s going to need more canvas.

  18. G Joubert Says:

    Fool and knave are not mutually exclusive.

  19. Bernard Says:

    You might be interested in this article by Thanassis Cambanis in last Sunday’s Boston Globe: The secret history of democratic thought in the Middle East

  20. Hangtown Bob Says:

    “the “knave vs. fool” question ”

    Talk about a FALSE CHOICE!

    It’s obviously BOTH!

  21. Ymarsakar Says:

    Failure? The Left intended to do this all along. What kind of a failure is that.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.


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