Monday, 20 August 2012
So now Mohamed Morsi, the new Islamist president of Egypt, announces that later this month he will visit Iran. And the response is near silence from Washington officialdom, on both sides of the aisle. The Beltway-minded National Journal published no fewer than ten stories summing up this Sunday’s talk shows; it deemed that the big topics were taxes--Mitt Romney’s and ours--Medicare, and Joe Biden’s silly comments. The word “Egypt” failed to appear once in any of the ten pieces.
Hey, wait a second: Isn’t Iran supposed to be our number one enemy in the world? Isn’t the leader of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, always saying that he wants to destroy Israel--and maybe the US, too? And isn’t Egypt, meanwhile, supposed to be our ally? That country is, after all, the recipient of more than $1.5 billion a year in US foreign aid. So shouldn’t this Morsi trip to Iran be considered big-time news? Isn’t it a worth a query to the Sunday Beltway worthies?
To be sure, some reporting was done on the Morsi announcement, but it didn’t say much; it seemed mostly designed to reassure readers that nothing big was happening. The Associated Press story on the Morsi-to-Tehran news--picked up by the newspaper of record, the New York Times, on its website--was bland in the extreme, declaring, “It is too early to assess the implications of the visit or to what extent Egypt may normalize relations with Iran, but analysts believe it will bring Egypt back to the regional political stage.” Gee, is that really the news? That Egypt is once again on the “regional political stage”? Or, on the other hand, is the real news that Egypt is now warming up to our arch-enemy?
Another stay-cool story appeared in the Los Angeles Times; that paper conceded that “political tremors” were likely to result from the Morsi trip: “The U.S. would not be happy if Egypt improved relations with Iran; neither would the gulf countries.” But then reporter Jeffrey Fleishman turned to an Egyptian expert, who offered this reassurance: “Morsi does not have it in him at this point to defy these strategic allies, especially since he needs their support and aid.” And that’s how Fleishman ended his piece, giving the reassuring Egyptian the last word.
Yet as we saw in the first part of this three-part series, Morsi and his Egyptian Brotherhood have crossed virtually every “red line” that they weren’t supposed to have crossed--and nothing has happened. In other words, as they seek to transform Egypt, they are getting away with it. Not only has the Obama administration been mostly quiet, but so have Congressional Republicans. And so there is little reason to think that Morsi won’t get away with this Tehran trip, too, as Uncle Sam continues to dole out money to his government.
For their part, the Western media, those self-declared speakers-of-truth-to-power, have had little to say even when the Morsi government began cracking down on press freedom. Every day, it appears, we see another step in Egypt’s transformation from secular ally of the US to Islamist state with views closer to--or identical to--those of other Islamist states.
There’s only one thing we do know for sure about Egypt: Hosni Mubarak--loyal US ally for 30 years, whose government was deposed with the help of the US government and media--now sits in prison. He is 84, in ill-health, and will almost certainly die in jail, because nobody in the US government seems the least bit interested in making any sort of humanitarian intervention.
But meanwhile, let’s dwell on another news story that also doesn’t seem to be making much news.
In this instance, the headline in Sunday’s New York Times was, for a change, blunt: “U.S. Says Iraqis Are Helping Iran to Skirt Sanctions.” As the Times’ James Risen and Duraid Adnan reported, either the Iraqi government is helping Iran, or the Iranians have seized control of much of the Iraqi economy, gaining “control over at least four Iraqi commercial banks through Iraqi intermediaries.” If the latter is the case, the reporters continued:
That gives Iran direct access to the international financial system, supposedly denied to Tehran by the economic sanctions. Even as the United States has moved to tighten the vise against Iran this summer, the Maliki [Iraqi] government has openly sought to enhance its already deep economic and political ties with Iran*.*
This news seems ominous. We must wonder: what exactly did we fight for in Iraq? Did we fight to liberate Iraqis from dangerous tyranny in Baghdad? Or were we simply helping them snuggle up to an even more dangerous tyranny in Tehran?
As the Times reporters explain: “The Obama administration is not eager for a public showdown with the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki over Iran just eight months after the last American troops withdrew from Baghdad.” In other words, the Obamans don’t want to shift the focus of the news, especially during the climax of the presidential election campaign, to news from Iraq that is discouraging--or, if one prefers, terrifying.
Yet there is some good news here, according to the Times, obviously relying on an Obama source:
In one recent instance, when American officials learned that the Iraqi government was aiding the Iranians by allowing them to use Iraqi airspace to ferry supplies to Syria, Mr. Obama called Mr. Maliki to complain. The Iranian planes flew another route.
So that’s the good news: thanks to the Obama administration’s good efforts, the Iranians were not allowed to airlift supplies across Iraq to help the Assad regime massacre its own people--although, of course, the supplies still reached Syria.
But hold on here: Isn’t this another administration leak, aimed at making President Obama and his team look good? Haven’t we had enough of such self-glorification, aided and abetted by the media--especially the New York Times--over the last few months? After all, every leak raises the issue of political manipulation here at home, as well as the issue of political trust abroad. That is, can other powers trust the US to keep secrets--or will our government simply spill the secrets as it wishes to, for its own domestic political advantage?
Indeed, a look at a map of the Middle East shows that if the Iranians didn’t fly over Iraqi airspace, then it would seem that they flew over Turkey, to the north, or a combination of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, to the south. Are there any political implications for such flights, if they in fact took place over those countries? Might such overflying suggest a more muddled picture of Syria than we have been led to believe?
Another possibility is that the Iranians flew over Kurdistan--the semi-autonomous part of northern Iraq--which, for the purposes of the Times story, might have been deemed to be “not Iraq.” In other words, the Iranians did fly over Iraq, but it suited the Obamans to engage in wordplay to help themselves look good, as opposed to actively stopping the Iranians--and our supposed ally, the Iraqis--from helping the Syrians.
Left unsaid in the Times story is the basic question of how all this happened: how did Iraq go from being “liberated” by the US in 2003 to being aligned with our greatest enemy in 2012? Would it seem, in fact, that the US has suffered an enormous defeat--not on the battlefield, but in subsequent diplomacy? And isn’t that news?
In fairness to the Times, these questions are bigger than any one story--or 1000 stories--can even begin to encompass. Still, it would have been useful if more geopolitical context had been supplied to the reader--although such context would not be useful, of course, to the Obama administration. After all, the administration wants to keep the focus on its domestic political issues--that is, pounding Romney and Ryan--rather than on national security.
Meanwhile, those not beholden to the Obama administration are struggling to find answers to the basic question: what’s gone wrong? Why are we always being blindsided by events in the Middle East? Why can’t our experts get it right? Can we trust the Obama administration? Or the US government overall?
Those mysteries are still with us, of course, but one thing is clear: anyone who challenges the status quo is going to get clobbered.
For example, back in June, five Members of Congress--Michele Bachmann, Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Lynn Westmoreland, and Thomas Rooney, all Republicans--tried to address just one piece of the mystery. The so-called “National Security Five” sent letters to five different national/homeland security agencies, seeking information about certain individuals, as well as about politically correct policies and practices within the government’s multi-hundred-billion dollar counter-terror establishment. One of the names mentioned in one of the letters was Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff at the State Department, and a close personal aide to Hillary Clinton going back to the 90s. For their efforts, as we all know, the Five were pummeled when the letters came to light in July; in particular, DC was incredulous--and furious--that anyone would attack Abedin and, by extension, Secretary Clinton.
Bachmann, always a lightning rod, was especially zapped. Her letter was “McCarthy-like,” stormed CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. More on Joe McCarthy in the next section, but for now, as we all know, to label someone as a “McCarthyite” is to label them as being beyond--way beyond--acceptable discourse. And so while Bachmann & Co. did not back down, the rest of official Washington has chosen to shun them all.
Thus the Abedin case is closed, as far as the Beltway is concerned. And therefore, certain news items, which don’t fit the pro-Abedin narrative, are simply dismissed. For example, on August 13, the New York Post--owned by Rupert Murdoch, not at all part of the MSM--reported that Abedin is living with her husband, ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY), in a $3.3 million Park Avenue apartment. Not bad for Abedin on her government salary--for a job that is based out of Washington. The fair-market rent for such a Manhattan abode would be $12,000 to $14,000 a month, and the Post further reported that the unit is owned by one Jack Rosen, a longtime supporter of the Clintons.
Now is there anything interesting--which is to say, newsworthy--about this arrangement? Has it been approved by the ethics officers at the State Department? Or, for a more independent review, by the Office of Government Ethics? If so, can we see the paperwork, please?
And who is Jack Rosen, owner of the Park Avenue pad? In addition to his Hillary connection, he has long been associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), so he’s not any sort of jihadist sympathizer. Yet a look at his bio from the Jewish Virtual Library does reveal his ongoing exercise in private Mideast diplomacy:
Rosen has been actively trying to create a dialogue between the Jewish community and prominent Arab leaders in the Muslim world. Rosen has even hosted His Royal Highness Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States, at his home. “Once people are given a chance to talk and to get to know each other, it is not so hard to make friends and find common bonds,” Rosen feels. He once told Prince Bandar that even more important than the two of them getting to know each other is that their children get to know each other. “It is never too late for the next generation.”
Rosen is undoubtedly 100 percent sincere in his efforts, but that doesn’t mean that he is reading Saudi Prince Bandar correctly--Bandar is, himself, a controversial and mysterious figure. And so could it be possible that Rosen is working with Abedin, or Weiner, on some new diplomatic effort? And if so, are such efforts in keeping with the Logan Act, as well as official US policy objectives? Is anyone in the US government curious? And how about reporters? If the answer is “no,” perhaps that’s because everyone everybody has learned that Abedin is untouchable.
It’s nice to think that interfaith/international dialogue will help Muslims and Jews “make friends and find common bonds”--but it might not be the case that it will actually happen.
Indeed, the Saudis might be trying to play some well-meaning Americans for fools. Or, perhaps, the Americans will simply fool themselves, as has happened in the case of Egypt over the last two years.
Indeed, in light of their record of misreading the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, we are left with the feeling that our foreign-policy mandarins are the equivalent of fortune-tellers that can’t tell, card-counters who can’t count, and stock-pickers who can’t pick. So why are we relying on them?
Amidst this symphony of self-deluding silliness, one different--and defiant--voice stands out. Caroline Glick, of the Jerusalem Post, has been warning about the Islamist rise for years. And in her latest piece, she asks bluntly, “Who Lost Egypt?” Ignoring all the hopeful thoughts of others, she writes in dire terms:
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 bully.
Yikes. That is scary. Unfortunately, Glick is a journalistic outrider; most other journalists, as we have seen, are happy to stick with upbeat, albeit wrong, assessments.
Meanwhile, Glick’s “Who Lost...” formulation is important, because we have heard it before in US history.
To be continued in part three.