"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." -- Theodore Roosevelt

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The US Misunderstanding of Egypt and the Nature of Religion as a Social Force

Caroline Glick has yet another excellent op-ed, this time in regards to the Egyptian uprisings. I highly recommend reading the entire piece (link below). She points out the terrible misunderstandings that both the American Left and Right operate from regarding specifically Egypt, but also in foreign relations in general.

Americans have generally embraced the Egyptian protesters, siding firmly against Mubarak. This is not stunning news considering Mubarak's heavy-handed (too put it mildly) regime frequently imprisons and tortures Egyptians, and is, in many ways, responsible for the crushing poverty in Egypt.

Yet, I believe that Glick is absolutely correct when she points out that both the American Left and Right operate from flawed assumptions and have produced an unrealistic paradigm in the Middle East.

From Glick's piece "Clueless in Washington":

"What has most confounded Israeli officials and commentators alike has not been the strength of the anti-regime protests, but the American response to them. Outside the far Left, commentators from all major newspapers, radio and television stations have variously characterized the US response to events in Egypt as irrational, irresponsible, catastrophic, stupid, blind, treacherous, and terrifying.

"They have pointed out that the Obama administration's behavior - as well as that of many of its prominent conservative critics - is liable to have disastrous consequences for the US's other authoritarian Arab allies, for Israel and for the US itself.

"The question most Israelis are asking is why are the Americans behaving so destructively? Why are President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton charting a course that will necessarily lead to the transformation of Egypt into the first Salafist Islamic theocracy? And why are conservative commentators and Republican politicians urging them to be even more outspoken in their support for the rioters in the streets?

"Does the US not understand what will happen in the region as a result of its actions? Does the US really fail to understand what will happen to its strategic interests in the Middle East if the Muslim Brotherhood either forms the next regime or is the power behind the throne of the next regime in Cairo?

"Distressingly, the answer is that indeed, the US has no idea what it is doing. The reason the world's only (quickly declining) superpower is riding blind is because its leaders are trapped between two irrational, narcissistic policy paradigms and they can't see their way past them.
The first paradigm is former president George W. Bush's democracy agenda and its concomitant support for open elections.

"Bush supporters and former administration officials have spent the last month since the riots began in Tunisia crowing that events prove Bush's push for democratization in the Arab world is the correct approach.

"The problem is that while Bush's diagnosis of the dangers of the democracy deficit in the Arab world was correct, his antidote for solving this problem was completely wrong.

"Bush was right that tyranny breeds radicalism and instability and is therefore dangerous for the US.

"But his belief that free elections would solve the problem of Arab radicalism and instability was completely wrong. At base, Bush's belief was based on a narcissistic view of Western values as universal.

"When, due to US pressure, the Palestinians were given the opportunity to vote in open and free elections in 2006, they voted for Hamas and its totalitarian agenda. When due to US pressure, the Egyptians were given limited freedom to choose their legislators in 2005, where they could they elected the totalitarian Muslim Brotherhood to lead them.

"The failure of his elections policy convinced Bush to end his support for elections in his last two years in office.

"Frustratingly, Bush's push for elections was rarely criticized on its merits. Under the spell of the other policy paradigm captivating American foreign policy elites - anti-colonialism - Bush's leftist opponents never argued that the problem with his policy is that it falsely assumes that Western values are universal values. Blinded by their anti-Western dogma, they claimed that his bid for freedom was nothing more than a modern-day version of Christian missionary imperialism.

"It is this anti-colonialist paradigm, with its foundational assumption that that the US has no right to criticize non-Westerners that has informed the Obama administration's foreign policy. It was the anti-colonialist paradigm that caused Obama not to support the pro-Western protesters seeking the overthrow of the Iranian regime in the wake of the stolen 2009 presidential elections.

"As Obama put it at the time, 'It's not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the US president meddling in the Iranian elections.'

"And it is this anti-colonialist paradigm that has guided Obama's courtship of the Syrian, Turkish and Iranian regimes and his unwillingness to lift a hand to help the March 14 movement in Lebanon.

"Moreover since the paradigm claims that the non-Western world's grievances towards the West are legitimate, Obama's Middle East policy is based on the view that the best way to impact the Arab world is by joining its campaign against Israel. This was the central theme of Obama's speech before an audience dominated by Muslim Brotherhood members in Cairo in June 2009.

"Like the pro-democracy paradigm, the anti-colonialist paradigm is narcissistic. Whereas Western democracy champions believe that all people are born with the same Western liberal democratic values, post-colonialists believe that non-Westerners are nothing more than victims of the West. They are not responsible for any of their own pathologies because they are not actors. Only Westerners (and Israelis) are actors. Non-Westerners are objects. And like all objects, they cannot be held responsible for anything they do because they are wholly controlled by forces beyond their control.

"Anti-colonialists by definition must always support the most anti-Western forces as 'authentic.' In light of Mubarak's 30-year alliance with the US, it makes sense that Obama's instincts would place the US president on the side of the protesters.

"So there we have it. The US policy towards Egypt is dictated by the irrational narcissism of two opposing sides to a policy debate that has nothing to do with reality.

"Add to that Obama's electoral concern about looking like he is on the right side of justice and we have a US policy that is wholly antithetical to US interests."

Glick points out that a recent Pew poll points toward a radicalized Egypt. "According to a Pew opinion survey of Egyptians from June 2010, 59 percent said they back Islamists. Only 27% said they back modernizers. Half of Egyptians support Hamas. Thirty percent support Hizbullah and 20% support al Qaida. Moreover, 95% of them would welcome Islamic influence over their politics. When this preference is translated into actual government policy, it is clear that the Islam they support is the al Qaida Salafist version.

"Eighty two percent of Egyptians support executing adulterers by stoning, 77% support whipping and cutting the hands off thieves. 84% support executing any Muslim who changes his religion."

So, as Obama demands that Mubarak do something now (although what he wants done is left conspicuously absent from Obama's remarks-- as Michelle Malkin has pointed out) he is, in essence, encouraging the radicalization of Egypt's government. This move would have far-reaching effects in the Middle East, placing Jordan, Kuwait, and possibly even Saudi Arabia in terrific jeopardy of internal revolution. Israel, having given up numerous strategically important lands for the promise of a non-existent peace, is placed in a tightening vice of Islamic radicalism. Furthermore, Obama's current stance presents an America that does not stand by its allies, which would further increase moves of countries in the region toward closer ties with Iran or perhaps China.

For various reasons, Egypt and the world is faced with two unhappy possibilities. Either there will be an Egypt with an oppressive, brutal secular government that tortures people amid crushing poverty, or there will be an oppressive, brutal, radical Islamic government in Egypt that tortures people amid crushing poverty. Any other possibility is highly unlikely in the current political climate-- and has been since WWII.

This is not to suggest that the results of either outcome will be the same. For Egyptians, the ultimate result will be very significant for the populations and will determine, among other consequences, which sets of people will be oppressed, which will prosper, which sets will be tortured, which sets will be given benefits or enriched, etc. Likewise, the fallout within international relations will also be significantly different depending on the outcome, especially for America, much of Europe, Israel, the rest of the Middle East, and China.

Whatever happens, the US will likely be surprised by the outcome, based on the current expectations people have which are, in turn, based on misinformation and unrealistic paradigms with imposed American values.

I believe that part of the problems that Americans have in understanding the world around them (especially the Middle East) stems from not really understanding the nature of others' religions. For the most part Americans regard religion (like much of the West) as merely a benefit / reward belief system. It's almost a capitalistic exchange. One invests so much time in going to church and then expects a spiritual return of some sort-- going to heaven, God's favor, etc.

Yes, religious beliefs shapes our moral character. Yet, American morality is often defined, not through religious faith, but believed to be according to personal (and thus highly varied) dictates logic and reason. In practical matters, religion may influence the morality of our laws, but the laws themselves are what become important, and increasingly become more of the arbiter of morality. The secularization of law has, to various degrees, lessened the importance of religion in the lives of people (and incidentally strengthened Marxist convictions of the State's moral "responsibilities"). Of course there are exceptions in society, but the American character is not defined by these exceptions.

As a consequence, few Americans understand the true nature of religion. Likewise, many do not understand that religion is not merely something that rewards good deeds, but rather is a moral structure that shapes, in all aspects, our perceptions and evaluations of the world around us. It takes on an almost metaphysical reality-- not unlike the Marxist doctrines of the Left-- and is not to be dismissed as irrelevant or merely local color.

For the statist-minded Left which often, at best, believe that religion is merely a conduit toward promoting their opinions of social justice (Rev. Wright, et al.), foreigners' religious beliefs are viewed as being simple, quaint, and hollow. Or they may be openly scoffed at (even by theists), as the Leftist moral stance (based on current American political and social conditions and theories) are never in line with foreign senses of morality-- the more foreign the worse it is.

Even religious Right Americans, such as many neo-conservatives, discount the power of religion in favor of the power of economics and the power of their "universal" moral system based largely in acknowledgment of individual property rights. Their idea has consistently been that economic laws which they champion will dictate behavior in all countries-- trumping culture and religious conviction.

I suppose I should pause for a moment, and state that I am not trying to criticize Americans' (nor anyone's for that matter) faith and morals, nor am I advocating a state religion. In my view, it has always been of tantamount importance for people to freely choose (or reject) their religion, and to choose how much religious beliefs and customs affects their lives. I am merely trying to describe, without moral judgement, what I see happening around us.

Further, Americans don't seem to understand how rare the stability of our government actually is. The US government has remained, with modifications, intact for over 200 years. Very few modern governments can make the same claim. This stability, that Americans take for granted, has led us to overestimate the power of foreign governments and underestimate the power of non-governmental belief systems on foreign countries' populations. This is further reinforced by the Left's Marxist conviction that government can and does dictate human morals and conduct. The idea that religion offers stability in an unstable world is largely lost on Americans, who may mouth a superficial understanding of it, but do not comprehend the eventual effects of the situation on peoples attitudes, beliefs and actions.

American foreign policy has blundered clumsily along for years, adhering to a Cold War policy of purchasing the friendship of foreign governments with foreign aid. Such a policy has been effectively defunct for decades. With the spectre of Soviet communism a thing of the past, and without a competing foreign power to replace it, such payments often stopped being about friendship. More and more this foreign aid became bribes, a paying out of protection money to keep stability. This is an untenable situation, hastened, perhaps, by the rise of radical Islam as a significant, although disorganized and ultimately doomed, political player.

America must rethink both what it hopes to accomplish from its foreign policies, and how to go about to attain these goals. Simply continuing on with the same mind-set that has been in place, with slight variation, for thirty years is futile, expensive, and downright stupid.

For any foreign policy to be effective it must understand the character of the foreign nations with whom it interacts. Likewise, it must understand the reality of the situation, and formulate its possibilities from this knowledge. An effective foreign policy cannot be based around ideological fantasies. As long as policy-makers in the US base their perceptions and policies around "universal truths" based in either American capitalist or American anti-establishment/Marxist ideology, they are doomed to failure. And the consequences for ourselves and our allies around the world are inching toward catastrophic.

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