Barry Rubin shares his insights into A Paradox of U.S. Middle East Policy: The Friend Who Acts like an Enemy is an Enemy.
Here’s the issue: a number of supposed allies of the United States don’t act as friends. In fact, they are major headaches, often subverting U.S. goals and interests. But to avoid conflict and, for Obama, to look successful to the domestic audience, Washington pretends that everything is fine.
Examples of countries and governments presenting this problem include Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey, Venezuela and Bolivia, among others.
The question is what to do with those great friends and allies of the US whose concerns for the rights of their citizens or the interests of the US (or both) become questionable.
Take Egypt for example. The country is now governed by a radical, anti-American, antisemitic government dedicated to spreading jihad, imposing Sharia law, and driving U.S. influence from the region. It could be argued that a mix of carrots and sticks from the United States would moderate the regime’s behavior. But what if that doesn’t work? The temptation is to continue with the carrots and forget about the sticks.
Obama says that the “red lines” are that the Cairo regime must adhere to the peace treaty with Israel; treat women and religious minorities (that is, Christians) well; and help fight terrorism. But what if it doesn’t? Suppose the Salafist burn down churches and massacre Christians and the government does not protect the minority? Suppose a Sharia regime reduces women’s rights to a minimum? Suppose Egypt declares itself no longer bound by the peace treaty with Israel or pretty openly arms Hamas in the Gaza Strip for an attack on Israel?
Obviously, in the case of Egypt one can argue that there red lines that have already been crossed -- if not outright ignored.
The fact that as soon as Egypt was entrusted with oversight of the Israel-Hamas ceasefire and Hillary praised Egypt as a model of stability in the Middle East, Morsi turned around and conceded dictatorial powers, followed by massive protests -- this is not reassuring.
Of course, this did not stop Obama from going ahead with sending 20 F-16s to Egypt.
Which may be the problem.
Rubin puts the question this way:
The important question is: How far does a country have to go, how futile and even counterproductive do the pay-offs have to be, before it is no longer treated as a friend.
And how much has the calculus changed now that Obama has won the election and is guaranteed his final term?