The Cairo Non-Effect

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on January 10, 2011

Remember President Obama’s speech in Cairo? The one that was supposed to have constituted a triumph of soft power? The one that represented an enlightened step up from the Dark Days of the Bush Administration?

Ben Domenech does. And he reports on the aftermath:

As wise observers know, oftentimes the choices made within the context of America’s engagement in the Middle East are limited to a decision between supporting clearly repressive regimes and allowing the vilest enemies of democracy and freedom to triumph — a choice in which the good is absent, and you are left with the bad and the ugly. Such is the situation in Egypt today. The recent election doesn’t pass the smell test — as Stephen McInerney, director of advocacy for the Project on Middle East Democracy, told the Weekly Standard, the Mubarak regime wasn’t “even making an effort to look good.”

Yet this repressive situation is not without justification — namely, the likelihood that a truly free election would elevate the power base of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were effectively pushed from parliament, left with just a single elected candidate.

If you are unfamiliar with the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps it’s enough to say that their leadership in Egypt spent much of the last week attempting to blame Israel’s Mossad for a New Year’s Eve massacre of Coptic Christians outside a church in Alexandria, Egypt, as part of what one commenter branded a “Zionist conspiracy against national unity.” I encourage you to read author Claire Berlinski’s essay on the Brotherhood’s origins at Ricochet, as well as Belinski’s discussion of the views of leading Brotherhood voice Yusuf al-Qaradawi. She writes that the Brotherhood “is at its core unremittingly anti-secular, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and anti-Western. It has fractured; there are divisions within it; like all movements it is comprised of individuals, some of whom are pleasant–but basically it has not changed.”

[. . .]

This is exactly the kind of thorny foreign policy situation that demands a president with a coherent vision, one that amounts to more than just blandishments about respect and tolerance. If only America had one.

Of course, no one blames the President for an inability to change the Middle East with one speech. But what continually disappoints is the propensity of the Obama Administration to promise more than they can deliver, simply because both the President and the rest of his Administration appear to be so dazzled by the President’s star power and charisma, that they fail to consider cold hard facts that are impervious to Barack Obama’s personal charm and eloquence. This is an Administration that continues to believe press clippings from 2008, even though it’s 2011, and the press clippings themselves have changed.

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