by The Federalist
“Everybody is angry – we have 90 million people who are angry…They don’t know how democracy works. They don’t know the ingredients of a democracy…”
- Mohamed ElBaradei, former Egyptian vice-president for external affairs
Let’s get right down to business:
The United States is in a no-win situation in the Middle East. The situation has deteriorated precipitously. At this moment, the best that can be hoped for is containment: trying to keep the conflagration from taking on expanding proportions that extend outside the Middle East, the Arab and Muslim world.
Even this as a goal is in jeopardy. But, it’s all we’ve got.
Let’s break it down:
These are not good times for the “Arab Spring” delusion. The Middle East is in flames. It is a strategic necessity to confront reality in all its grim ugliness and stop dwelling in some artificial fantasyland created by Western media and others.
The most important thing to understand is this: things are worse than you think. Not just slightly worse: a whole lot worse. And each piece of the action is bad enough on its own.
US strategic interests: access and passage through the Suez Canal, the peace treaty with Israel.
In Egypt, the country is roiling in bloodshed with the military forcefully suppressing the supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, particularly members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This was a military coup. No amount of semantics by US officials can avoid the obvious. It is what it is.
So now, the US Government is caught in a conundrum of its own creation: with legislation in place that calls for the suspension of aid to any country that overthrows an elected government. In short, we set ourselves up to fail with that one. Why? Because all coups are not created equal, so to speak. It’s all about circumstances. Mr. Morsi and his supporters were going about the business of setting up a new order heavily infused with Islamic fundamentalism. The net effect: a secular, fundamentalist Egypt.
We are facing a grim possibility of further civil strife in Egypt until things sort themselves out. There’s a world of difference between urban Egypt and the Egypt beyond the large cities. Outside major urban centers, support for the Muslim Brotherhood has been strong.
Events like those unfolding in Egypt have a long shelf life. They transcend generations, decades and even centuries. They become part of Middle East institutional memory. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not part of the equation.
But it gets worse:
Very little attention is being paid to a strategic linchpin for Egypt: the Sinai. All is not hunky-dory in the Sinai. It has become an almost lawless haven for criminal organizations and worse – jihadists tied to the prematurely-declared- dead al-Qaeda. In particular, the jihadists would like nothing better than to use the Sinai as a strategic base of operations to attack Israel and have already done so.
Little is written in Western media about special operations of the Egyptian Army being conducted against these elements. They are deadly, violent confrontations. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood may have been a catalyst enabling the jihadists in the Sinai. At the very least, developments in the Sinai are more than capable of destabilizing the relationship between Israel and Egypt.
We are faced with some hard choices in Egypt – and one of them, in our view, is not trying to rescue the deposed Morsi government or attempting to institute “democracy,” a concept and political system which Egypt and the region are wholly unprepared for.
But, it gets worse.
Syria is a no-win situation for US foreign policy and national security. It is a no-win situation for regional peace and stability. The trajectory is racing in a different direction with a wholly bad outcome.
In case you missed it –
CBS senior foreign correspondent Lara Logan was interviewed by WTOP on Tuesday, August 13, 2013. You can pick up the audio file on the WTOP website or use this link:
This portion of our commentary is based in part on Ms. Logan’s interview.
The grim reality: there is no “right” side to be on regarding the civil war in Syria.
The United States has lost the tactical, operational and strategic initiative on the ground in Syria. Al-Qaeda fighters have poured into Syria. They are the better equipped, better trained among the forces opposing the Syrian government. When they are not fighting the Syrian armed forces, they fight with the non-jihadist rebels.
The United States has also surrendered the initiative to the Russians in Syria. The Kremlin is a whole lot less squeamish when it comes to protecting their national interests than the US administration. They are a lot closer to the battleground than the United States and perhaps have a better understanding of what threatens them more, along with the nature and level of the threat.
But it gets worse:
The jihadists know the stakes in Syria and know them well. The Assad government has stockpiles of chemical weapons. Just as importantly, the Assad government has delivery systems for those weapons. A jihadist victory in Syria, to borrow a phrase, is a “game changer” not only in the Middle East but elsewhere within the range of the existent delivery systems or if these weapons can be transported beyond the region.
At the same time, to outward appearances that need confirmation, the Assad government has used chemical weapons against civilians. This means the prospect that the United States and others need to degrade these weapons systems. In all likelihood that means use of American and/or allied airpower. It is not a simple affair. First, the Syrian air defense has to be neutralized and allied air superiority established. This is itself complicated by Russian support for the Assad regime. Will the Russians allow the US unfettered airstrikes against the Syrians? It’s a big unanswered question at the moment.
All things considered, when you “do the math,” the United States has boxed itself into a corner in the Middle East where rational options are a limited commodity.
Now, Some Questions
How did we get ourselves into this bind?
How is it that we have seemingly no understanding of the dynamics of the region and the nature of the threats to US national security?
Let’s focus on one area of inquiry – the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) and its Middle East Broadcasting Network (MBN) of Radio Sawa and Alhurra television in particular.
That takes us on a short road trip south of DC to what we will call “Fortress Springfield,” the location in suburban Northern Virginia of MBN, Radio Sawa and Alhurra television.
Infrequently, some attention has been paid to these operations. There have been investigative reports by The Washington Post and CBS’ “60 Minutes.” Still, little comes out of “Fortress Springfield” in the way of what we call “actionable intelligence.”
We really don’t know what the folks are doing in a couple of buildings in an industrial park in Northern Virginia.
What is the content of these broadcasts?
Are these broadcasts contributing to the rage against the United States existent in the Arab and Muslim world?
Is the Arab and Muslim world ill-prepared for the editorial content of these stations compared to situations on the ground?
How are Arabs and Muslims, Middle East media and public opinion reacting to the content of these programs?
Unlike “Fortress Springfield,” the actionable intelligence is coming from the Middle East.
Let us consider:
These stations have been broadcasting to the Middle East for the better part of 12 years – first with Radio Sawa then followed by Alhurra television. The American taxpayer has been “dimed” for millions of dollars for this effort which supposedly was intended to change the paradigm in the Middle East following the al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001.
And change the paradigm they have – at least by inference:
Things have gone from bad to worse.
Supposedly, by playing pop music on Radio Sawa, Arab youth would somehow be transformed into urbane, Western-thinking acolytes.
Well, that didn’t happen. It was a nonsensical idea then and looks preposterous now.
And then there is Alhurra television: Alhurra, “the free one.”
Whose “freedom” are we talking about?
How are the broadcasts of these stations defining “freedom?”
But it gets worse:
This approach has also been cloned in US Government broadcasts to Iran (Radio Farda) and similarly formatted programs to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But it gets worse:
As noted above, these stations were supposed to change the paradigm of Arab thinking toward the United States.
With all the events that have transpired in the past twelve years across all of the Arab and Muslim world – how is it that we got caught so flat-footed on the trajectory of revolution and conflict in the Arab and Muslim world?
If these stations had reporters on the ground, what were they seeing and hearing? More importantly, what were they reporting back to Washington as to what they were observing or what was going on around them?
A salient point was made in Ms. Logan’s appearance on WTOP:
In the United States and elsewhere, we refer to al-Qaeda as an organization. But that is not how “al-Qaeda” sees itself. Al-Qaeda means “the base.” In short, “the base” is not the organization. It’s the ideology. It is a movement, rather than any one organizational group. This movement loosely stretches throughout the Arab and Muslim world – from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Philippines.
In some quarters, this is also referred to “The Awakening.”
If one pays attention to both words and actions of al-Qaeda, the ultimate objective is to reestablish the Caliphate, the Islamic hegemony across North Africa and the Near East in the Middle Ages.
Much of al-Qaeda doctrine and practice is anchored in the Middle Ages. This includes ritualistic killings (beheadings) and references to the United States and the West as “Crusaders,” a direct connection to the Crusades to wrest the Holy Land from Islam. The Crusades spanned the timeframe 718 to 1456. There were nine named crusades plus other military operations, the last being the Siege/Battle of Belgrade in 1456.
This time span should be a grave concern. If al-Qaeda is anchored in the Middle Ages, so is a mindset that spans years, decades, and centuries. Inherent in the al-Qaeda doctrine is self-perpetuation of its leadership and its base of support. Take a look at pictures of the unrest in the Middle East and you will see more than one example of several generations participating, from grandfather to grandson.
In short, al-Qaeda has set itself up for the long haul. This is not the short attention span like we see inside the Cohen Building. Al-Qaeda thinks in terms of decades, centuries and is prepared to spare no resource and no amount of blood to accomplish its goals. Acquiring weapons that can lay waste to hundreds of thousands of people is consistent with their goals in establishing dominion over the West.
With the death of Osama bin Laden, the movement lost a charismatic leader.
One of the outcomes of the many drone strikes made by the United States appears to be to keep al-Qaeda “franchised;” in other words, making it more difficult for someone with charisma to ascend and take over the inspirational leadership role for the entire al-Qaeda formations.
If a new charismatic leader arises and is able to unite al-Qaeda in global jihad and accomplish its strategic goals, we will be finding new levels of hell to descend into.
This brings us back to the IBB, MBN and its offshoots.
It’s worth repeating: we don’t know what this operation is doing. To all appearances, it is in “lockdown.” Don’t be looking for transparency from this operation or its senior bureaucrats. And that is wrong. We’re paying for this operation and need to know what we are paying for.
We need to know what it is doing, the nature of program content being broadcast on Radio Sawa and Alhurra television. Since many of us are not conversant in Arabic, we need independent, authoritative Arabic linguists to assess the program content of these stations.
Just as important, we need serious congressional scrutiny of these operations.
Clearly, the sentiment in the Arab and Muslim world is increasingly hostile toward the United States, its government, its citizens – our way of life. That in itself is a clear indication that the millions of dollars spent on MBN programs over the past twelve years has been a bust. It is also an indication of how successful al-Qaeda has been with billions of US taxpayer dollars spent on an expanded domestic security apparatus to contend with an asymmetrical threat.
How long are we going to be engaged in an exercise in failure and somehow expect a different result – both in terms of the IBB and whoever manages the Middle East Broadcasting Network?
At this juncture, it’s already been too long – on both counts.