May 8, 2019

The US ‘well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom’.

So spoke John Quincy Adams, the US Secretary of State of the nascent republic, in a major speech to the House of Representatives on Independence Day in 1821. It was his vision of what the US stood for. He could not have been more prescient.

‘Most of the clients and candidates we (the US) supported (over the past several decades) have turned out to be anything but advocates of freedom. They range from corrupt pursuers of crony capitalism to psychotic thugs to Islamic extremists and that is not a very impressive track record’.

So spoke Ted Galen Carpenter, senior fellow for defence and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, the US libertarian think tank (funded by the mega-rich Koch brothers, both Republicans). He was speaking to ABC’s Radio National.

Goodness knows what Adams would have made of the latest initiative from the White House. That is to declare the Moslem Brotherhood [MB] a terrorist organisation. Just as Donald Trump has done the bidding of Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu in declaring the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist outfit (and recognised the Golan Heights as Israeli territory), this latest move was at the behest of the Egyptian dictator, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who overthrew the democratically-elected MB government in 2013.

But why would Trump even consider this when the MB has been around for 91 years and is resolutely opposed to violence? It has millions of followers in 70 countries, is not a threat to the US and has not been accused of terrorism in recent years. Certainly it adopted some rough tactics during its brief Cairo rule and a few of its members broke away to form a couple of hostile Islamic groups and it is affiliated with Hamas, a terrorist organisation which runs Gaza. But otherwise it has a clean recent record.

But Sisi disagrees because the MB is his nemesis just as Iran is Netanyahu’s. The Egyptian leader has been feverishly building new prisons to house real and imagined opponents. He has the support of other autocratic states, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. They all fear the latent political influence of the MB and that it might undermine their one-man rule. And Sisi’s as well. A recent amendment to the Egyptian constitution to be put to a referendum this month is likely to give Sisi the option of ruling like a pharaoh until 2030.

Despite human rights groups accusing Egypt of widespread and systematic torture of political prisoners, silencing dissidents and using the death sentence to settle scores, Trump was not concerned. Sisi, he said after their recent meeting, was doing ‘a great job’ and, what’s more, the former field marshal was a ‘great person’. Sisi may be a tyrant, but he is a useful one for American interests.

Goodness also knows what Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, makes of this as well. He announced at the weekend that his long-awaited blueprint for an Israeli/Palestine peace settlement will be unveiled after Ramadan ends in June. He is unlikely to get a measured consideration from Palestinians when the family patriarch wants to declare many of them and millions of other MB followers as de facto supporters of terrorism.

The MB proposal is another example of US decision-making as if on a whim. It came after a private meeting between Trump and Sisi. It is little wonder that, according to US news reports, senior figures in the State Department and Pentagon were alarmed at the very idea and its potential consequences. But they have to defer to today’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security advisor John Bolton whose approach tends to be ask-no-questions and take-no-prisoners.

So much so, according to Cato’s Carpenter, that Trump is even more hawkish than his predecessors, never mind his claims of wanting to reduce the US presence overseas to save money. Carpenter cites the example of NATO and Libya, saying it was the most unnecessary intervention since the Cold War. It had turned the country into ‘Somalia on the Med…with incredible violence and multiple parties fighting it out’. The conflict broke out before Trump came to power, but he didn’t help matters this year by offering his support for the rebel general who wants to overthrow the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

Once again in US foreign policy, it is a case of blow the consequences. For Libyans, this has meant hundreds dead, thousands displaced, a country fractured by civil war and a corridor for thousands of asylum-seekers bound for Europe and, for hundreds of them, death in the Mediterranean.

Elsewhere, the MB plan may have the same unintended consequences. With one stroke of Trump’s executive pen, ‘It threatens to plunge America and much of the world that may still aspire to a peaceful and democratic Middle East into another spiral of hatred and division’, foreign affairs commentator David A. Andelman told CNN.

FOOTNOTE. Bolton and Pompeo are an unlikely couple to be in charge of US national security interests. Bolton bristles with hawkish ideas, was a supporter of the Iraq war, is a member of the NRA and looks like a perpetually angry sheriff. The avuncular Pompeo is an evangelical Presbyterian who is a church deacon and teaches Sunday school. He was top of his class at West Point and a former CIA director. He supports Saudi Arabia in its destructive war in Yemen. Not exactly a combination suited for Kushner’s quest for peace in our time.

John Tulloh had a 40-year career in foreign news.

[international affairs]

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