- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2011

President Obama likely may have lost Egypt. If he has, it will be one of the most dramatic and devastating foreign policy defeats for the United States in decades. It also will be a significant victory for the forces of radical Islam - a blow that threatens to undermine American interests across the Middle East.

The regime of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak is teetering on the brink. He is a spent force. He will be out of office by September, if not much sooner. His son Gamal, who was groomed to be his successor, has fled to London. The rampaging mobs in Cairo and Alexandria dominate the political landscape. They represent the future, Mr. Mubarak the past.

The downfall of the Mubarak regime should come as no surprise. He has led a corrupt police state for decades. Egypt’s political system is closed. Its statist economy is sterile. The security services imprison and murder dissidents. Mr. Mubarak came to resemble an ancient Egyptian pharaoh: a power-hungry dictator insulated by the luxury and wealth of his lavish court palace. As he grew fat and old, the people bristled under his harsh rule.

The authoritarian status quo was unsustainable. Yet Washington’s foreign-policy establishment - wedded to the illusion of “stability” - propped up Mr. Mubarak’s regime. America has sent Egypt more than $1.2 billion in annual military aid. Washington provided Mr. Mubarak with the weapons - and support - he needed to suppress political opposition and violate human rights. The United States became an accessory to an unpopular, brutal dictatorship. This is why the mobs on the streets of Cairo hate America. We are paying the price for our pact with the devil.

Years ago, Washington should have encouraged civil society and political reform. America could have fostered a secular democratic opposition. Instead, by blindly backing Mr. Mubarak, the United States enabled the most militant, unified and organized Islamist party to take advantage of the growing discontent: the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is the Brotherhood’s supporters who fill the ranks of the protesters. The Muslim Brotherhood very likely will join a national unity government and eventually seize control. Its goal is to erect a Sunni version of Iran’s Shiite theocracy. It champions the hatred of America, war with Israel and a global jihad against the West. It supports Hamas in the Gaza Strip and other terrorist groups. In short, the post-Mubarak regime most probably not only will be anti-Western but will have ties to al Qaeda and Iran’s mullahs.

Egypt is not some strategic backwater; it is not Yemen, Tunisia or Jordan. Rather, it is the cultural linchpin of the Arab world - the France of the region. For centuries, Egypt has been a trendsetter. In literature, art, radio, cinema, industrialization, nationalism and mass politics, it was Egyptians who showed the way for other peoples of the Middle East. If the land of the pharaohs should go Islamic, it will reverberate across the entire region. The balance of power will tip irreversibly into the hands of Muslim hard-liners.

Mr. Obama is repeating the fatal mistake of President Carter in 1979. Mr. Carter dithered about whether to back the shah in Iran. Although a ruthless despot, the shah was a pro-American strategic ally. Mr. Carter eventually withdrew U.S. support in the face of massive street protests, delivering Iran to the apocalyptic ayatollahs. Iran’s clerical rulers have proved to be much more murderous and repressive than the shah ever was. Moreover, the Iranian regime is the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world. It is a fanatical anti-American, anti-Semitic state that is on the verge of acquiring the nuclear bomb. Mr. Carter’s decision not only condemned the Iranian people to an Islamic fascist theocracy but allowed a mortal enemy of the West to seize power.

History is repeating itself. By publicly standing with the demonstrators - albeit belatedly - Mr. Obama has betrayed a key U.S. partner whose collapse likely may usher in a gang of medieval Islamist butchers. The cause of human rights and democracy will be set back even further under the Muslim Brotherhood - buried under the corpses of religious cleansing. After ignoring Egyptian secular-opposition activists for his entire presidency, Mr. Obama now decides to throw in his lot with militant Muslims. Administration officials already have reached out to top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to discuss an orderly transition to power.

Mr. Obama’s appeasement policies are naive and dangerous. Their net effect has been to embolden and strengthen radical Islam. Under his watch, Muslim extremists are on the march. Egypt is about to fall. Hezbollah controls Lebanon. Iraq is ravaged with suicide bombings, while Christian sects are being exterminated. The Taliban are surging in Afghanistan. Entire regions of Pakistan are infested with jihadists. Turkey is becoming more fundamentalist.

The riots in Egypt reveal the bankruptcy of Mr. Obama’s Muslim outreach strategy. It was in Cairo in 2009 that he apologized for America’s supposed sins, vowing a new U.S.-Islamic partnership. The Arab street, however, rightly does not respect a leader who speaks ill of his own nation on foreign soil. Mr. Obama’s speech - and his subsequent policies - have demonstrated his complete failure to confront the rising tide of political Islam. His foreign policy is a disaster. American power and prestige are in decline. The vacuum is being filled by the new barbarians who are coming to power in Cairo.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.