- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2013

For once, there’s bipartisan agreement in Congress, this time about what to do about Egypt. Everyone recognizes a true dilemma, with no good choices. Rep. Peter T. King of New York, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, seems to speak for everyone: “The fact is, there’s no good guys there.”

Since nobody has the remotest idea of what to do, everyone falls back on the default position, the tried if not necessarily true. The left demands cutting off aid to the generals in Cairo, arguing — who’s arguing? — that they’re the kind of bullies you would never invite into your home and would hurry across the street if you saw them coming at you on the sidewalk.

But as bad as the generals are, the mobs of the Muslim Brotherhood are worse. They have been on a jihad against Christians, burning churches and homes of the believers. A mob marched a group of Franciscan nuns through the alleys and streets of Cairo on Monday, tearing down the cross and replacing it with the black flag of al Qaeda. The nuns were seized after their school was looted, razed and burned.

“At the end,” said a nun identified as Sister Manal, “they paraded us like prisoners of war and hurled abuse at us as they led us from one alley to another without telling us where they were taking us.” Demonstrating manliness by abusing women is the way of the Middle East.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Republican coming around to the emerging Democratic view, says that U.S. military aid, $1.3 billion annually, should be cut off at once because the hard line of Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the top general, threatens to set off a “domestic insurgency” that would threaten U.S. interests in the region and put Israel at further risk.

Mr. King and other conservatives argue that cultivating a relationship with the generals and working to show them what civilization looks like — that you don’t make a national hunting sport of shooting women and children — is the only way to protect American interests in the region.

“Somebody,” says Lindsey Graham, “needs to look [Gen.] Sissi in the eye and say, ‘you’re going to destroy Egypt. You’re going to doom your country to a beggar state. You’re going to create an insurgency for generations to come.’”

The man who could have looked the generals in the eye and appealed to their nonexistent pity and mercy is Barack Obama. Inspiring “the religion of peace” was supposed to be his gig. He knew how to talk to the Muslims. He could recite the opening lines of the Arabic call to prayer and do it without an accent. Didn’t he once say the Muslim call to prayer is “one of the prettiest sounds on Earth at sunset?” Hadn’t he once studied the Koran in his elementary school in Jakarta? He wouldn’t stereotype Muslims as fanatics, not the way other Americans do. He could not only talk to them, but talk to them in their language.

So why didn’t he, when it might have made a difference? Mr. Obama fits the stereotype of the gas man, the big talker of eloquence and not much substance. Like the call to Muslim prayer, it’s pretty if you like that kind of thing. (“Amazing Grace” by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is actually prettier.)

Preserving the Egyptian peace treaty with Israel, denying al Qaeda an operating base in Egypt and keeping the Suez Canal open to American warships and commercial ships are all pretty things to do, too. But Mr. Obama wants to “lead from behind,” and now we’re learning what leaders have known through the millennia, that the place to lead from is at the front. He let opportunities slip away.

The Europeans, who also confuse talk with action, warn the generals of “unpredictable consequences” for Egypt and its neighbors if the violence in Cairo escalates. Violence, leaders of the European Union insist, “will not succeed.” Alas, this is not so, as these gents would know if they had studied their history texts just a little more diligently. Violence often succeeds. That’s why it has been the default mode of bad guys for as long as history has been keeping score.

An American president might as well protect American interests, and preserve them as best he can. We’re never going to civilize the mob; mobs are out only for blood. With a lot of work, we might improve the deportment of generals. A famous Nobel Peace Prize winner might say there’s always hope for change.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.