Euphoria is a dangerous narcotic, more powerful than drugs and cheaper than booze. But the wise are wary of the hangover that inevitably follows a season of carousing.
President Obama, after days of weaving one way and wavering another, has abandoned wariness and joined the riotous jubilee in downtown Cairo. First he gave President Hosni Mubarak a firm vote of confidence; Joe Biden called him a good friend. But when the din in Tahrir Square grew loud enough to be heard on Pennsylvania Avenue, Mr. Obama changed his tune, and finally, as if he had heard the mob’s call to evening prayer, he joined the demand that Mr. Mubarak must go, unintended consequences be damned.
The pitfalls and potholes in the way through the Middle East minefield at first held back the administration, most politicians and even the pundits. Nobody knew what was really going on in Egypt (and they still don’t). Uncertainty ruled. But in Washington ignorance is no reason not to ride off in three directions. Care and caution is for sissies.
Uncertainty has its uses. As expected, the American liberal left, which can always find something good to say about America’s mortal enemies, is already hard at work casting the Muslim Brotherhood, a likely heir to the chaos in Cairo, not as the radical cult it is, determined to impose radical Islam on the world, but as a benign Islamic version of the League of Women Voters.
The Muslim Brotherhood, says a contributor to the editorial pages of the New York Times, can be measured by its size and “diversity,” and is difficult to sum up simply. The Brotherhood includes both “practical reformers and firebrand ideologues,” writes contributor Scott Shane.
Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, a professor at Emory University, a Methodist school in Atlanta and the author of a book on Egypt and the Brotherhood, likens the Brotherhood to something like a Billy Graham revival, without the singing and the sawdust. “It was a bottom-up, gradual process, beginning with the individual and ultimately reaching all of society. It’s roughly analogous to the evangelical Christian goal of sharing the Gospel. Politics were secondary.”
But “summing up” the Brotherhood is not so difficult for the brothers themselves, who eagerly spell out their aims and goals. In a recent “mission statement” included in a memorandum to its chapters in more than 40 countries, the leadership said the Brotherhood “must understand that their work in North America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within. …”
The softening of public opinion in the West quickens as the mobs in the Middle East grow. “If we really want democracy in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood is going to be a big part of the picture,” Bruce Riedel of the left-leaving Brookings Institution tells the New York Times. The United States has no choice but to accept the Brotherhood’s role.
So soft, in fact, have the Brotherhood’s apologists in the West become that the Brotherhood itself no longer bothers to take cover in ritual expressions of peace, love and good will that the apologists, wet and glistening in anticipation, expect. But Rashad al-Bayoumi, a deputy leader of the Brotherhood, proudly tells a Japan Broadcasting Co. interviewer that it intends to scrap Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel when it comes to power. “After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed,” he says, “there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel.”
If the radical Islamic threat is not taken seriously by the opinion elites in America, it certainly is by the Israelis, who have only their survival at stake. The chattering class in Jerusalem — government officials, pundits and even academics — regard Mr. Obama as a hopeless naif, unable to recognize reality and pushed to pressure a reliable ally to hand over power to … well, who?
“I don’t think Americans understand yet the disaster they have pushed the Middle East into,” says Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a member of the Knesset and until recently a Cabinet officer. He thinks the Muslim Brotherhood could win half the seats, or even a majority, in the Egyptian parliament. Jimmy Carter is widely regarded in Israel as the American president who lost Iran for the West, and one analyst, Aluf Benn writing in the daily newspaper Haaretz, thinks Mr. Obama “will be remembered as the president who ‘lost’ Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt [when] America’s alliances in the Middle East crumbled.”
Euphoria will recede as the search for the turkey to blame for that disaster unfolds. Not something any president wants, or could likely survive.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.