- - Monday, July 6, 2015


President Obama has a problem with his eyes. He doesn’t easily discern the difference between friend and foe in the Middle East. He has redeemed his campaign promise “to put some light” between the United States and Israel, though he confuses “light” with destructive space. Worse, the administration has alternately ignored reality, supported the wrong side, imposed a military assistance embargo, only to lift it, all to damage the Egyptian relationship with the United States.

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, no doubt as confused as everybody else by Mr. Obama’s back and forth, wants more help from Washington. Egypt gets $1.5 billion annually now, including $1.3 billion in military aid. But the recent success of anti-government forces in the Sinai — forces allied with the Islamic State, or ISIS, and with Iran through Hamas, have put Mr. el-Sissi’s administration in a life and death struggle with Islamic terrorists.

In late June these terrorists assassinated the Egyptian chief legal officer, the equivalent of the U.S. attorney general, with a car bomb. In the critical Sinai peninsula — lodged among Egypt, the Suez Canal and Israel — two successful attacks were carried out by terrorists affiliated with both the Islamic State and the mullahs in Iran.

Egypt’s 90 million residents comprise a quarter of the Arab world, and Cairo is the intellectual and religious heart of the worldwide Sunni majority of Islam. Mr. el-Sissi — who deposed the Muslim Brotherhood to the cheers of millions of Egyptians — supports the United States and the West against the Islamic terrorists. The administration projects no such clarity of policy, and takes the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts at piety on faith. CIA Director John O. Brennan is particularly naive and misinformed, making wrongheaded pronouncements about the nature of Islam and its history of violence. Mr. Brennan would serve the country better by leaving theology to the theologians and history to the historians.

When the Libyan terrorists made a show of killing three-dozen Egyptian Coptic Christian workers, Mr. el-Sissi dispatched bombers against them. He has opened a full-scale campaign against his own domestic widespread Muslim terrorist insurgency.

More importantly, he has taken up the cudgels to deal with the larger issue which many of his fellow Muslims refuse to look in the face, their intolerance of other faiths. He has paid highly publicized personal visits to leaders of Egypt’s abused Christian Copts, who make up 20 percent of the population. He looked the traditional Muslim ulema, or Muslim clergy, in the eye and told them to learn to behave themselves. He reinforced Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel, cooperating with Jerusalem to squeeze Hamas in Gaza, which has been designated officially a terrorist organization by the United States.

After imposing a partial embargo on weapons after a successful coup against the elected Muslim Brotherhood government, Mr. Obama, finally recognizing obvious American interests, lifted it a few weeks later. Still unresolved is what to do about military credits it shares with Israel.

Human rights activists within the administration couldn’t have been more heavy-handed in dealing with Mr. el-Sissi’s crackdown on dissidents, including reporters for al Jazeera, the news agency which was Osama bin Laden’s faithful mouthpiece. Mr. Obama’s administration would have been far more effective had it openly supported the new regime and used its influence to smooth Mr. el-Sissi’s rough edges. Instead, the president fell back onto the same detached, aloof manner with Mr. el-Sissi that characterizes so many of his relationships, domestic as well as foreign. Among other things Mr. Obama doesn’t understand, Egypt and its role in the Middle East is too important to allow to drift.

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