Idealist Notions versus Geopolitical Realities: Is US Foreign Policy towards Egypt and Syria Hypocritical?

American foreign policy has baffled me ever sine I began to study it. It is always steeped in some idealist notion such as democracy and conformation to international norms. US foreign policy uses the moral spectrum that evaluates the acts of man to examine the ‘rightness’ of state action. However, there are times when this idealist motivation meets a situation that is not congruent, that is not conformist which then leads to a policy that appears to be incoherent and ambivalent. Such is the case I see with American foreign policy towards Egypt and Syria.

Turmoil has engulfed the Middle East region of the world since the revolution began in Tunisia. Governments such the one in Libya and Egypt fell on the way, some violently while others fairly peacefully. At the outset, American foreign policy appeared to be catching up to the rapid moving events. However when it finally caught up with, the theme was centered on democracy, international law and the spread of human rights.

This has been a theme in American foreign policy since the days of Woodrow Wilson. He believed that democratic states do not wage war against each other, what later became the idea of democratic peace. At the time the US adopted and zealously followed the principle of isolation. However after being drawn into vortex of the great war that was started by the European powers, Wilson became convinced that the world needed American leadership. Sadly Congress did not agree with him.

Since then, many – if not all – American presidents adopted the notion of democracy and the crusader belief that they have the divinely appointed right to provide leadership to the world. However, after WWII Wilsonian idealist met global reality. Iran hostage crisis, Israeli-Palestinian relations, Rwandan Genocide, Suez Crisis among a plethora of conflicts provide crucial lessons to America that even as a great power; the only superpower, strategic interests were very much relevant. It is with through this lens I examine the situation in Egypt and Syria with respect to American foreign policy response.

Egyptian revolution ousted the incumbent Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Through a democratic election, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood took the realms of power. His name is Muhammed Morsi. This is a process well known to Americans as they perceive credible elections to be part and parcel of a democratic process. Therefore Morsi was democratically elected President of Egypt. But could American foreign policy reconcile this to its strategic interests in the Middle-East and more so the security of Israel?

Israel is often isolated in the region owing to ‘hostile’ neighbours. Since the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, Arab states int he region have never fully accepted it because the land had been inhabited by Palestinians who were Arabs. Two major wars were fought and Israel aptly defended herself. So what is the connection between Israeli security and Egypt or Morsi for that matter?

In the last war of 1967, Egyptian support for the peace was crucial. Being a leading voice within the Arab league, it was seen as prudent to maintain a friendly Government in the country. For as long as the Government is friendly, American interests of Israeli security can be achieved.

Into the bargain, the history of the Suez Crisis of 1956 may have also provided fodder to American foreign policy thinking in seeking a friendly Government. The pathway would be a geopolitical minefield if it fell in the hands of anti-American forces in Egypt. This is the point at which oil from the region passes on its way to Western states,  major reason for Britain and France to engage in armed conflict in 1956.

Morsi being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood – a known Islamic fundamentalist group – becomes a problem in light of the above. Perhaps when Morsi decided to take up all constitutional powers and strip with the courts of their judicial powers, he had given his detractors, especially the United States, ammunition for his downfall. Morsi, unlike Mubarak, presented a challenge to US interests in the region because of his ties to the Brotherhood.

As proof, there were people funded by the US government (State Department) to create political turmoil in the country. Secondly, there was the statement from John Kerry that praised the military’s action. He said that it had ‘heard the cry of the people’ and responded accordingly. This meant that the highest ranking diplomat in the US approved of the military’s action.

Chaos engulfed Egypt with pro and anti-Morsi demonstrators clashing in major cities. News images of military weaponry, most likely US funded, trained their barrels on Egyptian people. Thousands died and scores were injured including in an infamous stand-off at a Mosques that subsequently served as a morgue and hospital. So is this democracy as Egyptians wanted? It is not a breach of international law to use such weapons on your population? Should we then not include American interests in the region while analyzing the chaos in Egypt?

The Syrian script is different. Chants of war are gathering in intensity with the aim of ‘punishing’ Assad’s Government for alleged use chemical weapons. Whereas preliminary results by different western powers say that it was used, none can convincingly argue that Assad’s Government is responsible. The UN is also conducting an investigation of its own which will most likely be used to draft a resolution for the Syrian situation.

Talk of the attacks are centered on the enforcement of international law. Chemical weapons have been banned under international humanitarian law and thus its use outlawed. Thus its use, which may be likely, should be punished and must be punished.

Politically, the Syrian regime is of little significance to US interests. Therefore its fall could present a benefit to US foreign policy that if it stood. Unlike Egypt, Syria did not have so strong a bond with the US outside that legally enshrined in the UN Charter.

So, there are two situations with similar facts, breaches of international law, but different approaches in US foreign policy response. In Egypt, the military is couched as liberators while that in Syria are the embodiment of evil. Egyptian strategic value – unlike Syrian value – may far outweigh demands of democracy and human rights; idealistic notion buckling under hard geopolitical realities.

In conclusion, if one looked at US foreign policy toward Syria and Egypt, one will definitely conclude that American foreign policy is hypocritical. However, if one studied American strategic interests all over the world, one may begin to understand that idealist crusader notion are subservient to geopolitical realities and that American foreign policy may not be that ambivalent.

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What’s in a Presidential Visit?

A proposed visit by President Barrack Obama to some African countries has gotten a lot of people talking. The fact that he is coming so close to Kenya but not to Kenya has not escaped the keen eyes of Kenyans. Speculation is rife as to the reason why the so called ‘Kenyan son’ is not coming ‘home’.

It is on record that Obama visited the country some time in 2006. This was two years before his historic election to one of the most powerful offices in the world. He came in search of his roots as he had a Kenyan father.

Since his election, the ‘Kenyan son’ has never set foot in the country. Once when Michael Ranneberger was the US envoy to Kenya, there was talk of him coming. The reason given for his snubbing his ‘home’ was the slow pace of reform in the country. This was a period after the promulgation of the new constitution.

Now Obama is coming, or should I say is bringing the US presidency very close to home. He is scheduled to visit Tanzania. This has got some Kenyans wondering why the snub while others making a jest of it all wondering whether he became China’s president for us to care much. All this raises the question of the purpose of this visit.

In my humble opinion, it is a form through which US foreign policy is implemented. These visits are usually ‘granted’ to states that have policies that are congruent with the idealist pedestal that US foreign policy is predicated upon. Thus as one can reasonably conclude, if a state lacks these ideals, then no visit.

So why snub Kenya? To some the answer is only too obvious. On May 4th 2013 Kenyans elected ICC indictees to the office of the President and his deputy amid warning from western diplomats of ‘essential contact’ and ‘choices have consequences’. But one can ask why the US deals with other governments that continue to oppress their people while preaching the very ideals that are broken by these governments.

I think the answer can be found in two extremes. The first is US public opinion. This is a very strong component in American foreign policy with each leader striving not to cross the American public.It is however linked strongly to the historical capital of the nation since independence.

Since the country was founded by declaring independence from Britain in 1776, it has always considered its policies through moral imperatives. In fact one of the reasons that it employed the isolationist policy was the tendency to see their distance from Europe and being surrounded by two vast oceans through the divine lens rather than a geo-political fact. Thus through out its history, the people and consequently their opinion have been wired to think in terms of ideals as opposed to hard political realities.

The second extreme is the reality of the international political landscape. After the world war, the US started seeing things in a more realistic way. Implementing policies that consider men as good and that their goodness could be drawn from public conscience quickly met a world where calculations of power ran supreme. In a short time their were spheres of influence and thus a pseudo-balance of power mechanism between the capitalist and communist blocs.

To maintain such a balance they needed a policy that would stop-gap communist growth and influence. This was when George F. Kennan proposed the containment policy. For it to work, states that were hitherto capitalist or neutral could never have been allowed to end up in Soviet hands. This led the US administration to deal with people like Mobutu and even plan the assassination of Patrice Lumumba who was widely perceived to be a communist sympathizer in Washington.

All this was being done at a covert level. Any leaks in intelligence would mean a bad rating in the polls owing to public opinion.  If it happened it would be followed by measures set to placate the indignant response of the American public. Thus many of the operations were done secretly and outside their knowledge.

So what is the relevance of this all? I mean the Cold War has ended? What does this have to do with the US President visiting Tanzania? Bear with me, I am getting to that.

Indeed, the Cold War has ended but replaced with War on Terror. Like in the Cold War, the War on Terror requires allies indispensable for its success. The war is accentuated by the so called Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive strikes and focus on state sponsors of terrorism and failed state. East Africa has such a state in the name of Somalia.

So I see Obama as being in a dilemma.  He cannot come to Kenya owing to fear of unfavourable pressure, and I should add that he is not as brave as the British who invited President Kenyatta to the London Conference on Somali. But at the same time he cannot afford to ignore Nairobi in the ongoing fight against terror.

The solution to this would be to snub Nairobi publicly but deal with it privately. He has recognised the Government of Mr. Kenyatta, hasn’t he? In my view the fact that Obama is not coming to Kenya is irrelevant since it does not translate to any substantial benefit to Kenya’s interest.  I mean even Bashir enjoys the private relations with Washington doesn’t he?