In his televised address on the future of American operations in Afghanistan, President Donald Trump took a sharp turn from his predecessors.
- I share [the American people’s] frustration over a foreign policy that has spent too much time, energy, money, and most importantly lives, trying to rebuild countries in our own image, instead of pursuing our security interests above all other considerations.
- Ultimately, it is up to the people of Afghanistan to take ownership of their future, to govern their society, and to achieve an everlasting peace. We are a partner and a friend, but we will not dictate to the Afghan people how to live, or how to govern their own complex society. We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.
- We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands, or try to rebuild other countries in our own image. Those days are now over. Instead, we will work with allies and partners to protect our shared interests. We are not asking others to change their way of life, but to pursue common goals that allow our children to live better and safer lives. This principled realism will guide our decisions moving forward
Think “Egypt” in place of “Afghanistan” in each phrase and then ask how the administration decided to cut nearly cut nearly $100 million dollars in U.S. military and economic aid to Egypt and withhold another $200 million in military financing over human rights concerns and a change in law governing civic organizations and NGOs.
Is Egypt a paragon of the American definition of human rights? No. Is Egypt an American-style democracy? No. Is Egypt a bulwark against both ISIS and Iranian-supported radicalism in the Middle East? Yes, it is. Is Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi “protect(ing) our shared interests” and “pursu(ing) common goals” with the United States? Damned right he is.
Egypt and Israel have partnered to control the tidal wave of Iranian-sponsored and ISIS-related people and weapons moving across Sinai and Egypt and into Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. (Note that all of these are less than stable and lie just south of NATO.) Egypt sells natural gas to Jordan, which is facing its own security threats. Egypt moved with Saudi Arabia to highlight the problem Qatar’s support for Iran, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood and Sunni jihadist groups, has caused in the region — and for Egypt itself. And, most recently, Egypt — with the concurrence of Russia — has begun diplomacy in areas of Syria to shore up local ceasefires and, by the way and by design, to discomfit Iran.
Nothing should suit the United States more than to find Egypt working to ensure that Iran does not have a permanent hold on Syria.
While Russia is seeking an exit from Syria that preserves its naval and air bases in the country, Iran’s long-term objective in Syria is to be there. And in Lebanon. And in Iraq. The three countries constitute an overland avenue for Iran to the Mediterranean Sea and a lid over American allies Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel. Then consider Iranian expansion in the areas south, east, and west of those countries — in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea with a base in Yemen — potentially able to close the Bab el Mandeb Straits, cutting off Israel and Jordan’s only outlet to the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. Egypt, on the northwest side of the Red Sea, can also be stymied by Iranian aggression there, particularly since Sudan and Eritrea, south of Egypt, are corrupt, unstable, and susceptible to smuggling.
It isn’t so much a Shiite Crescent as a Shiite encirclement of American allies.
And why? The Islamic Republic declared war on the West when it came to power in 1979 and it remains at war with us today. There are no Iranian “moderates” in power in the government or the military. In the same way President Trump rightly sees Afghanistan as the locus of organizations, weapons, and funding that threaten Western interests from a Sunni orientation, Iran is the same from the Shiite orientation — only more so. Iran has money unimagined by ISIS and al Qaeda (thank you, President Obama). Iran has weapons capability, including missiles and always the potential for nuclear weapons. Iran the assets of a state and ties to North Korea. Iran is building missile factories in Syria and has already spread a hundred thousand or more rockets and missiles across southern Lebanon through its mercenary army, Hizb’allah.
The American review on Afghanistan was a necessary and welcome exercise, but if Washington believes it can address problems serially — leaving the Iran problem until the ISIS problem has been “solved” in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq — it is mistaken. They are corresponding and overlapping issues. Allowing Iran to “win” in Syria because it means ISIS “loses” contains the seeds of a bigger war with a state-based enemy that seeks the destruction of the West no less than ISIS does.
Egypt’s President al-Sisi is willing to do what President Trump is willing to do – put its military where its strategic interests are. For this, Egypt should be welcomed as an ally and an asset in the defense of the West.