America Has Options in Egypt
Andrew Bacevich argues, persuasively, that “absence of leverage does not preclude options” with respect to Egypt.
Writing in the New York Times, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt recently noted that “in the four decades before Camp David, Israel and Egypt fought several major wars; in the nearly four decades since, none.”
True enough, and a welcome development. Yet no less true, if much less welcome, is this: In the four decades before Camp David, the U.S. had managed to steer clear of war in the Middle East; in the nearly four decades since, U.S. involvement in hostilities throughout the region has become routine, with little to show as a result.
What becomes clear in retrospect is that Camp David mattered less as a milestone on the road to peace than as a departure point signaling a radical transformation of U.S. policy. Before Camp David, in the Pentagon’s eyes, the region had qualified as an afterthought. After Camp David — and especially as the Cold War wound down — it became the center of attention.
Underlying the shift in U.S. policy inaugurated by Carter was the expectation that military “engagement” (to use a favorite Pentagon term) was going to enhance U.S. leverage throughout the region. Leverage adroitly applied, whether directly or through proxies, would enable the U.S. to promote stability and perhaps eventually help pacify the Middle East. As a means of solving problems, or at least keeping them manageable, military power was displacing diplomacy.
That, as the more astute among you may have surmised, was not the case. Bacevich’s advice?
Acknowledge the failure. Fold the cards. Try something different. Whatever the problems roiling the Middle East, weapons sales won’t fix them. Nor will proxy wars. Nor will the further commitment of U.S. troops.
Egypt today offers Washington the opportunity to demilitarize U.S. policy toward this region. Such a change is long overdue. Terminating further assistance to Egypt’s army will mark a necessary first step. Wisdom lies in allowing others to determine their own destiny so that we may pursue our own.
I’m with Bacevich on demilitarization but not sold on disengagement. The region in general and Egypt in particular are too important for the United States to ignore. But, certainly, the way we’ve engaged over the past several decades hasn’t yielded the desired results. The prevailing definition of insanity would seem to indicate trying something different.