It’s much too early to identify clear winners in the political turmoil in Egypt but it’s already easy to spot an obvious loser: the stumbling Obama administration must now abandon its cherished but dangerous illusions about peace in the Middle East.
During the Cairo crisis, the president reacted in a tardy, uncertain manner, reacting to new developments rather than shaping them. Considering Hosni Mubarak’s age (he is 82 and now in reportedly poor health) the administration seemed shockingly unprepared to face the reality that he couldn’t possibly govern indefinitely, and that Egypt’s generous American sponsors needed to prepare for a transition.
Instead, the president focused for his first two years on prodding the Israelis to make dubious concessions for the sake of a meaningless peace agreement with the West Bank Palestinians—a ruling elite that doesn’t even claim control over its own embattled countrymen in Gaza. The administration and its apologists promoted this phantom treaty as a regional panacea, as if the poisons of fanatical Islamism and sclerotic autocracy would evaporate like noxious mists in the sudden sunlight of an Obama-engineered new day.
In fact, any compact between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas would have provoked a deadly intra-Palestinian struggle between the Fatah faction on the West Bank and their mortar-happy, Hamas blood-rivals in Gaza. Considering the close ties between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in neighboring Egypt, that struggle might have actually hastened the end of an already unpopular Mubarak regime, rather than extending its obviously limited life. Moreover, the idea that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could ever lead to a change in Iran’s chilling pursuit of nuclear weaponry remains a bizarrely illogical chimera. Any conceivable agreement would have necessarily included recognition of Israel’s permanent presence in the area, and acknowledgement of a Jewish capital in (at least part of) Jerusalem--both unacceptable conditions to the Ahmadina-whackjob regime and other Islamic maximalists. The only document the Iranians want from the Israelis is a death certificate, not a peace treaty.
If nothing else, the Egyptian earth-quake should put an end to the odd Obama obsession with Israeli settlement policy as a significant factor in the stability and progress of the larger Islamic world. Decent people all hope that a new government in Cairo will avoid domination by the Koranic enthusiasts of the Muslim Brotherhood and will honor the long-standing Sinai Accords with Israel, but the fragility of that hope indicates the limited utility of international agreements as durable guarantees of security.