In Egypt we’re seeing, in part, a story that begins a long time ago: it’s the story of the Obama administration’s abandonment of the Sunni powers of the Middle East.
Sounds strange? Consider this.
In Iraq, George W Bush had invested a lot of energy during the so-called Anbar Awakening to convince moderate Sunni tribes to participate in Iraq’s political process, rather than investing in militancy and terror. But with Obama’s draw down from Iraq, we all know what happened. Maliki’s control over Iraq turned quasi-authoritarian, and Iraq’s Sunnis turned back to car bombing Baghdad.
Simultaneous to his draw down from Iraq, Obama also announced a general move away from the Middle East in favor of Asia. This plays out in various ways that are importantly negative for the region’s Sunnis. Centrally, Obama refused to indulge these powers’ anti-Iranian fears. Obama has been clearly and adamantly dovish on Iran, promising to pre-empt any Iranian nuclear weapon, but being at obvious pains to avoid military means in doing so. This worries Sunnis. Moreover, Obama was slow to intervene in Syria on behalf of the Sunni population. Instead, Obama intervened in irrelevant Libya while the Syrian uprising was already ongoing, thus clearly signalling that a Syrian intervention would not be soon-in-coming. Apart from Iraq and the Obama’s general “pivot to Asia”, this tepid Syrian policy on the part of the US, too, has fueled Sunni powers’ increased reliance on militant Islamists to achieve their strategic aims.
And now here we are in Egypt. If Obama was felt to throw old time ally Mubarak under the bus in 2011, worrying other supposed allies, then certainly Obama’s acquiescence in the current coup will have this effect all the more so. Obama, of course, had precisely backed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after the last election, reassuring moderate Sunni Islamists that democracy and participation in the political process can benefit them. Just as in Iraq, however, Obama has once again shown that any such reassurance is fleeting at best: if events begin to make the US look bad, Obama’s support is gone.
And so we should wonder: if in Iraq Obama’s withdrawal produced a return of once pacified Sunni tribes to terror, and if in Syria Obama’s slow response lead to Sunni powers’ reliance on Islamists— what will happen in Egypt?
[This article should be corrected to reflect that Sunni countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia very much support the Egyptian military in its move, and have long opposed the Brotherhood. As a whole, however, it still worth focusing on the question of the US’s relation to moderate Islamists, and the opportunities breaking this relation may provide for more radical Sunni parties.]