via Lobe Log

News and views relevant to US Foreign policy for Sept. 14

“Moments of Truth in Libya and Egypt: Marc Lynch, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, discusses the significance of the protests in Egypt and Libya for US relations. Although the events in Libya – where terrorists apparently used the fortuitously-timed public demonstrations as cover for a preplanned operation targeting US diplomats – have seen the Pentagon dispatch drones and warships to the country, Lynch notes that the difference in official and public responses in Egypt and Libya says much about how leaders in these places view US influence over them:

In short, the response from Libya suggests a broad national rejection at both the governmental and societal level of the anti-American agitation. The leaders have said the right things and have done their part to quickly pre-empt a spiral of conflict and recrimination between Americans and Libyans.

…. In Egypt, on the other hand, President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood has been notably invisible. To this point, we have heard no statements from Egyptian government officials condemning the assault on the embassy, no expressions of concern or sympathy, no suggestion of any fault on their own side. The Muslim Brotherhood had previously been planning rallies against the notorious film, and at the time of this writing has not canceled them. Even when they finally issued a statement condemning the violence in Libya, they were not forthcoming on Cairo.

An exchange between the Muslim Brotherhood’s public relations people and the US embassy in Cairo highlighted the differences with respect to Egypt. Though the Brotherhood condemned the attack on the Cairo compound in English, the US Embassy noted that on its Arabic-language social media feeds, the Brothers were praising the men who stormed the Cairo compound and had called for further protests outside of the embassy on Friday.

As Foreign Affairs commented:

The Muslim Brotherhood’s sponsorship of the film protests might be an ill-advised attempt at the diversionary politics Mubarak was a master of, but the costs are high. . If Egypt’s ultra-Salafists take a harder line on the film or manage to co-opt the protests, Morsi could easily lose ground to them.

More protests have since taken place outside US embassies in Tunisia, Sudan and Yemen and have resulted in the breach of the facilities by the protestors. The Obama Administration is now facing further criticism that it had advance warning of threats made against US facilities abroad on 9/11 this year but did not raise alert levels, and over remarks Obama made in a television interview following the Cairo protests stating that while the US did not consider Egypt an ally, it also did not consider Egypt an enemy.

Officially, Egypt is classified as a “major non-NATO ally” and receives US$1.5 billion in military assistance annually. The State Department has since walked back the president’s remark.

Egypt trying to persuade Iran to drop Assad”: The Associated Press reports that the Egyptian government is seeking to work out an exit for the Assads from Syria with Iran’s support, in exchange for normalizing relations with the Islamic Republic:

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi made the offer when he met last month with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, officials close to the Egyptian presidency said. Morsi’s visit to Iran, to attend a summit of the 120-nation Nonaligned Movement, was the first by an Egyptian president since the 1979 Islamic Revolution there, when diplomatic ties between the countries were cut.
Cairo would agree to restore full diplomatic ties, a significant diplomatic prize for Iran given that Egypt is the most populous Arab nation and a regional powerhouse. Morsi would also mediate to improve relations between Iran and conservative Gulf Arab nations that have long viewed Shiite Iran with suspicion and whose fears of the Persian nation have deepened because of Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
Morsi’s argument is that neither Assad nor the rebels fighting his regime appear to be capable of winning the civil war, creating a stalemate that could eventually break up the Arab nation with serious repercussions for the entire region, the officials said.

Israel’s window for action against Iran ‘is getting much smaller,’ says Ambassador Oren”: The Times of Israel carries an interview with Israel’s US ambassador, Michael Oren. Questioned by his interviewers as to what isn’t “well between the US and Israel,” Oren downplays the significance of public disputes between the two countries and accusations of partisanship, responding that “in the strategic issues, the spectrum of our common interests and communications is vast”:

When we talk about Iran, we proceed on the assumption that we have a structural difference. The structural difference is that Israel is a small country, living in Iran’s backyard, with certain capabilities. And Israel is threatened almost daily with national annihilation. And of course the United States is a big country, far away from Iran, with much greater capabilities, and not threatened with national annihilation.

…. Clearly, things have been said which might not have been helpful for the situation. But at the same time in the last few weeks the prime minister had telephone conversations with American officials — he had an hour-long conversation with the president the other night — and things are also said not for public consumption. And they are part of this very intimate, candid and continuous dialogue that we have with the United States.
When asked, Oren denied that Netanyahu has been using the elections to push the US further towards Israel’s “red lines.” His boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recently gave a rare interview to The Jerusalem Post – stating much the same – in an apparent effort to deflect criticism that he is rooting for a Republican victory in November.

Boxer Expresses Disappointment Over Israeli Prime Minister’s Remarks: Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee released a widely-reported letter this Wednesday criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for politicizing debate over the Iranian nuclear program. Boxer emphasizes the increased sanctions on Iran and military aid the US has provided to Israel since Obama took office, and asks that he clarify his views of the US-Israel relationship:

In light of this, I am stunned by the remarks that you made this week regarding U.S. support for Israel. Are you suggesting that the United States is not Israel’s closest ally and does not stand by Israel? Are you saying that Israel, under President Obama, has not received more in annual security assistance from the United States than at any time in its history, including for the Iron Dome Missile Defense System?

As other Israelis have said, it appears that you have injected politics into one of the most profound security challenges of our time – Iran’s illicit pursuit of nuclear weapons.

I urge you to step back and clarify your remarks so that the world sees that there is no daylight between the United States and Israel. As you personally stated during an appearance with President Obama in March, “We are you, and you are us. We’re together. So if there’s one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East today, it’s that Israel and America stand together.”

Romney’s foreign policy: An ideology that dare not speak its name”: The Washington Post carries an interview with Alex Wong, the foreign policy director for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, in which Wong parries questions over whether or not Romney is a neoconservative himself:

Q: Does he embrace neoconservatism?

A: “You know,” said Wong, “throughout this campaign Governor Romney has indicated that his view on the world is peace through strength, American leadership, in guaranteeing an American century, that this new century continues to be an American century. And that’s the governing philosophy of Governor Romney on peace through strength.”

Q: So does he consider himself a neoconservative?

A: “What I’m saying is,” said Wong, “Governor Romney’s embrace of American values and interests and his call for American leadership is a philosophy of peace through strength.”

The interviewer, Jason Horowitz, later commented on the exchange in a separate article:

His [Romney’s] reaction this week [to the violence in Libya and Egypt] made it clear that when it comes to Republican foreign policy, the neocons are still the only game in town.

…. Romney and his advisers — Wong declined to say whether they were consulted before the candidate weighed in on the the embassy chaos — are tripling down on the clear contrasts offered by neoconservatism’s trumpeting of values, which lends itself nicely to campaign seasons but is more complicated in actual governance (see the war in Iraq).