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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Deplorable

“Deplorable” is the word that the American Secretary of State used to describe the killings in Egypt. It is being repeated up and down the ranks of his department. It is apt. For the United States government has little authority left there, apparently. The days when the world waited to hear the words of its president before sealing the fate of Hosni Mubarak already seem like decades ago.

It is worth recalling that the power behind the throne back then, the late Omar Suleiman, said “no way” when he was asked if the army would fire on the masses gathered in Tahrir Square. The police and paramilitaries were brutal; but for the most part the army kept its word.

No longer.

By most accounts, the Americans had urged President Mubarak to reform and liberalize his country’s political system. They urged President Morsi to govern more intelligently. They urged the country’s military rulers to show restraint, both toward Morsi and as recently as this week toward his supporters. All of these urgings have come to naught. What is going on?

The Egyptian army is a formidable power. But it has never been entirely autonomous. For a while it catered to the wishes of its Soviet suppliers. Then it shifted to the Americans. Those days are evidently over. Now its royal paymasters from the south are on top.

It is well known that several Gulf monarchs have long despised the Muslim Brotherhood. They are not calling the shots in Egypt. (Neither did the Soviets nor the Americans, for that matter; it was always more complicated than this.) But they almost surely must approve of what can only be described as a systematic campaign of decimation.

Talleyrand wonders if they haven’t bit off more than they can chew. For we needn’t be reminded that at the same time they are bankrolling a proxy war in Syria, which shows every sign now of expanding to Iraq and Lebanon. One war at a time is always good advice.

But perhaps that is the point. This is a single war—one with many, perhaps countless, local variations—but a single war nonetheless. It is beginning to look like a Middle Eastern version of the Thirty Years’ War. And the prospects for a Westphalian order—in which all states pledge to honor one another’s borders and to desist from interfering in one another’s politics for sectarian or any other reasons—seem very remote indeed.

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