Christina Lin

Obama’s preoccupation with regime change in Israel and the Levant

Recently, an interesting article in US Military by Sasha Toperich at the Center for Transatlantic Relations (Johns Hopkins), noted how “skeptics in North Africa are now convinced the Arab Spring was nothing but a Western conspiracy to divide and fragment the Middle East and give authority to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

In the Levant and the Eastern Mediterranean, one can see how the Obama administration’s actions may appear to support these claims.

US-sponsored Muslim Brotherhood ‘Democracy’

In Libya for example, despite citizens voting them out of office in June 2014, the Muslim Brotherhood refuses to hand power over to the new internationally recognized government in Tobruk in eastern Libya.

Both US and UK seem to back the Brotherhood and blocked the government’s request to ease an arms embargo after ISIS slaughtered 21 Egyptian Christians, while Britain’s UN representative credited the Brotherhood-backed Fajr Libya as the only group fighting ISIS despite heavy Libyan army losses.

Meanwhile Qatar and Turkey continue to supply arms to the Brotherhood-backed Libya Dawn militia battling the Libyan government for power, even as the latter is bogged down in joint military operations with Cairo to fight ISIS and other terrorist groups.

In Egypt, now an embattled al-Sisi faces ISIS and terrorism both in its eastern Sinai flank and the western Libya flank, but the Obama administration continues to embargo desperately needed military aid in Cairo’s hour of need, despite supplying aid to Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi when he was in power.

The sense of betrayal is further deepened when after Egypt designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, State Department hosted a Brotherhood delegation that two days later called for war against fellow Egyptians.

Likewise in Syria, the Brotherhood has hijacked Syria’s revolution with the most dominant profile in the Syrian National Council (SNC) supported by US, and especially Turkey and Qatar that also back Hamas.

Now in Israel, while the Muslim Brotherhood may not replace Prime Minister Netanyahu, perhaps Bibi’s concerns regarding foreign meddling to topple the Likud government for regime change have some merits.

Media reports abound that Obama deployed his campaign strategist Jeremy Bird and his team to Israel to run an anti-Netanyahu election campaign, reinforced by Biden and Kerry’s s meeting with and endorsement of Herzog on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, while boycotting Netanyahu’s visit to the US in March.

It is well known President Obama prefers a more pliant regime for the next two years that is amenable to making concessions with the Palestinians, and perhaps open to have Turkey and Qatar weigh in.

Ankara and Doha are seen as important regional players as they host US military bases in the fight against ISIS, and given their influence over Hamas, Secretary Kerry had endorsed an Ankara-Doha ceasefire plan during Operation Protective Edge.

With Obama appointing Robert Malley as new middle east envoy, known for his support of the Brotherhood and Hamas, this option of being open to Turkey and Qatar’s role in the peace talks is a nonstarter should Prime Minister Netanyahu remain in power.

So with the US seemingly backing the Muslim Brotherhood in the region, quo vadis the Middle East?

Ironically, it is Russia and China that are arising to stem the expansion of the Brotherhood–backing Assad in Syria, supplying arms and investments to Sisi in Egypt–and calling US out in its foreign meddling with Beijing accusing US of using “democracy” and “human rights” as fig leaves for regime change, while Putin calls US-sponsored regime change as “missile-bomb democracy.”

And when the Obama administration criticized China for not backing western blueprints for regime change in Syria, a Chinese ambassador questioned US wisdom and influence in the mideast and retorted ‘you cannot even protect your own ambassador,” following US-sponsored regime change in Libya and the assassination of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Security is a human right, not just free election and political expression

Beijing and Moscow may have a point in prioritizing security and stability over western “democracy” and “human rights.” In the Mideast, living in security is a basic human right.

China, for example, is a successful economic powerhouse soon to surpass the US because the regime understands that security and maintaining stability (维稳 weiwen) are the sine qua non to foster trade, commerce and ultimately economic development, with eventual spillovers to the social and political sectors.

Although the US often condemns Beijing for lack of democracy and human rights defined narrowly by free election and political expression, looking at US attempts to promote democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya where ISIS and jihadi groups run rampant, this is not an attractive option for a country of 1.36 billion people.

Moreover, China’s protests that it does support human rights by preserving stability and lifting 700 million Chinese citizens out of poverty deserve some credit. A country traumatized by its history of violent instability that killed millions of Chinese—estimated 3.5 million in the Chinese civil war, 30 million in the Great Leap Forward, 1.5 million in the Cultural Revolution—stability and gradual economic and social development, rather than western model of instant democracy, is the rightful path for the Chinese people.

Furthermore, human rights should also encompass the right to live in security and freedom from fear of terrorist attacks.

In the West, a false dichotomy has arisen between the need for security and the protection of human rights within the context of the fight against terrorism. However, security itself is a fundamental human right, and as former UK Home Secretary David Blunkett argued: “I believe in civil liberties—I believe in the liberty of the individual to walk freely on the streets, and to be safe in their homes.”

A later Home Secretary Jacqui Smith similarly argued that the first freedom is “the freedom that comes from security,” something that Egypt’s al Sisi and Israel’s Netanyahu deeply understand.

Indeed Bibi deserves much credit for maintaining security in a volatile region and preserving a stable economy, despite criticism that he focused on security issues to the detriment of economic concerns.

One ponders how well an economy will perform when 3,500 rockets are raining down within one month, or if additional missiles fired at population centers in Israel come from the West Bank in addition to Gaza.

Similarly, Sisi also understood Morsi’s collaboration with Sinai jihadi groups threatened Suez Canal stability that is key to Egypt’s economic future, and took over the reins in order to secure and stabilize the region.

With Egypt earning $5 billion a year in Suez Canal revenues, Sisi is now enlarging the Canal to increase revenues to $13 billion by 2023, a vital source of hard currency for a country that has suffered a slump in tourism and foreign investments since 2011.

And despite the Obama administration’s good intentions of promoting ‘democracy’ by defining it narrowly as free elections, it seems to operate with a blind spot to the Muslim Brotherhood’s ultimate agenda towards an undemocratic theocracy under Shariah law.

As Turkey’s President Erdogan had declared, “democracy is a train that you get off once you reach your destination.” Egypt’s Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood indeed sought to enshrine Islamic Shariah law in its new constitution after gaining power by democratic elections, and it is difficult to see how encroaching on women, religious, and other minority rights under Morsi’s constitution would have advanced democracy or human rights.

Thus regardless of who wins the election on 17 March, the Obama administration should reset US-Israel relations and fully support Israel, as well as Egypt and Jordan’s fight against radical Islam in the region.

President Obama already missed a chance to stand with the free world in the Paris unity march. Rather than focusing solely on regime change to install the Muslim Brotherhood that is destabilizing the mideast, Obama now has a second chance to stand with regional allies in their battle against terrorism, and have US stand on the right side of history.

About the Author
Dr. Christina Lin is a US-based foreign policy analyst specializing in China-Mediterranean relations. She has extensive US government experience working on national security issues and was a CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) research consultant for Jane's Information Group.
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