Hillary’s Forgotten Egypt Catastrophe
Clinton's disastrous legacy in Libya gets attention, but for U.S. allies, Egypt more troubling
With President Obama set to pump up Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy credentials Wednesday evening at the Democratic National Convention, look for him to omit references to their twin failures in Libya and Egypt.
The turmoil in Libya has been well-aired, from the ill-fated toppling of strongman Moammar Gadhafi in October 2011 to deaths of four Americans that followed in Benghazi to Clinton’s subsequent efforts to cloud the reasons for that attack.
“It’s quite striking that the administration was silent and showed no support for the protesters against the Iranian regime in its time of trouble in 2009, and two years later, came out in support of the rebels in Egypt.”
But the failure in Egypt earlier that year has garnered less scrutiny in the 2016 election. Caught by surprise by the so-called Arab Spring, the Obama administration gave its blessing for the overthrow of pro-American President Hosni Mubarak, and then supported the radical Muslim Brotherhood that seized power.
Practically overnight, the country transformed from a picture of stability in the turbulent Middle East into a country that oppressed its Christian minority, mismanaged its economy, and questioned its longstanding peace agreement with Israel. The Egyptian military eventually wrested power from the Muslim Brotherhood in a coup.
The fact the U.S. not only allowed — but actually supported — the overthrow of a Western-friendly strongman in a stable, Middle Eastern country sent shivers of fear down the spines of U.S.-aligned Gulf States. In February of this year, key Saudi officials traveled to Moscow to begin thawing relations with Russia — the state less powerful than the U.S. but now seen as more committed to defending its allies and interests. If the U.S. would readily abandon Mubarak, surely the Saudi royals could be next.
But the Obama-Clinton decision in Egypt wasn’t the only thing to terrify American allies in the region. The administration has moved, against the advice of most regional experts, to rebuild relations with Iran — the single greatest enemy of both Israel and Saudi Arabia in the region. The Obama administration first declined to support pro-democracy protests in the repressive nation in 2009 — then rammed through the Clinton-backed Iranian nuclear deal.
“It’s quite striking that the administration was silent and showed no support for the protesters against the Iranian regime in its time of trouble in 2009, and two years later, came out in support of the rebels in Egypt,” said Daniel Pipes, president of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum.
Pipes depicted Clinton as a “cypher,” who was an ineffective secretary of state during the Arab Spring crisis.
“She really didn’t have much impact on anything,” he said. “It was very much a White House decision, White House operation.”
It is a narrative that Clinton, herself, has at times encouraged. In her book, "Hard Choices," she wrote that Obama overruled her efforts to push Mubarak to cede power to a successor. She wrote that she did not want to be seen as pushing out Mubarak without a clear plan for the future. She wrote that she, along with Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, battled younger White House aides who were "swept up in the drama and idealism of the moment."
Critics of the Democratic nominee for president argue that is self-serving revisionism. Sebastian Gorka, the Major General Matthew C. Horner Distinguished Chair of Military Theory at the Marine Corps University, wrote in an emailed response to questions from LifeZette that turmoil in Egypt complicated other U.S. goals in the region.
"Egypt is the key to stabilizing the region and defeating ISIS," he wrote. "Clinton was head of U.S. foreign policy when the administration decided to side with [Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed] Morsi and then cold-shouldered [current President Abdel el-] Sisi after he saved Egypt from the Brotherhood. She is culpable."
Kyle Shideler, director of threat assessment for the Washington-based Center for Security Policy, said Clinton displayed the same questionable judgment in advocating that the United States join the Libyan civil war on the side of anti-government forces that were "at best Islamist and at worst al-Qaida." Many experts conclude that Libya has become a failed state.
"It's quite clear that Clinton fully supported the intervention that was incredibly destabilizing," he said.
As for Egypt, Shideler said, Obama foreshadowed U.S. policy early in his presidency.
"It seems fairly clear since early 2009 that Obama already was encouraging the Islamist democracy movement in the Middle East," he said.
Shideler contrasted Obama's support for Mubarak's critics during the uprising against him with his failure to back the much larger protest movement against Morsi after he had taken power.
"The administration was sort of pulling the rug out from under Mubarak by saying it was time to go and he was not going to be able to stay in power," he said.
Pipes, of the Middle East Forum, said there was a genuine democratic movement against Mubarak early on during the uprising.
"It was real," he said. "The problem was that it didn't last in the sense that the Islamists who initially were reluctant quickly saw that it was gaining steam and decided it was something they wanted to take over. And they did."
Pipes said the administration was far too slow to appreciate the danger posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. He pointed to National Intelligence Director James Clapper's 2011 comment that the Muslim Brotherhood was "largely secular," a description he later backed off of.
"It was not obvious that the Islamists were taking over," Pipes said. "That can be forgiven. A lot of people made mistakes. What's less forgivable is that they just didn't understand the ideological nature of the Muslim Brotherhood."