Friday, February 24, 2017

The Muslim Brotherhood

There is consideration underway by the Trump administration to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.  This would be a tremendous strategic mistake - a classic example of using a hammer where a scalpel is called for.

I won't bore you all with a lengthy history of the Muslim Brotherhood.  You can google that on your own (or read this to start).  It was founded in 1928 and has taken many permutations all over the world since.  Some of those permutations are indeed violent, extremist, and terroristic.  Others are benign, stabilizing forces.  The various offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood, while sharing the name, have less cogency than various Catholic churches.  There is no Pope, no President, not even an Ayatollah, dictating the policy of the Muslim Brotherhood.

On the one hand, you have organizations like Hamas, which actively preach terrorism and might rightfully be designated as terrorist organizations (although even in Hamas's case, I would argue realpolitik, and not righteousness, should govern diplomacy - a complex topic for another post).  On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is essentially a benign, stabilizing force:

But in Jordan, one of the strongest American allies in the region, the Muslim Brotherhood's charitable activities have made it part of the fabric of mainstream society. The organization's political wing is the biggest bloc in the Jordanian Parliament.

The movement also has members of Parliament in another U.S. ally, Tunisia, and in Bahrain, where the U.S. maintains military bases.

I haven't had time this week to make you my own map of the Middle East.  This one from three years ago requires some slight modification, but isn't bad:
What's different today is that Egypt might now be colored yellow and Yemen should absolutely be colored blood red.  The rest of the map is still accurate, sadly.

Look at little Jordan there.  This is a country that has been a bulwark of stability in the region since modern Israel was born, absorbing countless Palestinian refugees and, in a later age, absorbing countless more Iraqi and Syrian refugees.  This is a county we in the United States should be doing everything in our power to help out, not to toss political dynamite into.

We have lost our ability as a superpower to attain dominance by providing for stability.  Instead we seem to excel at making dangerous situations more dangerous than they were previously.  One need not love one's fellow man like a hippie or a Christian to understand that picking fights constantly is awful geopolitics.  One need simply be hard-nosed and self-centered to understand that a stable Middle East, to the extent we can promote one, keeps Americans safer from terrorist attack and keeps the oil from the region flowing unperturbed.

What good does branding an organization which provides free medication to refugees as a terrorist organization do?  The CIA doesn't think it's a good idea.  The likelihood that the United States will in any way curtail this organization which has been going for nearly 90 years now by designating it as a terrorist organization is wishful thinking.  Basheer Nafi of al-Jazeera puts it very succinctly (emphases added mine):

If the objective is to liquidate the group, the Brotherhood will not be eliminated by being designated as a terrorist organisation by the US administration. The US is certainly the most powerful state in the world today. It is the most influential when it comes to the world’s resources and to the human community. Yet, the Brotherhood, throughout its long history, has passed through tougher circumstances than one that might be generated by a US designation of the group.

It has been subjected to pressures heavier than the campaign to which they are being subjected now. And it is not over. Should its history be viewed from a longer-term perspective, even if just a little longer, it is certain that the Brotherhood today is more influential, bigger, and weightier in the balance of power than it was before the campaigns designed to crush it.

Yep.  It might make us feel "tough" to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.  But that is a placebo effect.  

That noted total geopolitics failure John Bolton is a big advocate of terrorist designation for the Muslim Brotherhood should tell you much of what you need to know about the merits of this idea.

Still, the concept of designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization does have one big fan in the Middle East: the middling dictatorship of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.  Sisi toppled President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in a coup in Egypt in 2013.  At the time, many liberals were relieved that the Muslim Brotherhood was out of power.  How's Egypt doing now?

In January, inflation reached 30 percent; the Egyptian pound is near historic lows, at 18 to the dollar. Tourism suffered an 80 percent decline since 2010; at many sites the vast majority of tourists are Chinese — Westerners are absent.

From the WSJ:
Despite post-coup propaganda and arrests by the Egyptian regime, there is very little to substantiate the charge that the Brotherhood behaved like a terrorist organization during Egypt’s transition or embraced violence either ideologically or strategically.

Instead, the most striking trend is that the Islamic State’s upsurge and al-Qaeda’s revival coincides with the crushing of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the broader regional crackdown on the organization.


We should be cultivating the moderate branches of the Muslim Brotherhood where we can.  We should also be cultivating the moderates in Iran.  The decision to attempt to wage an endless war against Islam as a religion will not end well for us.  Attacking moderates will empower extremists.  This is not rocket science.

Those of us who favor sanity in foreign policy should all be praying that H.R. McMaster successfully rolls against his charisma and catches the President's ear.  The scalpel should be on the table.  The hammer arguably should not.

Can this man do it?

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