August 17th, 2013
12:36 AM ET

Beinart: Egypt may be biggest Obama administration foreign policy failure

Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Peter Beinart, a senior political writer with the Daily Beast, and Bret Stephens, the Pulitzer Prize winning foreign affairs columnist for the Wall Street Journal, about the developments in Egypt.

So, Bret, when you look at what's going on in Egypt, you now have a military coup that it's very difficult to make the case it was a soft coup.  And I understand the niceties of the American government not calling it that, but you had the military take over a democratically elected government.  You now have the military appointing 17 out of 19 generals as governors.  How should we think about this?

Stephens: Look, first of all, it's a problem with no good solutions. You have in Egyptian politics a kind of a zero-sum game.  I mean, efforts by Senators McCain and Graham, by the administration itself to try to finesse a power sharing agreement between the military and the Brotherhood, have clearly failed.  The Brotherhood aims to topple the military; the military understands that it's in a kind of death match with the Brotherhood and is going to exert itself forcefully, and as we've seen this week, violently on the Brotherhood to stop them.

The question is, can we help? Can we show the military that it’s in their own interests to have a political process that if it doesn’t quite include the Brotherhood, doesn’t suppress them as violently. Because the government, especially General Sisi, will not be doing themselves favors with the rest of the Arab world – certainly not with Europe and the United States – if protesters continue to be massacred in the streets. So how do you soften those blows?

That being said, I think that the United States ultimately has an interest in seeing his government succeed.  We don’t want to have the Brotherhood return to power.  We saw repressive tendencies by the Brotherhood before they were deposed.  Those would become hyper-repressive if they get back into power.

But imagine if the Brotherhood had killed 95 people on the open street.  I mean, yes, what the Brotherhood did was not very democratic often, but killing hundreds of people is not very democratic, either.

Stephens: Right.  No, it's terrible.  And we should stress that…Look, the Brotherhood would have acted in the same way.  We saw there was a clear tendency in the way the Morsi administration had been conducting itself until the point it was deposed. It's not for nothing that 14 million people came into the streets.

On the whole, though, I think that this is one – and this might surprise you – this is one country and one area where the Obama administration would be wise to the extent possible to follow a Hippocratic, do no harm, and intervene less. And even speak less policy.  We don't know what's going to…

Which is pretty much what it's doing.

Stephens: And rightfully so.  And so I think conversations about, you know, let's cut off aid are not helpful.  Let's have an inclusive process.  It's not helpful.  Sometimes it behooves the United States to shut up.

Beinart: I could not disagree more.  Although I am more often in the position of defending the Obama administration, I think it’s clear the Obama administration's policies have been a disaster, and it was people like John McCain and Robert Kagan who are absolutely right to say we don't know how much leverage the U.S. had.

Maybe not that much. But the moment of maximum leverage was right when that coup happened, when there was still a possibility that we could force their military to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to come back and still be a player.  We didn't use that leverage.

Or it did not work…

Beinart: Well, we certainly didn't use it by coming out and saying we are going to stop aid.  We could have said we're going to stop aid, in fact, and we still would have had a grace period where we could have brought it back the next year.  We didn't do that.  We had John Kerry going out and basically calling the military an instrument of democracy.

And now it turns out that the military has been incredibly repressive, and the Muslim Brotherhood isn’t going away.  What's going to happen is, the most radical elements of the Muslim Brotherhood are going to come to the fore, and we're going to face the prospect of a Syria-like Islamist insurgency.  I think it could go down as the biggest foreign policy failure of this administration.

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Topics: Egypt • Foreign Policy • GPS Show • United States

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Hmm

    If you google: Obama Rides a Bicycle HILARIOUS!

    You will laugh yourself silly.

    August 17, 2013 at 1:08 am |
  2. alexsargeson

    Reblogged this on News Schtuff.

    August 18, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Mr. Beinart, what do you expect Obama's administration to do? It had in the past been criticised by both camps for either doing nothing or taking side.
    In certain extent Bret Stephens was right, when he said: "Sometimes it behooves the United States to shut up". Indeed Laissez-faire, turn a blind eye to atrocities. Let both camps massacre one another. Wait and see which prevails. This is exactly what China and Russia are doing. Should we follow suit?

    August 19, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  4. Christine

    you guys are such big fat LIARS!!!!!!!!! those brothers are terrorists and YOU support them and Obama supports them .well i know the truth and you know those brothers would kill any one of those anti morsi peaceful....... protester if they could get one of them. yeah beating them to death , torturing them. terrorising them . and i am only a normal citizen. your reporters and you don't know the truth. loooooool . bunch of liars. that what you are.

    August 19, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
  5. Christine

    the military has been wonderful at protecting its citizens in Egypt and should be commended and the truth will be relieved . Peace

    August 19, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
  6. Christine


    August 19, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
  7. Christine

    Didn’t our Government see the flags of Al Qaeda carried by the Muslim Brotherhood!!! What more evidence do we need?

    August 19, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
  8. Christine

    Egypt doesn't want any aid from american government. Duh like you don't know this. they could care less about your aid. maybe the muslim brotherhood wants your aid. because they are used to support of this kind. It is definitely a failure of the obama administration.

    August 20, 2013 at 6:40 am |
  9. Henry


    What If some things happened to your beloved?

    Read the article


    August 22, 2013 at 11:43 am |
  10. Story Girl

    Maybe Obamas baffling reaction was due to what the egyptian population are wanting America to understand. They are holding signs wake up to your president America. Now an Egyptian official is releasing info to prove that Obamas brother is tied into the Muslim Brotherhood.

    August 25, 2013 at 1:31 pm |

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