Thursday, August 15, 2013

Morton's Fork, Egypt, Syria and False Dilemmas

I have read of the foreign policy choices in Egypt compared to Hobson's Choice, which is to say there is no choice at all.  However, it seems more like Morton's Fork, in which one is confronted with two equally bad options, where Hobson's choice is a "take it or leave it" situation. In the case of Egypt, the military has imposed dictatorship in the name of defending the constitution and is in the process of implementing a bloody crackdown against the Islamists.  For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood, through the office of President Mohamed Morsi, was on its way to imposing an Islamist theocracy in violation of the promise of freedom and the constitution that accompanied the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.  The administration was accused in turn of supporting the Muslim brotherhood and the military, by means of foreign aid.  My personal belief is that the wheels at State turn too slowly for us to respond in any way that is aligned with the foreign policy desires of the President.

Similarly, in Syria, Assad has been accused of using chemical weapons against the opposition. This opposition appears to be an Islamist coalition and sometime front for Al-Qaeda.  A key quote from the NYT: "Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of."  Assad is a brutal dictator in the mold of his father, but the opposition is no friend of democracy either.  The U.S. has vacillated in support of the opposition, and with good reason, there are no obviously good options.

In the case of Egypt, I believe we are faced with a false dilemma.  There is more complexity to the Egyptian political scene than merely Islamist vs military.  There is a large democratic leaning minority.  Right now, the administration is taking a PR beating from that group for our previous support of the Muslim Brotherhood in the name of supporting democracy.  But we don't have to support a democratically elected government that doesn't itself support democracy.  Obama erred in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi.  But we should be clear that we expect fresh elections from the military.  It will be a long time before we have real influence in Egypt, but the only way to achieve that end is to consistently support freedom.

In Syria, our policy is accidentally correct.  We have vacillated in our support of the rebels just enough so that they have not been defeated.  A jihadist victory in Syria, including control of likely caches of chemical weapons, would be a disaster for the west and Israel.  However, Assad's freedom of action is being contained by the civil war.  We can't forget that Bashar Assad and his predecessor/father have made mischief in the Middle East for decades, often in cooperation with Iran and Hezbollah.  If the U.S. were to articulate its policy, it would be to contain Assad and prevent him from using chemical weapons to seek revenge on the rebels.  Until such time as the Syrians come to their senses, this is the best that can be accomplished.  At the end of the day, I find it hard to find great fault in Obama's policy.  There is little to be done in the short term, and we seem to be stumbling towards something resembling the least bad options.

What You Should Be Reading.


  1. I'm not sure why I feel so indifferent to the Syrian troubles -- maybe because they don't matter as much to Israel. It's hideous to stand back from so much human tragedy, but we can't prevent Arabs from being Arabs -- although I'm sure someday we'll be blamed for it.

    Egypt is another matter. Viva la military.

    No, don't force them to have elections for god's sake, are you kidding? Let the Arabs be Arabs. They're stomping the Muslim Brotherhood. One win at a time.

  2. Never heard of Morton's Fork, I have however comma heard of The Kobayashi Maru. I guess I'm a bigger fan of pop culture than of old English Lords.

    1. Very funny, but appropriate to the circumstances. So, how do we cheat to win?

    2. Kobayashi was Keyser Soze's lawyer.

  3. At the end of the day, I find it hard to find great fault in Obama's policy.

    I'm going to fault Obama for illegally giving military aid to the military dictatorship in Egypt. That's yet another bright legal line that Obama unilaterally crossed because it was inconvenient.

    First he arms the radical Muslim Brotherhood, then he arms the military dictatorship that overthrows them. To say nothing of the apparent Benghazi-related botched attempt to smuggle arms to the al-Qaeda linked rebels in Syria.

    New rule: No weapons to anyone between Greece and India, or anywhere in Africa.