Talking Egypt With AEI’s Fred Kagan
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HH: Its Hugh Hewitt joined now by Fred Kagan, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, architect of the successful surge in Iraq, an architect that was successful but perhaps being abandoned surge in Afghanistan as well. Fred Kagan, welcome. It’s always a pleasure to speak with you.
FK: It’s great to speak with you, Hugh.
HH: Ah, we need to make some choices in Egypt quickly. We, being the United States government. What do you recommend that the President and John Kerry do vis-a-via General Sisi and his allies?
FK: Well, they’ve got to put as much pressure on them as they possibly can to get them to stop shooting up their own people. This is not, this is obviously not an acceptable way for government to behave and we really need to make it clear to them that that’s the case and that we’re not going to tolerate them.
HH: And so if they do continue to shoot at their own people, because as the Ministry says today the brotherhood killed 49 police and they’re dumping vehicles on people, if this goes on, can the United States abandon its support for the military?
FK: Well, you know, we may get to that point and that’s certainly something that we need to make clear to the military that that’s on the table, but there’s obviously a lot riding on that call and its not leverage that I would throw away quickly, but I understand the argument that people make that we, we should cut ties with the military. It’s a very close call one way or the other.
HH: Now if we do cut ties with the military, is there a chance that Sisi goes Nasser and into the hands of a waiting Putin?
FK: Well, I’m not sure, I’m not sure exactly what Sisi does at that point. I think there are a variety of things that the support that we provide to the Egyptian military on the girds, among other things, it’s effectively payment for the Camp David accord and that’s something that we also need to factor into the discussion. And in addition to that obviously, there is the question of, you know, if we throw away, or if we cash in our leverage, then we don’t have anymore leverage and then his incentive to behave in ways that are, we find appropriate or acceptable, is reduced. On the other hand, if he’s not going to behave that way anyway, then the leverage isn’t working.
HH: Fred Kagan, a lot of people think the Muslim brotherhood is the Red Crescent with some pistols. What’s your assessment of them?
FK: Well, the Muslim brotherhood is a very, very complicated phenomenon and it certainly is in the middle of the spectrum between people who think it is harmless and people who paint it as universally extremely dangerous. The Muslim brotherhood in Egypt did opt for a political route nevertheless, has maintained an armed wing and nevertheless is tied into the global movement that is, we just do Al-Qaeda, so it’s a very complicated phenomenon. I think it we’re, it will be fascinating, I say that in a clinically detached sort of way, to see how the Muslim brotherhood reacts to Morsi’s outster and whether it goes back to its violent roots or whether it tries to remain in politics in some way.
HH: Did it ever, I’m, most of my understanding of the brotherhood is rooted in Lawrence Wrights The Looming Tower and Banna and Qutb’s writings as they are quoted there and then some additional reading. Did they ever abandon their radical roots or are they just the most sophisticated terrorist organization in the country—in the world?
FK: Well, there is a question of radicalism and there is a question of terrorism and there is a question in violence. I don’t, I mean the Muslim brotherhood is a radical organization. The Muslim brotherhood in Egypt organizationally did sort of abandon its terrorist approach in pursuit of a political road and that abandonment of a terrorist approach led Al-Zawahiri to break with the organization and form his own splinter group and ultimately join Al-Qaeda. So, clearly there is some divergence about the desirability of use of violence and so forth within the brotherhood and I think we’ve seen that play out. So again, I think it’s important to chart a middle course here when thinking about the brotherhood.
HH: Was it a good idea to suspend the sale of the F-16s to which Sisi reacted so negatively?
FK: Um, no I don’t think, I think it probably was a fine idea. I think that it’s, there’s obviously degrees of suspending aide. I don’t Sisi to react well to any pressure that we are going to put on him, but we’re going to have to put some kind of pressure on him and, frankly, the Skaff does not need F-16s at this point. So, that’s, you know, I think that’s was appropriate leverage point.
HH: I am reminded, Fred Kagan, you can tell me and the audience where I’m wrong of the late 70s and the mobs in the streets of Tehran and the attempt of governments to rise and stay stable and being swept before all of it and the subsequent history has always been is, did we lose Iran by failing to stand with the Shah through the brutal shock of repressing of violent upraising. Is there a parallel?
FK: Well, I think it’s a rather different case here. Among other things, I don’t think the Shah’s military had the kind of control over their country that the Egyptian military has had that after all was what undergirded Mubarak’s power and its just been demonstrated again. Certainly we don’t have an incident in the Iranian case where the Shah’s military ousts a new government and reinstalls itself. So, I think we’re dealing with a much more robust organization here. That did, was operating with some consent of the population and enthusiasm of the population for [inaudible] Morsi. So, I think it’s a very different case. I certainly do not think that it would have been a good idea to try and stand with Mubarak and certainly not in the realm of reasonable to try stand with Morsi either so it’s a very difficult situation, but I don’t think it’s going to be appropriate to say at some point that we lost Egypt.
HH: Who do you listen to on Egypt the most?
FK: Um, well, we, we, honestly we do our own tracking and we following the local media and so I get most of my information from my own analyst.
HH: So how ugly do you think it’s going to get?
FK: My feeling is that it probably will get pretty ugly. These things tend to escalate. They tend to expand and unless very cool heads prevail on both sides its, these things generally do tend to get worse.
HH: Algeria ugly, Fred Kagan?
FK: It’s possible. It’s possible, we’ll see. I mean, Egypt, there’s a lot of pride and nationalism in Egypt. There certainly, I think, a desire to avoid ripping the country apart. We’ll see. Hopefully, that will be enough to counter balance the crisis that we are seeing right now.
HH: Well, that’s a grim assessment. We’ll check back with you. Thanks for making time this evening. From Washington, D.C., Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute. I’ll be right back. You are listening to the Hugh Hewitt Show.