Opinion

David Rohde

How 2013′s partisanship hurt us abroad, as well as at home

David Rohde
Jan 2, 2014 21:35 UTC

The furious partisan debate that erupted this week after a New York Times investigation questioned the central tenet of the Republican assault on the White House regarding Benghazi was a fitting end to 2013.

The lengthy article revealed that the State Department and CIA’s intense focus on al Qaeda caused officials to miss the threat posed by local militias. David Kirkpatrick’s reporting showed that Libya’s rebels appreciated the U.S. support in helping oust Muammar Gaddafi, but were strongly influenced by decades of anger at Washington’s support for dictators in the region.

Militants gained strength from Syria to the Sahel over the course of 2013. Republicans and Democrats, however, remained focused on winning their daily messaging battle in Washington.

Neither the American left nor the right has offered a serious strategy for how to respond to the emergence of new types of militant groups across the Middle East. President Barack Obama’s approach consisted of trusting unchecked CIA drone strikes and NSA eavesdropping to secure the United States. Republicans used the region’s instability as a cudgel to beat the president with.

Here are three of 2013’s most troubling developments in the Middle East — and Washington’s perfunctory responses that were a disservice to all Americans.

Dictators never looked so good

David Rohde
Sep 12, 2013 23:43 UTC

Dictators have never looked so good.

Vladimir Putin is saving the United States from another Mideast military intervention. Bashar al-Assad promises to ‘thin the herd’ of jihadists and hold Syria together. And Egypt’s new strongman, General Abdal Fattah el Sisi, says he is sorting out the Muslim Brotherhood. With each passing month in the Middle East, it seems, authoritarianism grows more attractive.

Leaders described as “repressive” sound eminently reasonable. They promise to bring order to chaos without dirtying American hands. Putin’s op-ed article in the New York Times on Wednesday was the latest example.

Written with the help of the American public relations firm Ketchum, the piece provoked a dizzying array of reactions. Here’s one fact check by Max Fisher of the Washington Post. Here’s a take down from Human Rights Watch. And the New Yorker posted this hilarious Andy Borowitz mock Modern Love column by the macho former KGB officer.

A feckless response to Egypt’s avoidable massacre

David Rohde
Aug 15, 2013 15:18 UTC

Tepid rationalizations that the United States has “limited leverage” in Egypt or that the Arab Spring is “failing” do not change a basic fact: a U.S.-funded “ally” has carried out one of the largest massacres of protesters since the 1989 assault on Tiananmen Square.

It is time for Obama to cut off U.S. aid to Egypt. Ending assistance will not curb the behavior of Egypt’s increasingly autocratic military ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Nor will it ease that country’s political divide or reduce anti-Americanism. But it will say that the United States actually stands for basic international principles.

Wednesday’s killing of 638 people and recent events in the Middle East point to an alarming trend for the Obama White House: Its drone and surveillance-centric approach to counterterrorism is failing. A grim reality is emerging. George W. Bush’s invasion-centric method of countering militancy failed. And so is Obama’s cautious, middle of the road approach.

What failed in Pakistan won’t work in Egypt

David Rohde
Aug 2, 2013 15:09 UTC

 

As the Egyptian army continued its violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood this week, White House officials said that the United States can’t cut off its $1.3 billion a year in aid to Egypt. To do so would cause Washington to lose “influence” with the country’s generals. Vital American security interests are at stake, they argued, and keeping the torrent of American aid flowing gives Washington leverage.

If that argument sounds familiar, it is. For the last decade, the United States has used the same logic in Pakistan. Washington has given $11 billion in military aid to the Pakistani army in the name of maintaining American “influence” in Islamabad. From new equipment to reimbursements for Pakistani military operations, the money flowed year after year, despite complaints from American officials that the Pakistanis were misusing funds and inflating bills.

Can the United States do better in Egypt? Pakistan and Egypt are vastly different, but as the Obama administration fervently embraces its Pakistan approach in Egypt, it’s worth examining the results of its dollars-for-generals strategy.

The Arab Spring is just getting started

David Rohde
Jul 19, 2013 03:43 UTC

Amman, Jordan — After the Egyptian army toppled President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the U.S. Congress expressed the sentiment of many in Washington.

“The army is the only stable institution in the country,” he said.

In the Western media, Arab Spring post-mortems proliferated, including a 15-page special report in The Economist that asked, “Has the Arab Spring failed?” The answer: “That view is at best premature, at worst wrong.”

Here in Jordan, Arab Spring inspired protests demanding King Abdullah II cede power to an elected government has petered out. A crackdown on the media that shut down 300 websites last month elicited little protest.

Egypt needs elections, not generals

David Rohde
Jul 4, 2013 15:00 UTC

Mohamed Morsi’s one-year rule of Egypt was disastrous. He ruled by fiat, alienated potential allies and failed to stabilize the country’s spiraling economy. But a military coup is not an answer to Egypt’s problems.  It will exacerbate, not ease, Egypt’s vast political divide.

The Egyptian military’s primary interest is maintaining its privileged role in society and sprawling network of businesses. Like the Pakistani military now and the Brazilian military in the past, its desire to maintain its economic interests will slow desperately needed economic and political reforms.

There is little reason to have faith in Egypt’s broken political process at this point. But the best way to ease the country’s bitter divisions are immediate elections that include the Muslim Brotherhood.

Jon Stewart v. Muslim Brotherhood

David Rohde
Apr 5, 2013 17:24 UTC

For Americans, it was Jon Stewart as national treasure. In a virtuoso performance Monday, the American satirist ridiculed the Egyptian government’s crackdown on Cairo comedian – and Stewart protégé – Bassem Youssef. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch Stewart’s mock conversation with Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi here.

“What are you worried about, Mr. President – the power of satire to overthrow the status quo?” Stewart deadpanned. “Just so you know, there’s been a grand total of, uh, zero toppled governments we’ve brought about.”

In Egypt, members of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood saw Stewart’s bit differently. The comedian’s skewering of Mursi was the latest insult from a nation that backed Egypt’s pro-American dictators for decades. Told that cracking down on comedians was playing poorly in Washington, a usually moderate senior Brotherhood member argued that Western notions of free speech were being used, yet again, to denigrate Islam.

The trouble with democracy, from Cairo to Johannesburg

David Rohde
Dec 6, 2012 23:24 UTC

The return of protests, tanks and death to the streets of Cairo this week is harrowing. So is the power of the rampant conspiracy theories that cause Muslim Brotherhood members and their secular opponents to sincerely believe they are defending Egypt’s revolution. Both sides are behaving abominably.

Criticisms of President Mohamed Mursi’s foolish and unnecessary power grab and rushed constitutional process are legitimate. So are complaints that the country’s secular opposition is poorly organized, lacks majority support and refuses to compromise.

Barring a surprising change in direction, Egypt’s experiment with democracy is headed toward failure.

Mursi’s folly

David Rohde
Nov 23, 2012 23:38 UTC

After helping end the fighting in Gaza, impressing President Barack Obama and negotiating a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi has fallen victim to what Bill Clinton calls “brass.”

Mursi’s hubristic post-Gaza power grab on Thursday was politically tone deaf, strategic folly and classic over-reach. It will deepen Egypt’s political polarization, scare off desperately needed foreign investment and squander Egypt’s rising credibility in the region and the world.

Television images of renewed clashes in Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said and Suez will play into stereotypes that the Middle East is not ready for democracy. They will bolster suspicions inside and outside Egypt that the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be trusted.

The Islamist Spring

David Rohde
Apr 5, 2012 20:50 UTC

TUNIS – Like it or not, this is the year of the Islamist.

Fourteen months after popular uprisings toppled dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, Islamist political parties – religiously conservative groups that oppose the use of violence – have swept interim elections, started rewriting constitutions and become the odds-on favorites to win general elections.

Western hopes that more liberal parties would fare well have been dashed. Secular Arab groups are divided, perceived as elitist or enjoy tepid popular support.

But instead of the political process moving forward, a toxic political dynamic is emerging. Aggressive tactics by hardline Muslims generally known as Salafists are sowing division. Moderate Islamists are moving cautiously, speaking vaguely and trying to hold their diverse political parties together. And some Arab liberals are painting dark conspiracy theories.

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