My late grandmother used a clever turn of phrase to describe shady characters who, while protesting their innocence, somehow seemed linked to the crime in question. Today, my grandmother’s expression — “sinister bystander” — seems the most apt way to describe the global perception of the Obama administration and its failed policy towards Egypt, Libya, Syria, Iran, and the Islamic world in general.
Perceptions are important, in international as well as national politics. All politics ultimately become local, as people make up their minds who they can trust… and who they can’t.
As is clear from the number and sizes of anti-Obama posters and banners in Tahrir Square, Cairo, leading up to the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian Military, the perception has crystallized in Egypt that our President, Barack Obama, was no friend to the Egyptian people, but rather was an enabler to the terrorist-linked Muslim Brotherhood. “Obama Supports Terrorism!” one huge banner screamed. Others were quite a bit more colorful in their choice of language.
One can readily see how this perception was formed.
During the “Arab Spring” revolutions of 2011, Obama betrayed longtime U.S. ally Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, actively encouraging the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists, and other Islamic supremacist forces arrayed against secular and Coptic groups seeking to fashion a true liberal democracy. Indeed, Obama legitimized the Brotherhood from the very beginning of his first term, via his historic (and historically revisionist) Cairo Address in June 2009, when he insisted the Brotherhood be invited to his speech.
This perception is not limited to the Egyptian people. Indeed, in spite of his lofty rhetoric to the contrary, Obama’s policies have galvanized Syrian Christians to ask in Congressional testimony on June 25, “Why is America at war with us?” That is, “why does the United States support extremists who want to turn Syria into an Islamic state?
What contributes most to the negative perception of President Obama is perhaps the stark disconnect between his speeches and his actions. Take Libya, for example. Our involvement there, the president said in April 2011, was essential, due to “our responsibilities to our fellow human beings,” and how not assisting them “would have been a betrayal of who we are.” As we now know, this appeal to human dignity and an altruistic notion of “who we are” was but a sophist’s tool to arm and support Al Qaeda rebels there, who on 9/11/12 attacked our Benghazi consulate and murdered our ambassador and three others, and who have been emboldened to relentlessly persecute Libya’s tiny Christian minority ever since. The “humanitarian action” card trumps WMDs, but the resulting cynicism once the deception is revealed is exponentially worse. (Now Libyan intelligence is reporting that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were involved in the Benghazi attack.) Sleeping with the enemy does not lead to noble offspring, nor does it enhance one’s reputation.
Raymond Ibrahim has analyzed the net effect of Obama’s Middle East policies — which consistently side with and advance the interests of Islamic extremists at the expense of the deplorably under-represented and unprotected Christians of the region — and termed itObama’s Proxy War on Mideast Christians.
For those in America not under the spell of the mainstream media who continue to cover for President Obama, the fall of Morsi shines a harsh light on Obama’s poor choice of alliances in the Muslim world. Senator Ted Cruz, in a new op-ed in Foreign Policy writes:
“In what has to be one of the most stunning diplomatic failures in recent memory, the United States is — in both perception and reality — entrenched as the partner of a repressive, Islamist regime and the enemy of the secular, pro-democracy opposition.”
The disturbing cognitive dissonance between the Obama Administration’s words and deeds was on glaring display in the hours after the Egyptian Military announced that Morsi had been removed from power. In his official statement, Obama said this:
“As I have said since the Egyptian Revolution, the United States supports a set of core principles, including opposition to violence, protection of universal human rights, and reform that meets the legitimate aspirations of the people. The United States does not support particular individuals or political parties, but we are committed to the democratic process and respect for the rule of law.”
Like the Syrian Christians, the Coptic Christian community has justifiable cause to dispute Obama’s claim to “not support particular individuals or political parties” and to distrust his protestations of “opposition to violence, protection of human rights, and support for reform that meets the legitimate aspirations of the people.” Why, just on June 17, shortly before the June 30 protests against the Morsi government were to begin, U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson tried to convince Coptic Pope Tawadros to urge his flock to not participate in the protests. This presumptuous meddling occurred about the same time that she openlysided with the Muslim Brotherhood-led government against the very idea of protests in a public statement. Needless to say, Ambassador Patterson is prominently featured on plenty of Tahrir Square poster and banners as well. and was recently alleged by an Egyptian politician to be a member of a Muslim Brotherhood sleeper cell.
The irony is so thick you could cut it with a knife. Ultimately, the Copts joined the protests (in spite of blatant mortal threats against their homes, churches and children by the Muslim Brotherhood) in large measure precisely because the Obama Administration did nothing to defend them, did nothing to halt the Muslim Brotherhood’s violence against them, did nothing to protect their basic human rights, and did nothing to promote true democratic reform. In forming policy, Obama ignores whatever “core principles” he blathers about when the cameras are rolling, and presses on in support of Islamic extremists. No wonder not only Coptic Christians, but secular Muslims and true democracy activists in Egypt were furious with the U.S. over its support for Morsi prior to the protests.
The outrage over Obama’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood spans oceans and continents, and transcends national boundaries. Here in the U.S., Coptic Solidarity president Adel Guindy opened the organization’s June 2013 conference by stating, “America could be on the wrong side of history by its continued support for a fascistic regime that is rejected by the Egyptian people.”
As another example of U.S. actions speaking louder than Obama’s boilerplate speeches about “core principles,” Secretary of State John Kerry in May quietly released $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, in spite of Egypt’s failure to achieve basic standards of human rights and democratic freedoms. Requisite Congressional oversight was also deftly skirted by Secretary Kerry, who justified his decision by appealing to “national security interests.” But now that President Obama is “deeply concerned” over the ouster of his Muslim Brotherhood ally, he calls for a review of U.S. aid to Egypt. This sort of contorted foreign policy only adds to an already dismal perception.
The strong, memorable line from President Obama’s first inaugural address, “We will extend a hand, if you will unclench your fist,” held out a vision of a generous and fair, yet firm and just, U.S. foreign policy, based on precisely the “core principles” the president referenced in his statement following Morsi’s ouster.
Yet the Obama Doctrine has left the U.S. with guilty, empty hands, allowing hammering fists to rain down blows on the most vulnerable of the Muslim world’s populace — Christian churches, pastors, women and children — who look to America for protection, security, and as an advocate for their basic human right to live a decent life free of persecution. Obama has in effect turned the U.S. into an insular “fat-cat” who ignores the cries for help from a victim right outside his door, as in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Even more applicable is the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37): the U.S. passes by the man mugged by thieves and left for dead lying on the side of the road, and then proceeds to give assistance to the thieves themselves!
This is the perception Obama has earned for the United States in the world. Yet judging by the banners in Cairo, people seem to realize it is Obama, not the whole U.S. who is guilty. It’s interesting that of all the photos out of Cairo this week, we didn’t seem to see any of the American flag being burned, only protests against Morsi, Obama (and Patterson).
On Saturday, June 29, at a press conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, Obama said “the United States will not take sides” in the protests already beginning in Egypt. This sort of distancing himself from the center of the storm (and from culpability), which we have seen so much of lately (“I found out about it pretty much the same way you did, I think it was on Friday”), is the “Innocent Bystander” schtick, and it’s worn pretty thin by now.
Obama did pick sides five years ago, reaffirmed that when he helped force Mubarak out of power in 2011, and really got energized when Morsi was elected a year ago, bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to power after being outlawed for decades as an Islamic terrorist pariah.
But instead of ushering in the mythical neo-Andalusia Islamic paradise he promised in 2009, Obama’s foreign policy has fostered exactly the same brutal Islamic supremacism for which Islam has been infamous for nearly fourteen hundred years. By seeking to legitimize the Islamists in order to rehabilitate them into democratic partners for the 21st century, Obama has only unleashed an old evil, and by merely voting “present” on “core principles,” without actively defending the victims of his Islamist allies, he has earned for himself the reputation of “sinister bystander.”
Ralph Sidway is an Orthodox Christian researcher and writer, and author of Facing Islam: What the Ancient Church has to say about the Religion of Muhammad. He operates the Facing Islam blog.