In June 2013 an intelligence assessment that determined that Bashar al-Assad’s regime had used chemical weapons against rebel forces prompted US President Barack Obama to provide direct military aid to Syrian rebels (Reuters, 14 June 2013).
By August 2014 Syrian rebels had themselves become a palpable threat to American interests. Following US airstrikes in Iraq targeting the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), ISIL forces in Syria beheaded an American journalist, James Foley. One week later another American, Peter Theo Curtis, was freed by Nusra Front militants in Syria (Associated Press, 24 August 2014).
It should be pointed out that the groups receiving US aid are not the ones responsible for these two kidnappings. In fact, ransom from hostages is a major source of funding for these Islamist militias. Nevertheless, this sequence of events illustrates a frequent theme in American foreign policy. US intervention in a conflict facilitates a shift in power, but the new power structure is as great or greater a threat to American security.
There are once again calls for US military action in Syria. Perhaps the Obama Administration will authorize attacks on ISIL within Syria. Hopefully, they will not be foolish enough to direct airstrikes against the Syrian regime. If the US were to attack Assad directly, we might expect the same outcome as in Iraq. A brutal dictator is driven from power, a brief “democracy” is established, and then the country fragments into opposing factions because the dictator is no longer there to keep militias in check.
Associated Press, 24 August 2014. US says American held in Syria has been freed.
Reuters, 14 June 2013. US accuses Syria President Bashar al-Assad on chemical weapons, plans military aid to rebels. Reuters, accessed on 14 June 2013 at http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/us-accuses-syria-president-bashar-al-assad-on-chemical-weapons-plans-military-aid-to-rebels-379389.
The Arab Spring of 2011 swept Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt. The military took control of the country until elections could be held and a constitution ratified.
On 15 April 2013, the Cairo Criminal Court ruled in favor of Mubarak’s appeal of charges for killing protesters in January 2011 (Nouran, 27 April 2013). He obtained a release order because he had been detained for longer than the legal duration of two years for preventive custody. However, he continued to be held on charges of financial corruption, having amassed a fortune exceeding the capabilities of his legitimate earnings.
Mohamed Morsi was inaugurated as president on 30 June 2012 in what was widely regarded as Egypt’s first democratic election. One year later, millions of protesters demanded Morsi’s resignation(Kingsley, 30 June 2013).On 3 July 2013 the army removed him from power (Fleishman and Hassieb, 3 July 2013).
Morsi’s removal was followed by counterprotests and violence, as Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood party clashed with his opponents and the police and army (Michael et al., 5 July 2013; Tait, 5 July 2013).On 8 July 2013, over 50 pro-Morsi protesters were killed, as were 3 members of security forces (Solovieva, 9 July 2013).
There has been much debate, inside and outside Egypt, on whether Morsi’s ouster should be considered a coup or a revolution (e.g.; Farwell and Arakelian, 16 July 2013). Clearly it was both. The Obama Administration in the USA has avoided calling it a coup, because using that term would make it illegal to continue to provide military aid to Egypt’s army (Democracy Now!, 16 July 2013).
The primary strategic interest that western powers have in Egyptian politics is the preservation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel (Farwell and Arakelian, 16 July 2013). Because most of the USA’s aid for Egypt goes directly to the military (Democracy Now!, 16 July 2013), the military will continue to be able to operate independently from civilian government and will continue to be the true seat of power.Any election can be followed by a coup, with or without popular support. Democracy in Egypt will not be possible with this degree of foreign intervention.
Democracy Now! 16 July 2013. “The jailers should be jailed”: Sharif Abdel Kouddous on the embrace of Egypt’s military post-Morsi. Democracy Now! http://www.democracynow.org/2013/7/16/the_jailers_should_be_jailed_sharif, accessed 16 July 2013.
El-Behairy, Nouran. 27 April 2013. Court accepts Mubarak’s appeal, Daily News Egypt, http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/04/27/court-accepts-mubaraks-appeal/, accessed 28 April 2013.
Farwell, James; and Darby Arakelian. 16 July 2013. Mohamed Morsi Coup: Ditching Morsi was a choice, not a coup. Policymic, http://www.policymic.com/articles/54805/mohamed-morsi-coup-ditching-morsi-was-a-choice-not-a-coup, accessed 16 July 2013.
Fleishman, Jeffrey; and Ingy Hassieb. 3 July 2013. Egyptian army ousts President Mohamed Morsi, Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/middleeast/la-fg-egypt-morsi-20130704,0,5033651.story, accessed 4 July 2013.
Kingsley, Patrick. 30 June 2013. Protesters across Egypt call for Mohamed Morsi to go. The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/30/mohamed-morsi-egypt-protests, accessed 1 July 2013.
Michael, Maggie; Sarah El Deeb; and Lee Keath. 5 July 2013. Clashes erupt in major pushback by Egypt Islamists, Associated Press, accessed on 5 July 2013 at http://news.yahoo.com/clashes-erupt-major-pushback-egypt-islamists-192005534.html.
Solovieva, Daria. 9 July 2013. How Mohammed Morsi’s ouster in Egypt may help radicalize Islamists. International Business Times, http://www.ibtimes.com/how-mohammed-morsis-ouster-egypt-may-help-radicalize-islamists-1337341, accessed 9 July 2013.
Tait, Robert. 5 July 2013. Egypt crisis: Mohamed Morsi supporters shot dead as they march on military barracks, The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/10162440/Egypt-crisis-Mohamed-Morsi-supporters-shot-dead-as-they-march-on-military-barracks.html, accessed 7 July 2013.