Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi’s decree neutering the judiciary is the latest act in his steady consolidation of power. While he assiduously builds a dictatorship, the Obama administration just as assiduously tells itself bedtime stories. It’s a perfect division of labor — he goes about his empire-building with a clear-eyed realism; we consider it through a gauzy lens of delusion.
Since the end of Hosni Mubarak, the air has been thick with descriptions of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi as moderates. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called the Muslim Brotherhood “largely secular.” If he had been speaking of the Church of England, he might have had a point.
Morsi staged his latest power grab on Thanksgiving Day in the immediate aftermath of working with Obama to get a cease-fire in hostilities between Hamas (a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot) and Israel. A New York Times piece reported that in his talks with Morsi, “Mr. Obama felt they were making a connection.” How sweet.
“He was impressed with the Egyptian leader’s pragmatic confidence.” And who can resist the lure of pragmatic confidence?
“He sensed,” the paper continued, in a gushing tone, “an engineer’s precision with surprisingly little ideology.”
This is the most embarrassing man-crush misjudgment of a noxious foreign leader since George W. Bush claimed to have peered into Vladimir Putin’s soul.
Obama famously disdained Mitt Romney. But the devotee of an Islamist organization about to stage a self-coup? Now, that’s a man he can work with.
The business about an engineer’s precision is priceless. What did the president expect? Morsi to try to convert him to Islam and harangue him about Malia and Sasha not wearing head scarves?
Morsi didn’t get where he is today without rationally calculating his interests. He probably has many crisply precise conversations every day; that doesn’t make his ultimate goal any less unreasonable.
The administration’s reaction to Morsi’s decree has been, “Well, golly, we hope everyone can talk things through.” In its mealy-mouthed noncondemnations, the Obama administration does no favors to the real moderates in the streets of Egypt pushing to get Morsi to back down.
But delusion is hard to give up. We always want to believe that other people are just like us and have, at bottom, the same practical concerns. It’s simply not true of fanatics. “This revolution was not about the price of watermelons,” Ayatollah Khomeini once told an aide worried about inflation.
Obama is subject to a more personal fantasy, which is the belief that he is uniquely suited to convince people hostile to us that we want to be their friends. This might make for nice phone calls, but it won’t change the convictions of a Mohamed Morsi.
If our leverage in Egypt is limited, we should still be using every bit of it to resist Morsi’s power grab. The first step is to let go of delusions — and perhaps read more Ambrose Bierce.
— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com. © 2012 King Features Syndicate