What Would George Say About Egypt?

Egypt: Gizeh

Image by Brooklyn Museum via Flickr

How should America behave as the Arab world erupts in apparent chaos?  Al Qaeda, a.k.a. Islamic fundamentalism, is our enemy, and countering it and its ideas is the challenge we face.

Anson Burlingame, my fellow Joplin blogger, in a recent post mentioned  America’s strategy of “containment” during the Cold War as though it was “the best idea” for that time, but I must point out that the Domino theory was a major part of that and it was deeply flawed.  What is happening now may well be related to that unstable time when America thought that Communism might “take over the world”.

The Vietnam war was a terrible mistake, as we have blogged

The Ugly American by Lederer & Burdick

Image by Todd Mecklem via Flickr

before, and IMO the crucial elements of that mistake were failing to satisfy the 8 Powell Doctrine questions before we began it. And central to our ignominious defeat in that war was American hubris, the kind of excessive pride that our culture is better than anyone else’s and that we not only could but should re-make our enemy into a nation that looks like us. There was a novel written some decades ago that epitomized that attitude – it was called “The Ugly American”, a fitting title in my opinion.

America has often backed regimes repugnant to us when our presidents thought it in our national interest. That happened in Vietnam, Iran, Iraq and Central and South America over the years. What was the long-term effect of such policies? I think they had many more bad effects than good, on balance. If you believe it useful to try to

understand how “the other side thinks”, please consider this perspective from the mind of a nationalistic Iranian.  It includes what are IMO intelligent insights about the underpinnings of the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism in Iran and elsewhere.  It is titled, “History of BP . . .”:

Map of the Arabian Peninsula, 1952, showing, i...

The Middle East, via Wikipedia

I submit that “History of BP . . .”, is germane to how America should handle today’s crises in the Arab world. If that is so, then the proper course for America at this crucial time should be to tread carefully and avoid being seen as imposing our will on nations in turmoil, lest they see us as an enemy that must be destroyed with religious fervor that can last for generations.  If America stands for toleration of differences among our people, then we should also tolerate differences in other nations’ creeds, religions and cultures. (Having said that, I reject Shari’ah Law, which I abhor as much as Anson and which I consider characteristic of our enemy, as defined previously.)

The photo depicts an Iranian mother and daught...

Iranian Mother & Daughter, via Wikipedia

I suggest that our foreign policy must be more complicated than merely needing to be bellicose toward any nation which decides to embrace Islamic fundamentalism and Al Qaeda. I suggest that we strive for comity with as many Islamic nations as possible, with a view of peaceful co-existence and cooperation in preventing the rise of another nuclear-armed Iran.

Anson and many others on the Right are now being extremely critical of president Obama for going slow and being careful not to offend the Arab world (some say, apologetic in nature).  Anson admires the attitude of George W. Bush, the president who started both the wars in which we are still mired and who announced “the War on Terror” and advocates a policy which might be paraphrased as, “If you’re not with US, you’re against US”.

Given the lessons of history, I suggest that it is past time we got rid of the Ugly American attitude. The wisdom of no less than George Washington supported the same idea when he warned in his farewell address that America should avoid foreign entanglements. George’s world didn’t have nukes, but I think his wisdom relative to other national cultures is still wise, and I think president Obama is getting it right.  At least, so far, IMHO.

[Parts of this post were offered as comments on a post by Anson Burlingame, but are offered here as a separate commentary on America’s foreign policy relative to the historical developments that are now taking place in Egypt and other Arab nations.]

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
This entry was posted in Foreign Policy / War, Islam, Politics, Religion, Terrorism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to What Would George Say About Egypt?

  1. ansonburlingame says:


    I post below a copy of my reply to you on my own blog.


    Once again, I don’t know if it is my writing or your reading that leads to our disagreements.

    Containment as a long term geopolitical strategy worked well from 1945 until the fall of the Soviet Union. It prevented a communist takeover of Europe by the conventionally armed might of the Soviet Union backed of course by America’s nuclear shield. THAT was containment in its “finest hour” in my view.

    Many smaller examples exist of our attempts to impose our will on other countries in their chosen forms of government, Vietnam being the best example. A huge mistake of course either in overall concept (did we draw the line of containment at the correct place on a map) or execution (piecemeal allocation of force for about 10 years and even in 1965 only a partial allocation of force to “win”.)

    You are correct to a degree that China was our “enemy” in Korea. But even that was a surrogate war “officially”. China and the U.S. never actually declared war against one another. Were we correct in drawing our line of containment at the South Korean border or should it have been at the Yalu River as proposed by Gen. Mac. History sides with Truman, but you must admit that the cost of that decision over the years has been astronomical in terms of treasure (and men if you consider the post Korean war “veterans” of the current Korean stalemate that has been ongoing for almost 60 years now).

    Considering the potential conflicts in Korea today, that is to me a continuing result of containment of long ago. The line is still drawn in the same place as 60 years ago and we still “man” that line with the military.

    Should we withdraw today from the South Korean border?

    Now I do NOT call for American intervention in the affairs of Egypt as that and other smaller Middle East countries decide their future governments. I remain convinced for now that the “Switzerland approach” in Egypt right now is the correct approach while “they” sort it out over there.

    But as they make their own choices now in Egypt and elsewhere today, they should be well aware that bad choices from our perspective have consequences. Not threats, simply real consequences.

    Since 1979 our policy towards Iran has been almost a “containment II” approach from Carter up to Obama. We do not have diplomatic relations and have maintained a form of “alliance” with Sunni states in the region against the Shite state in Iran.

    Has that been an incorrect approach in Iran since 1979? If so what approach do you suggest today?

    Let’s assume that Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, perhaps even Syria and Turkey fall under the influence of Islamic fundamentalism in their chosen form of government. Consider each of those countries becoming like the Hamas government in Gaza today.

    In some of those countries such is quite likely today with Egypt being the really big one to fall under such government. In others it “could” happen. So paint a bright color of all those countries on a map today or simply part of them?

    What next I ask and was the intention to ask in the blog? What do we do when one or more of those countries invade Israel say two years from now? What is our position if OPEC tightens the oil screws a la the late 70’s and gasoline goes to who knows what price? What happens if Egypt closes the Suez Canal? We almost went to war over that issue the last time they tried such a maneuver?

    Make it really interesting and consider the effect of a cordinated Egyptian and Iranian closure or even threat to close both Suez and the Straits of Hormuz. Such events COULD happen could they not? Well I ask, as good planners in a very tense geopolitical world what would or should be our position on such matters?

    Now put all of the above in the context of our current economic situation? We cannot keep building carrier battle groups to influence all of those potential “hot spots”. We are becoming much like Europe attempting to stand against the Soviet threat in the 1950’s but we have no one “backing” us up today against a potential hegemonic threat of Islamic fundamentalism.

    Now the big question from a historical perspective. Could it be possible that President Obama take the same approach with Islamic fundamentalists that Chamberlain did with Hitler? Is that even conceivable to ask such a question or is it simply ridiculous to even ask the question?

    I don’t know the correct answer to the question. But even in thinking to ask it, says a lot about the foreign policy approaches of the radical left today. Obama has not gone that far yet, but could he, IS a question of concern at least to me today.


    PS: Might I add that for now I support what the administration is doing in Egypt. My concern is the overall position of accomodation to what I consider to be sworn enemies today by the President himselve over the last two years. Only as a small example, consider his call for a world free from nuclear weapons at the same time that a NEW hegemonic power, akin in terms of radical ideas to communism 60 years ago, is taking shape in the world. Thus far President Obama has sworn to fight on against Al Qaeda (with many on the radical left calling him all sorts of names for doing so). Well is it possible that OBL’s deputy COULD become an influence or even a power broker in a new Egyptian government? And if such influence prevails, what next, Mr. President becomes an important question. Is that a fair question?


  2. wingwiper says:

    “If America stands for toleration of differences among our people, then we should also tolerate differences in other nations’ creeds, religions and cultures…”

    A decent response will be more complicated than what I am offering here… but, this sums it up for me.

    I have become convinced by the evidence that it would not matter one whit how much or often or fervently we proved our tolerance of anyone or anything anywhere on the globe; those who want a piece of us or to defeat us, will try, always.

    Our congenital tolerance has led to outrageous abuses of that generosity worldwide, and at home as shown by the unending insatiable “civil rights” movement which, among other things, has deemed it just to permit any number of illegal immigrants to come here and be covered by social services at the expense of legal immigrants and natives. Their offspring are even now being deemed protected by the Constitution.

    With a few exceptions, such as our national disgrace at refusing the SS St Louis to disembark fleeing Jews in the 1940s, America has done nothing but try to be helpful, up to and including the Vietnam war which, I submit, was a vital military effort that would have succeeded had not our Congress lost its balls and the media allowed a far Left to achieve propaganda victory year after year.

    So… I, and others with whom I have been conversing regularly since late 2001, have reached the conclusion that we soon need to wrap it up and leave those bastards to their shit hole society forever. Open our gates to any Muslim female and their personal children who want to come to sanctuary for one year, and then slam the damn gate on that place, never to return. Let them slaughter one another.

    National policy thereafter? Make one move which damages our people, our allies or our property anywhere on this planet, and we will immediately, without leave from anyone, visit upon you a kind of airborne death and destruction which will make you and what is left of your rotten homelands desolate and weeping.

    Sorry. I’ve lost all compassion on this matter.


  3. This is a great post, or at least you encapsulate what I think. It seems like one debate of late is if Obama is an American exceptionalist. The assumptions being all good US citizens are. I think I used to think of myself as such, but now I’m not sure I think the idea is useful today. In fact, I think it may be dangerous and counterproductive.

    Do you think of yourself as American exceptionalist Jim, and do you think the idea is still (or ever was) useful?


    • Jim Wheeler says:


      I had to look up the term in Wiki, so obviously I don’t know. I’m no intellectual on political science for sure, I guess I’m more like Will Rogers when he said, “All I know is what I read in the papers.” (I think he said that.) Anyway, I see America as like the fox (?) and the tar baby. We have embraced the global market all the way from cheap clothes from Guatemala and cheap oil all the way from Kuwait, all because of our materialist nature, unchanged since Alexis de Tocqueville, and there is no going back. Our political and foreign policy momentum appears to have a life of its own, and it is, IMHO, largely mindless.

      If you keep reading my stuff, maybe you will grant me the favor of telling me if you think I am an exceptionalist. I’d like to know.



  4. wingwiper says:

    This, for example, has got to come to a screeching halt:

    First the event:

    Next, a typical response:

    “While I acknowledge the difficulties of integration that have accompanied the immigration of many young men in the Islamic community in the West, I suggest that multiple factors are at work here, e.g. poverty, discrimination, culture, unemployment, etc. and that a multi-factorial approach will be needed to solve the problems.There is more then enough blame to go around in both communities,Islamic and non Islamic alike.I don’t know if our world is more tolerant then theirs overall,or better or preferable,even,but we can both do a much better job at it,here and there.”

    It’s all “our fault”, in other words.


  5. ansonburlingame says:


    I don’t have a clue what is meant by an American “exceptionalist” to you. To me it is someone that believes America is very exceptional when compared to ANY historical example. Exceptional liberty and freedom, exceptional wealth (as a direct result of the first), exceptional attempts to care for those unable to care for themselves internally as well as internationally to a degree (Our long term support for Israel is that to a much greater degree than “jewish influence” within our country as some on the left would claim), and I could go on.

    It is how to sustain and continue that exceptionalism both in terms of our own self interest (which again the left disparages) and the interests of “good” people around the globe.

    In other blogs I have refered to a Mullah observed last night during an interview. His ideals and logic were to me despicable, simply abhorrent, in his call for a universal Islamic Caliphate and Shari Law throughout the world. He wants the entire world to be governed by ALLAH not men, Those were his exact words.

    That man and the many men like him I swear alligance to their utter destruction when they attempt to impose their ideals on me. Period. You cannot negotiate with such men. You can only defeat them, utterly.

    As we defeated communism, it does not take massive military strikes, nuclear or non-nuclear to achieve such utter defeat. OUR ideals will ultimately prevail over such authoritarian even religious zeal, idiotic zeal in my view. They did against communism and they can against radical Islam.

    To me accomodation does great things geopolitically when “combat” exists in economic and diplomatic affairs. But when jihad is threatened to achieve Shari Law and a Caliphate everywhere, such accomodation is only Chamberlain like in my view. They will take what they can get, then invade another Poland, then turn on the next power until their goals are reached or they are defeated, unconditionally.

    Finally, I believe rather strongly that if we continue to accomodate our enemies at some point we will be compelled to do the unthinkable, unleash our nuclear sword.

    Given all the turmoil in the world today fomented primarily by Islamic fundamentalism, we MUST keep that sword sharp and ready for use in a non-threatening manner. But someday that sword may be the only weapon left against Mullahs such as the one on TV last night.

    But when people are fighting for survival even the unthinkable becomes thinkable at some point. And in this case for our own sake and the sake of much of the world, I call for continued American exceptionalism as a matter of survival!

    My what a politically incorrect statement, at least to the radical left.



  6. I’d be inclined to say that we both are not with respect to the US today. The idea may have outlived usefulness and leads to the Ugly American notion you discussed.


  7. ansonburlingame says:

    Com’on Bruce and others,

    The Mullah and his supporters consider us very ugly indeed. Grotesque is not too strong a word, maybe even too weak from the eyes of radical Islam. Hitler considered us “ugly”. Communists considered us “ugly”. And some within our own country consider us “ugly”.

    Where does true ugliness reside. I believe it is within the heart and soul of individuals and nations.

    Are we wrong (ugly) or is our heart and soul the best that mankind has ever produced?

    Is there some great beauty that can supplant our own ugliness?

    I suppose we all have to decide for ourselves.



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