While America’s attention was focused on Kim Kardashian’s new book of selfies, the Ebola virus, and events in Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine, and Ferguson, Missouri, a single 130-word Wall Street Journal dispatch last Tuesday described events in Sochi, Russia, that might portend a dangerous shift in the allegiance of one of America’s most important allies.
Though it missed the attention of most news editors, newly elected Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi arrived a week ago Monday in Sochi for two days with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Black Sea coast.
The duo toured the Olympic cross-country ski center, but not until Al-Sisi got to view an elaborate and tempting display of Russian military hardware that Putin had kindly set out before him, right there at the Sochi airport. Al-Sisi was barely out of his plane before he was gazing upon a massive array of armored vehicles, missile systems, and other weapons goodies — all of them available for sale.
Welcome to the new era of Russian diplomacy: as relations with the United States sour, longtime allies such as Egypt are being courted by a Russian president eager to expand his influence through economic assistance and military cooperation.
While our president navigated his golf cart around the fairways of the Farm Neck Golf Club on Martha’s Vinyard, President Putin was sitting down with the leader of the most populous Arab state for two days of discussions about Israel, Gaza, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.
“The views of Russians and Egyptians about Middle East issues coincide to a large degree,” said a Kremlin statement that was issued in advance of Al-Sisi’s arrival — words that should stir fear deep in the souls of everyone concerned with safety and security in the Middle East.
The matchmaker behind this burgeoning friendship is, unfortunately, the man riding the golf cart on Martha’s Vineyard.
Our president badly misjudged events in Egypt, suspending military aid in response to what the Obama foreign policy apparatus considered a coup d’état — but that was, to any studied observer of Egyptian politics, a national upheaval to end the Muslim Brotherhood’s drive for Islamization of Egypt through the person of Mohamed Morsi.
It took a series of bloody assaults in and around Cairo (and for al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri to openly call upon jihadists to attack Egyptian security forces) before Obama finally backed down and approved the sale of ten Apache helicopters to help Egypt defend itself against a full-blown insurrection in the Sinai. However, the delivery of these helicopters is being held up by Democrats in Congress and the aircraft remain in storage at Fort Hood.
Vladimir Putin has no such tender sensibilities: the smorgasbord of military equipment was laid out on the tarmac, and all Al-Sisi had to do was make his choices.
In Washington, Al-Sisi is viewed with suspicion as a usurper of some failed but grand democratic experiment.
In Sochi, however, he is viewed, accurately, as an Egyptian national hero — a military giant in a country where military life is a staple of state affairs and the one man who may be capable of unifying his country and the various disparate forces that could tear it apart.
In my two hours of meetings with Al-Sisi earlier this year, I found him highly intelligent, articulate, and capable of thoughtful analysis of American foreign policy.
Clearly, he is also smart enough to seek out new friends when old ones abandon him — and that should be a cause for concern here in the United States.