By: Philip Whitfield
Of all the poker players I’d want to cut the cards Barack Obama ranks First Dealer. We both spent 20 years in Chicago. So we know to keep our hands in full view. I was taken aback when he appeared to cave after Republicans scuppered his choice to succeed Hillary Clinton in Foggy Bottom.
Obama didn’t chuck his hand. He was preparing an alternative seat in the West Wing for Susan Rice, his ambassador to the United Nations, the protégée his foes forsook. Rice swore if Rwanda reoccurred she’d come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.
Rice is leaping out of the frying pan into a firestorm. In Syria 100,000 are dead. A million have fled; four million displaced. Countless are missing. She arrives to advise Obama what to do next.
As National Security Adviser, Rice will be the most influential White House official bar Obama. Before the sun rises over the Potomac a CIA agent from TBAR (Those Bastards Across the River) will wake her, unlocking the overnight rundown of terror chained to his wrist.
It’s her call when to rouse Obama. She’s paid to read the rub of the green, assess America’s chances and never to allow TBAR off the hook. Rice is a tough nut in a deceptively dainty shell. She’ll run the Middle East ragged.
Distinguished predecessors? Henry Kissinger (1969-75) wrapped up the Vietnam War for Nixon. Zbig Brzezinski (1977-81) brokered Camp David for Jimmy Carter. Colin Powell (1987-89) shattered the glass ceiling holding back blacks.
Obama has signed on to make his mark on history. Rice has to seat a kaleidoscopic caboodle of remorseless killers round a conference table in Geneva. They include 60 or so rebel groups operating in Syria; Al-Qaeda, pro-Assad goons such as the notorious Alawite paramilitary Shabiha, as well as Iran and Hezbolla’s Jaysh al-Sha’bi. Not to mention Russia, China, Iran, EU members et al.
That won’t happen unless Barbie morphs into Boadicea – Rice boils over and repossesses the likes of Banyas, overrun by Assad forces on 3 May when they massacred 145 villagers – babies, 34 children under 16 and 40 women.
Will Rice live up to her billing by avenging their deaths as dispassionately as Kissinger bombed Hanoi to jump-start Vietnam’s Peace Accords? Drones kill fastidiously faster than B-52s.
Thomas Friedman argues in The New York Times that America’s only faithful ally in the neighbourhood is surrounded by dysfunctional states. They’re either imploding like Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Libya or exploding like Syria. His tart words encapsulate the dilemma. How do you maintain a secure environment and a thriving economy in a collapsing region?
I’d like to see Egypt face up to that, too. There’s no safety, no security worth a dime. Until there is, foreigners will take a pass. China and India feign friendship. They’ll promise the moon over a barrel of crude.
Egypt’s mood has turned incendiary. A disturbing email arrives from a much-respected figure in Cairo, a young business leader I trust and respect.
Verbatim: “I have always been optimistic, Phil. But now I think the only way forward is a second revolution or coup. The Muslim Brotherhood will never leave power voluntarily or call for early elections as many hope.
They were underground for too long and they are not prepared to go back to prison. They will follow a scorched earth policy and turn it into a civil war rather than leave peacefully.”
A few years ago a woman I love had the courage to go abroad, live frugally and gain an MBA. From flat broke to flush in a couple of years – that’s the Egyptian dream.
See how apparently effortlessly change can be? Obama plonks Susan Rice near the West Wing coffee klatsch to josh the juice and dish the poop. She’s bulletproof – outranking defence and state. After tax, she takes home USD 2,795.80 a month. Six bucks an hour, less than minimum wage for 100 and some hours a week.
You might argue America has no business butting into faraway revolutions. Ask yourself why Xi Jinping and Obama seek to avoid the inevitable confrontation between major countries.
Consider the magnitude of history’s accomplishment. I was born into a world destroying itself. Where was hope in my mother’s heart? That my father would survive an Atlantic convoy? That my sister would not succumb to scarlet fever? The allies enshrined sacrifice as the cost of liberty.
Egypt is worthy of greatness. It can play ostrich in the sand, regress, Insha’ Allah. Or it can seize the moment. Be outraged by the wastrels’ amateur dramatics. There are righteous options.
The clock has almost run down for the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi. There’s just time to host Rice in Cairo before the Muslims-Must-Go mêlées begin in three weeks’ time. The Muslim Brotherhood won’t countenance her stance on human rights, freedom of expression, the yearning for a decent education, supporting women’s choices.
Humankind looks despair in the face and sometimes does the right thing, opting for progressivism: Eliminating official corruption, improving women’s lives, social welfare and civil liberties. Last century rag-assed Americans envisioned lighting up desert cities and providing millions of new jobs. They had no money. They funded with bonds.
They fastened on the huge Boulder Dam project to straddle the Colorado River. Be bolder, Egypt.
Could anything be more appropriate for Egypt mulling a positive response to Ethiopia’s enigma? Widen the scope of the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile.
Switch the electric on for all Africa.
Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator