Published October 10, 2013
Forty years ago this month the Arabs and Israelis fought their last war against each other. Prior to that, they had fought every decade or so, but the fallout from those earlier wars was rarely felt beyond the region.
The 1973 war was different. It led to an Arab oil embargo against the United States, long car lines at the pumps, oil price hikes and precipitated the 1973-74 stock market crash.
But the October 1973 war had a silver lining. It presented the United States with an opportunity to broker the peace between Israel and the Arab countries.
What followed that war was an intense round of shuttle diplomacy by Dr. Henry Kissinger, which led to a new U.S. relationship with Egypt.
Egypt and Israel laid down their arms, and to this day neither have taken them up against each other.
Both received generous amounts of U.S. military and economic assistance as a result.
The United States replaced the Soviet Union as Egypt’s main partner and patron.
Egypt flipped sides.
Egypt is the largest, oldest and most influential country in the Arab Muslim Middle East. As goes Egypt, so goes the region. Once Egypt was out of the war equation, the remaining Arab states could not make war against Israel.
The Egyptian-American relationship was reinforced by every president since, Republican and Democrat, and by both houses of Congress.
President Carter formalized the relationship with the Camp David Accords.
Flipping Egypt has kept the peace in the region and given the United States special access to basing and over-flight rights, and precedence in transiting the Suez Canal.
It has meant close personal and professional ties between the American and Egyptian militaries, and most senior Egyptian officers speak fluent English and have studied in the United States.
But we are now in danger of having Egypt flip again – out of the American orbit and back into Russia’s.
I have just returned from Egypt and meetings with senior leaders from all elements of Egyptian society – religious leaders, journalists, business executives, student activists, politicians, diplomats and military leaders, including two hours with General al-Sisi.
Egypt is in the midst of a rocky transition to democracy, and they need our support.
They have overthrown Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi, who were well on their way to turning Egypt from a fledgling democracy into an Islamist state. They did so not with a back room coup, but with the majority of the Egyptian people taking peacefully to the streets. The interim Egyptian government is a few weeks away from a new constitution which guarantees equal rights to all, which will be followed by a national referendum, parliamentary and presidential elections and reestablishment of a democratic nation. They need and deserve our cautious support.
I was in Egypt last week and met with all the senior folks - media, religious, military, political, business, student activists, including two hours with Gen al-Sisi.
Gen al-Sisi told me American military aid wasn't as important to them as America’s political endorsement. "That wouldn't cost a penny," he said, "but it would make all the difference in establishing Egypt's stability.”
President Obama has suspended most assistance to Egypt as a slap in the face to the Egyptian military for overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the eyes of most Egyptians, President Obama has chosen to ally with Muslim Brotherhood, which they believe are affiliated with Al Qaeda, instead of the Egyptian people.
Presumably, if the Egyptian government followed their roadmap to democracy, the Obama administration will resume assistance, and return to the close relationship we have enjoyed for four decades.
If not, if President Obama tosses that relationship aside, Russia is waiting in the wings to take our place.
They have waited forty years to find their way back into leadership role the Middle East, and know the best way to do that is by resuming their relationship with Egypt.
President Putin has already sent delegations to Egypt offering military assistance, cyber technology and advanced weapons, as well as friendship and endorsement.
If Egypt flips again, it will have profound consequences for other Arab countries in the region, for Israel and for the United States. It has the potential of playing havoc with the world oil supply, the peace with Israel, and the rise of Islamism.
Sixty years ago, after the fall of China to Communist forces, the United States fell into a nasty political fight over "Who Lost China?"
If we lose our position in the Middle East as a result of losing Egypt, the nasty political debate that will follow over "Who Lost Egypt?" will be far more divisive and destructive.