America's half-century plus intervention in the Muslim world seems to be unraveling. They've made a mess of things in Iran, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Syria and Libya, and now in Egypt. Even the Saudis aren't particularly fond of the Americans any more.
America was never prepared to deal with the great religious divide, Sunni versus Shiite, that plagues the Middle East/South Asia region. In toppling Saddam it seemed to believe it could fill the void with a modern, secular government. The Shia majority scotched that notion quickly enough while the Sunni minority ensnarled American forces in an insurgency. Years later, as America was finally expelled, its nemesis, Iran, remained the real beneficiary of America's war.
The U.S. much prefers Sunni Islam to the Iranian-dominated Shiite faith. But America prefers its Sunni allies in the robes of a Sheik or the uniform of a general. The U.S. likes its Sunni leaders just strong enough to suppress Salafism or Wahhabism without unduly threatening Israel. This the Saudi royal family has done largely by treating their Islamists like remittance men, paying them to play jihad elsewhere. Osama bin Laden, anyone? The United States has been quite content to allow the Gulf States to rather brutally suppress their Shiite populations.
As America stumbled and blundered its way through the Muslim world, Russia and China moved into the wings waiting to exploit any power vacuum that emerged. America's juggling act became that much harder. The pro-democracy movement presents yet another complication. Feudalism/modernism; Shia/Sunni; autocracy/democracy; Russia, China and the shifting global balance of power; America in decline with its people as fed up with being in the Muslim world as many Muslims are to have them there; the strategic pivot to Asia-Pacific. What is an atrophied superpower to do?
What's next? Well that would by Syria, Egypt and the House of Saud. America has been stymied to find an answer to the Syrian civil war. The American people will not tolerate another U.S. ground war in the region but that is exactly what the Saudis
In Egypt, the U.S. was against Morsi before they were for him. They were for the generals (Mubarak) before they were against them. Washington has recently cut off billions of dollars in military aid to Cairo, aiming to pressure the generals into restoring democratic rule. This, it seems, may be a seminal moment in the lengthy history of America's involvement in the Middle East.
Word is getting out that a Middle Eastern benefactor has stepped into the breach with enough cash to allow Egypt to cut a 4-billion dollar arms deal with Russia.
The report comes on the eve of a visit to Egypt by a Russian military delegation led by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. A source in the Russian Defense Ministry told RIA Novosti on Thursday that the delegation would visit Serbia and Egypt on November 12-15.
The source said the Russian delegation would include the first deputy director of the Federal Service on Military-Technical Cooperation, Andrei Boitsov, and officials from state-arms exporter Rosoboronexport.
The visit has been preempted by a bout of shuttle diplomacy between Moscow and Cairo with exchanges of unofficial visits and behind-closed-doors discussions in the past few weeks.
Rumors about Egypt turning toward Russia for military assistance to meet its security needs have been circulating in the media since last week and intensified around a recent visit to Egypt by US Secretary of State John Kerry, which has been widely considered an attempt to mend weakening bilateral ties and prevent potential military deals with Russia.
Sources cited by Donia Al-Watan said Kerry had offered Egypt to restore all elements of the military aid, worth 1.5 billion annually, and "bring bilateral relations to the previous level," but Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi rejected all US proposals.
For Moscow, the renewal of military ties with Egypt could signify a return in force to the Middle East while US diplomacy is failing all over the region.
The Soviet Union and Egypt enjoyed close ties during the 1960s and early 1970s, when the Arab country was led by Abdel Nasser. But within years after the death of Nasser, the new president Anwar Sadat started reorienting the country toward the West and expelled about 20,000 Russian military advisers stationed in Egypt in July 1972. Bilateral relations have since never warmed up to the previous friendship level.
Has America overplayed its hand in the Middle East? Could it really be told to cash in its chips and leave the table?