A slim majority of National Journal’s pool of national-security and foreign-policy experts are not optimistic about the future of U.S. relations with Egypt should Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi win the presidential election.
The historic presidential elections to replace former leader Hosni Mubarak pitted Islamist candidate Morsi against Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister under the previous government, in a runoff vote slated to begin June 16. An Egyptian court will also rule later this week on whether to disqualify Shafiq to honor a new law preventing Mubarak’s former top officials from running for president.
“We should not fool ourselves. Governments led by ‘freely elected’ Islamic extremists--and that is what the Brotherhood consists of--are no friends of the West in general or of America in particular,” one Insider said. “Whether in Sunni Hamas or Sh'ia Iran, and now increasingly, Sh'ia-led Iraq, election results never prove favorable to the United States.”
It’s difficult to be overly optimistic about U.S. relations with any Arab Spring nations that ousted longtime leaders, one Insider said. “Nevertheless, a new era is dawning, and the United States will have to learn to live with the Muslim Brotherhood, and they with the United States.”
But 42 percent said they were optimistic about Washington’s relations with a new Egyptian president, even if it is Morsi. “It's time to let the Egyptians be Egyptians instead of pawns of a corrupt U.S. puppet,” one Insider said.
“If we can get over our own hang-ups about Islamists somehow being inherently more dangerous than secularists--admittedly a big ‘if’--there is no reason there shouldn't be a healthy relationship,” another added. The possibility of a Brotherhood president is “fraught with risks,” another Insider added, “but it also offers a potential new model of engagement. Fortunately for us, Egypt's interests remain aligned significantly with ours.”
Polled after The New York Times reported that President Obama attempted to derail Iran’s nuclear program by secretly ordering cyberattacks on computer systems that run its enrichment facilities, 74 percent of Insiders said that the now-public attack has opened the door for other countries, terrorists, or hackers to more easily justify their own cyberattacks.
“As with his worldwide drone war, Obama has declared the U.S. above international law and opened another Pandora's box, giving de facto approval to other nations that one day may wish to target the United States with similar weapons for their own grievances,” one Insider said.
The offensive attack, apparently the first time the United States used cyberweapons in a sustained effort to damage another country’s infrastructure, is the crossing of a critical threshold akin to the use of the atom bomb in 1945, one Insider said. “Now we must convince the world that it was OK for us to do it but others must not. They will not be convinced.… [The publicity] does the United States and the rest of the world great harm. How long before we are frightened to turn on our computers?”
Despite the possibility that bad actors could better justify their own cyberattacks, one Insider said that using cyberweapons is still the right thing to do. “We have to be on cyberoffense, particularly in Iran.”
1. Are you optimistic about U.S. relations with Egypt should Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi win the presidential runoff election?
- No 58%
- Yes 42%
“By its very nature and culture, the Brotherhood has to be anti-Western, Judeo/Christian.”
“We should not fool ourselves. Governments led by ‘freely elected’ Islamic extremists--and that is what the Brotherhood consists of--are no friends of the West in general or of America in particular.”
"We will have to live with the Brotherhood; it is the only organized political force in Egypt that might counter the authority of the bureaucracy (around since the pharaohs) and the military (around since we made them the power they are).”
“Poor U.S. relations would harm the vital tourist industry and make Egypt more vulnerable to threats from Islamic hardliners. They criticize Morsi’s Freedom and Democracy Party--which pursues a broad coalition of voters and promises no limits on women’s dress--of watering down its values. Morsi has a Ph.D. in engineering from USC; his three children are U.S. citizens.”
“Indications are at this point that Morsi's sense of national interest will constrain any ideological inclinations. Hopefully the United States will benefit from its decision to not attempt to prop up Mubarak by a reasonable working relationship with the new government.”
“No one who wins a popular election in Egypt is going to be easy for us--but it will be easier to deal with an Egypt in which the people and candidate are more united than one in which they feel their revolution has been stolen from them. They'll blame us for the latter, whether or not we had a role.”
“Guardedly optimistic. While a Muslim Brotherhood victory in Egypt's presidential runoff would complicate Egyptian-U.S. relations, there is some basis for hope that the Brotherhood will emulate a less ideological Turkish political model. If that happens (and the Brotherhood does not abrogate the peace treaty with Israel), then U.S.-Egyptian relations won't suffer too much.”
“It's tough, but we can't pick candidates or winners. We will benefit if the elections are free and fair, regardless of the winner.”
“Egypt has nation-state history and traditions and will act accordingly. The U.S. should be able to establish normal international relations; however, the road will be rocky and results not always what are wanted.”
2. Does the reported U.S. use of cyberweapons against Iran's nuclear sites open the door for other countries, terrorists, or hackers to more easily justify their own cyberattacks?
- Yes 74%
- No 26%
“The gate is now open for all to begin cyberprobes of our own very vulnerable systems. Going after the Iranian nuclear networks is one thing; admitting it is another, and it will turn out to be particularly egregious if it was leaked for political leverage, as has been speculated.”
“Terrorists and hackers will justify their actions by pointing to U.S. involvement in Stuxnet and other cyberattacks and stating that they needed to counteract U.S. actions. That justification will be more than ample to satisfy their core constituencies.”
“It is unrealistic to believe that space and cyberarea will be left free of conflict regardless of who initiates--we should and will defend and fight in both areas in support of U.S. interests.”
“It's not that they need justification. Showing the utility of cyberwarfare will encourage our enemies to shift resources to create, and employ, more capable offensive cyber capabilities. This is a threat that U.S. industry is most vulnerable to. Pandora's box has been opened.”
“The government has consistently driven fear as the narrative (we are vulnerable) as a way of covering up our globally dominant and operation offensive capabilities. About time the real agenda came out of the closet.”
“It is mind-boggling that the Obama administration would leak this kind of sensitive information in order to enhance the president's political standing. This is what happens when an administration vests its political operatives with authority over national security. America absolutely will suffer increased cyberattacks as a result of claiming credit for similar actions against others.”
“They hardly need justification from us. They have been attempting cyberattacks and will continue to do so!”
“The cyberhorse long ago left the barn. The United States must be prepared to act defensively and offensively within the cyberworld to protect national interests.”
“The underlying incentives to use cyberweapons are strong enough that other actors don't need a U.S. precedent to engage in cyberattacks. These were ongoing before Stuxnet and will continue long after it.”
“Chinese and Russian state-sponsored cyberattacks are at a high level, and the low cost and anonymity of cyberweaponry ease evil-doing by others. Hitler was deterred from using chemical weapons because the allies had them. Cyberattackers will be deterred if potential victims can hold aggressors at risk, not if they voluntarily eschew similar weaponry.”
“The only countries that would be bound by any ‘justification’ are basically already aligned with the United States. We need not worry about setting an unacceptable precedent here.”
“Countries that will resort to cyberattacks will always create post-hoc rationales for doing so. The United States needs to do what is necessary to protect itself and worry less about international opinion, whose hypocrisy is a daily phenomenon.”
“The U.S. use of force against terrorists, or rogue states, doesn't make those actors' use of force any more defensible. It is not clear to me why we would see the cyberworld differently.”
“I don't think there was ever a sense of moral restraint as there was with nuclear weapons, so it's not like the U.S. use--if it's true--unleashed anything.”
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts.
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Kit Bond, Stuart Bowen, Paula Broadwell, Mike Breen, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Wendy Chamberlin, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Robert Danin, Richard Danzig, Paul Eaton, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Stephen Ganyard, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Donald Kerrick, Rachel Kleinfeld, Lawrence Korb, David Kramer, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kevin Nealer, Michael Oates, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Matthew Sherman, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Tamara Wittes, and Dov Zakheim.
This article appears in the June 12, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.