Day: March 1, 2017
President Trump of course said nothing like what I had suggested yesterday in his speech to Congress last night. The tone was marginally less objectionable than his “grab pussy” speech, but as SAIS colleague Eliot Cohen put it:
POTUS clunky speech seemingly judged a success because he did not sound like an unhinged, belligerent maniac.
Trump repeated virtually all of his worst domestic campaign promises: repeal Obamacare without specifying what should replace it, counter supposedly rising crime by blocking immigrants who don’t commit more crimes than natural born Americans, build an unneeded wall on parts of the border already difficult to cross, drop government regulations that protect Americans from ineffective or unsafe pharmaceuticals, build pipelines that don’t increase American energy security even though the economics no longer justify it….
The only domestic proposition I agreed with is his $1 trillion for infrastructure, but that’s pretty much what Obama wanted to do too. The Republicans in Congress wouldn’t let him.
The only real adjustments were a pledge of support to NATO (but not the European Union, which is arguably just as important to US interests) and a denunciation of hate crimes, which he should have made weeks ago. China went almost unmentioned, he skipped North Korea’s nuclear weapons and Russian interference in the American election, and forgot about climate change entirely. He offered no indication of how he is going to defeat ISIS.
The moment that struck me as most inappropriate was the exploitation of Ryan Owens’ widow (her husband was killed in a botched raid in Yemen that Trump personally approved), who was present in the gallery. I gather veterans shared my reaction:
But the Congress provided the desired long and loud applause.
The public display of a tearful grieving widow for political purposes grates the wrong way with me, but obviously I’m not with the program. Trump thought McCain wasn’t a hero because he was captured. By what logic does Trump think Owens is a hero because he is dead? Wouldn’t logic suggest that Trump prefers fighting men not only uncaptured but also alive?
The press is celebrating the more moderate tone of the speech, exemplified best in Trump’s refraining from criticizing the media. Some people are easy to please.
Throughout the speech, Trump was glued to his Teleprompter. No doubt within 48 hours he’ll be back to saying the things he really means in the acerbic tones that come naturally to his pouting mouth and short fingers.
At the Tuesday, February 21 event at the Center for American Progress, the assembled panelists discussed the opportunities for re-setting US-Egypt relations under the Trump administration. Discussing the recently released report with findings on how Egyptians feel about the future of their country, Nancy A. Youssef, Senior National Security Correspondent at Buzzfeed, moderated the conversation between Daniel Benaim, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Mokhtar Awad, Research Fellow at the George Washington University Program on Extremism, and Eric Trager, Esther K. Wagner Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Benaim discussed the main takeaways from the report, which engaged a variety of Egyptians in discussing the new moment for US-Egypt relations with Trump and Sisi at their respective helms. Sisi remains preoccupied with security threats and desires a strategic relationship with the United States to better address these issues. Because of his overwhelming concern to maintain stability after 2013, Egypt lacks a long-term plan or sense of direction. Although it will by and large escape the fate of its Arab neighbors and is tired of unrest, Egypt has become brittle from repression and faces major gaps in governance.
Benaim fears that a closer relationship between Trump and Sisi could enable Sisi’s repressive instincts rather than direct attention towards Egypt’s political and economic shortcomings. Trager likewise found contemporary Egyptian politics bleak as Egyptians see no alternative to the Sisi government, which has decreased in popularity due to economic decline and the sense of drift pervasive throughout the country.
However, closer ties between the two countries also present a chance to benefit citizens on both sides of the Atlantic. Benaim said that with deeper cooperation Trump has the opportunity to address human rights and governance inside Egypt and increase transparency within the military and Sisi’s government. Trager was also interested in seeing how Sisi will manage domestic problems in 2017 in preparation for the 2018 elections.
Awad shifted focus to the security landscape within Egypt and the policy implications of the existing threats. Although not as dire as in other Middle East countries, terrorist attacks have been escalating gradually over the last three years. The major threat theaters are the northeastern Sinai, the Nile Valley, and the Western Desert. In Sinai, the Egyptian military has become more successful at prosecuting insurgents, but still lacks a centralized agency that focuses on counterinsurgency strategy, making it difficult to address the consistent attacks in the area. Unrest in Libya impacts the Western Desert demanding increased border security and changes in Egypt’s policy towards its neighbors. In the Nile valley area, violence has escalated and become increasingly sophisticated since 2013, largely stemming from radicalization within prisons and radicalized groups aligned to factions within the Muslim Brotherhood.
While Sisi is good at keeping the Brotherhood is check, it is unclear whether there is a plan to leverage the government’s control over the organization to reach a final settlement with reconcilables within the Brotherhood to abandon violence and repent. Trager added to this discussion by cautioning against navigating the Brotherhood as a singular organization but rather a global movement, some of whose affiliates practice or endorse terrorism.
While the US-Egypt relationship under Trump could position Sisi as an effective counterterrorism partner, both panelists advocated discretion in applying a terrorist designation to the Brotherhood. They focused instead on identifying radical elements of the organization to better combat violence, rather than condemning the Brotherhood overall, which could lead to greater alienation and the inability to reach a final settlement.