One of the most fascinating moves in chess occurs when a pawn moves to the other end of the board and the player can exchange it for a new piece.
International relations are very much like a chess game.
Egypt has recently exchanged its pawn of Hosni Mubarak for a new piece, Mohammad Morsi. This newly elected president of Egypt and member of the Muslim Brotherhood brings in a new player. America needs to rethink its current strategy in the region, especially concerning Iran and its aggressive ambitions for nuclear weapons and Middle East hegemony. The new president and the Egyptian government as a whole is an important player in America’s grand strategy for the Middle East.
The first foreign visit for a president is an important milestone because it sets the tone of his/her policy. President Morsi has decided that his first foreign visit is to go to Riyadh to visit the king of Saudi Arabia. This would indicate that Morsi is going to continue Egypt’s heritage of promoting Arab interests over other considerations, which is good news for the United States and its interests in the region. Iran would prefer that Egypt, usually considered one of the Arab military power houses, side with its interests in the region. However, Egypt is choosing a wiser path by siding with Saudi Arabia and the keeping close ties with the Gulf States. The Saudi newspaper As-Sharq is right when it describes Egypt’s move when it says that Saudi Arabia is “mainstay on the map of Egypt’s foreign relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds.”
Iran has a particular strategy of trying export its Islamic Revolution from 1979 into other countries in the Islamic world. Yet President Morsi’s election proves their assertions false. Although the Muslim Brotherhood initially said it would not stand for the presidential elections, it later changed its position and offered a candidate that won. Some may view this as a negative, but in fact it actually has a silver lining. The Muslim Brotherhood is acting like any political party in the West rather than the likes of Islamists in Iran. They officially say they do not want power or a particular position, but they go for it anyways. Think anyone in the United States trying to obtain the position of Vice President. They will always saying they are happy with their current job, but then take the new position if asked. This means that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi act with what political theorists call “rational self-interest,” and it could offer a particular paradigm for how the United States should approach its foreign policy in the region.
America lacks a cohesive grand strategy in the Middle East beyond protecting Israel and promoting democracy, but President Morsi’s election offers the U.S. a chance to create a new strategy on a new chess board. The mistakes of the past are not wiped clean, and there is still rampant anti-Americanism and anti-Israel sentiments in the region. However, this does not mean Egypt will not act with self-interest. The United States should immediately begin working to strengthen its relationship with Egypt to create stability in the region, i.e. prevent another war with Israel, create a power block against Iran, and further America’s energy interests in the region. That can only work if the U.S. demonstrates it is in their self-interest to work with us, which is entirely possible.
The U.S. can further its foreign policy objectives for equilibrium in the Middle East by supporting Egypt’s more democratic parts of society while still supplying the military. It is important to note that the current power structure in Egypt has more than locus of authority. The military was supposed to hand over power to the democratic institution, yet it dissolved parliament. Therefore America will need to balance its support for the military and the democratic institutions. It should still give military aid to the military leaders and SCAF to make sure they do not go to war with Israel. It should also give support to the democratic institutions to maintain political stability in Egypt and keep it a democracy. This will be remarkably difficult, but if the U.S. foreign policy establishment works diligently, they can create a strategy to help America’s interests in the region by supporting both the military and the democrats. America can then push for its national interests in the region (against Iran) while still supporting and defending Israel.
Like in the game of chess, America is going to have to start thinking ten moves ahead of its opponents. There is a new player on the board, and new considerations are important to keep stability in the region. It is time to create a finessed foreign policy that will protect our players while moving in for a checkmate against Iran.
Treston Wheat | Georgetown University | @TrestonWheat