Published in the Huffington Post.
Supporting Jordan’s counterterrorism strategy and not Egypt’s is short-sighted and counterproductive in the long-term struggle to defeat ISIS.
Egypt and Jordan, both of whom are close U.S. allies, are on the front lines in a global war against terrorism. Jordan supported the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition after the Sept. 2014 NATO summit in Wales. Initially, the kingdom’s role was primarily intelligence and logistical cooperation with coalition forces, as Jordan historically prefers avoiding direct military confrontation with its neighbors. In Nov. 2011 King Abdullah became the first Arab leader to call for President Bashar Assad to step down but did not advocate direct Jordanian military intervention.
Almost overnight, Jordan’s actions and rhetoric changed after ISIS publicized the gruesome murder of captured Jordanian fighter pilot Lt. Muadh al-Kasasbeh. Hoping the shocking execution would entice other Muslims to join their cause and force Jordan to withdrawal from the anti-ISIS coalition, the opposite effect happened. Jordanians, many of whom previously opposed fighting ISIS and viewing the conflict as America’s problem, were now openly calling for revenge.
President Obama did not hesitate to show solidarity and support with Jordan. He pledged to renew its memorandum of understanding (MOU) of assistance with the kingdom and increase U.S. aid from $660 million to $1 billion in 2015-17. The State Department stated
The United States and Jordan share a commitment to promoting regional security and stability, furthering Jordan’s economic development, and advancing social, political, and economic reform in Jordan.
ISIS totally underestimated Jordan’s resolve. Emboldened that Washington will stand by Jordan’s side, the kingdom has adopted a new aggressive stance, promising an “earth-shaking response” and declaring that this will be a long war. Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told Secretary John Kerry that not only was Jordan up to the challenge, but called it a new world war in which Arabs and Muslims cannot afford to remain neutral:
This is our war. This is a war that has to have a Muslim/Arab stand, but without the support of our international friends, our partners in the coalition, we cannot do it and we cannot eradicate this evil. It is truly a third world war by other means.
However, the U.S. has not shown the same type of support and solidarity with Egypt, who is engaged in its own struggle with ISIS. Last month ISIS executed 21 Egyptian Copts — precisely because they were Christians and they are part of their larger strategy of liquidating Middle Eastern ethnic and religious minorities. Egypt vowed revenge, yet Sisi’s appeal for greater U.S. and Western military assistance to defeat ISIS in Libya has fallen on deaf ears.
The U.S. has been withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Egypt for military hardware such as fighter jets and tanks since Mohamed Morsi’s deposal in July 2013. As Washington is helping Jordan fight ISIS, it should release funds immediately to help Egypt do likewise.
In an unprecedented move on Feb. 28, an Egyptian court designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. This action is part of Egypt’s wider crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and the jihadi terrorism in Sinai, which Egypt accuses Hamas of fomenting. That the United States also views Hamas as a terrorist organization should bring both nations closer based on mutual security concerns.
Jordan and Egypt are eager to fight ISIS and have clearly demonstrated that they are prepared to take unilateral military action. Therefore, an unambiguous and uniform stance from Washington to its Arab allies is required in order to defeat this threat. Supporting Jordan’s counterterrorism strategy and ignoring Egypt’s is short-sighted and counterproductive in the long-term struggle to defeat ISIS.
Some critics claim that the reason for President Obama’s reluctance to support Egypt’s fight against terrorism is that Washington does not want to reward a dictator that stifles freedom at home. However, this is a weak argument that could easily be applied to Jordan, which has arbitrarily revoked the citizenship of over 2,700 Jordanians of Palestinian descent; engaged in massive internet censorship; and most recently sentenced a senior Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood leader to 18 months in prison for posting on his Facebook page on Nov. 17, 2014 that the UAE is a lackey for the United States. It’s a crime under Jordan’s anti-terror law to criticize the kingdom’s foreign relations.
The White House would be wise to articulate a consistent anti-ISIS strategy with its Egyptian and Jordanian allies if it is serious about upholding President Obama’s vow to “degrade and ultimately defeat ISIS the same way we have gone after al Qaeda.”