Making sense of the Sisi-Trump summit


Continuing an early-administration priority of restoring relations with key allies, the POTUS pulled out all the stops Monday for the first meeting to the White House by an Egyptian leader since 2009:

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Was the meeting a success? 

Here are three core principles to keep in mind.

#1 – Allies will act as good allies IF they believe they are considered genuine allies

Bottom line: The only way the US gets the benefits of an alliance with a country like Egypt, is if it’s a strong relationship and one where the junior partner truly feels valued.

Otherwise – and with virtually no exceptions to this rule – this is what happens:

Egypt will give the US the metaphorical finger and do what it wants as part of a classic Egyptian desire to demonstrate a certain spunk and “independence.”

Exact same thing is true of Israel and Saudi Arabia..

This is why I wrote in a February 2011 article that it was a huge mistake for President Obama to make a vocal show of telling Mubarak he “had to go.”  Why? Because by doing that, the US gave away much of its ability to influence the politics of the post-Mubarak era over the next several years.

So what is the main objection to Sisi’s visit to the White House?

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It is true. The government of Egypt is not perfect. And I guess we can say that President Sisi is a “strongman,” whatever that means.

But two qualifying points for context with Joy Ann Reid doesn’t mention.

First, President Sisi is not the cause of repression in Egypt. Rather repression is the symptom of the vast political, social, cultural and class differences in Egyptian society, that make Zero-Sum politics and repression inevitable no matter who is in power.

In fact, it is hard to imagine a scenario where there wasn’t some form of repression in Egypt, whoever was in charge from 2011 to the present.

It’s also true that the parts of the Egyptian government that are most repressive, are largely outside the control of the President.

But second,  here is the most fundamental question at play:

Does the US have a pragmatic relationship with foreign governments or not?  Get the benefits of the alliance, or not? 

Joy Ann Reid, let’s be honest, has no thoughtful, deep, well-thought out, answer to this question.  But essentially she is  repeating a Liberal talking point and demanding that Trump take a highly ideological approach which will always lead to Egypt as I suggested above, giving the US the finger.

President Trump just wants to focus on forming more productive relationships.

#2 –  The US has limited influence over Egypt (which will largely do what it wants, especially internally) and there is no massive upside involved: 

Off the top of my head, here are the core issues for discussion not in any particular order:

Core Issues: 
(1) Israel-Palestine
(2) Terrorism
(3) Economic/Military Aid
(4) Military cooperation

Secondary Issues:
(5) Muslim Brotherhood
(6) Iran
(7) Syria
(8) Human Rights/ Democracy promotion

On none of the core, Group 1 issues, will there be any significant change, outside of the margins, no matter how bad or well the meeting went.

And it’s hard to see how any of the Group 2 issues would really rise in prominence in any meaningful, relationship-changing, way.

On that note, this article by two respected DC think-tank pundits  which is strongly critical of Sisi, in my opinion is based on a highly theoretical understanding of Egyptian society and politics, and overstates the extent to which desirable outcomes A,B,C are merely a matter of President Sisi, like Mubarak before him, of just doing X Y or Z differently.

#3 – The (only) way to get a reasonable amount of the US wants to receive (or, have Egypt not do) is to have a close relationship:

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There is no other way.

Because the POTUS is making the effort to have a good relationship with the President of Egypt, he will have a certain ability to influence him, privately, on some of the human rights issues that some voices in DC believe should be at the very top of the agenda, all of the time.

That is a fundamental upgrade from the conditions of US-Egypt relations that existed under President Obama.

And for that reason, the meeting has to be considered a great success.

Trump administration Middle East policy is off to a very good start. In just two months, the President has reset relations with the top three US allies in the region, Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.

Next relationship to repair – coming tomorrow – King Abdullah of Jordan visits the White House.

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4 thoughts on “Making sense of the Sisi-Trump summit

  1. PJ

    Here we go again, more of your infatuation with Arab dictatorship’s and eagerness to overlook the brutal repression of their people. Have you no shame?


    1. Nathan

      Thanks for your comment.

      However, that is not how I would characterize anything that I have written.

      The US can either be pragmatic or it can be dogmatic. In an imperfect world it is better to be pragmatic.

      The dogmatic approach is what led to disastrous results in the US in the Middle East from 2003 through 2016.

      There is very very little the US can do to solve the Middle East’s problems. Other than try and help when you can (if asked), don’t make things worse by over involvement,


  2. Pingback: Was It A Success? 3 Metrics For Rating Monday’s Meeting Between Presidents Trump and Sisi – THE WEICHERT REPORT

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