Morsy: The "Yes That Really Means No"
Barack Obama had it right the first time when he asserted back in September that he wasn't sure the new Egypt under Mohamed Morsy was an ally of the United States. I hope in the wake of Morsy's domestic power grab -- and even after the positive role he played in the Gaza ceasefire -- the president hasn't forgotten that.
We tend to conflate tactics and strategy, ends and means. And we tend to look on the bright side of things, or even search for Hollywood endings. This was the case with the Tahrir Square narrative -- and we're doing it again with Morsy.
The Egyptian president's figurative yes - commitment to democratization -- isn't an endorsement of real power-sharing. Nor does his role in the Gaza ceasefire signal Morsy's emergence as a peace process devotee.
Morsy found himself in a tough spot as the prospect of an Israeli ground incursion into Gaza loomed. This crisis would have been a needless distraction from his bid to consolidate power and secure badly needed international assistance, and he might have been forced to place Egypt in a destructive confrontation with the United States.
But Morsy isn't about to become Obama's proxy on the peace process. Unlike Mubarak, he doesn't support a two state solution, hadn't mentioned Israel once publicly until the Gaza crisis, and as a Muslim Brother can hardly be expected to push for the concessions on Jerusalem required for an Israeli-Palestinian deal. Nor should he be confused for a democrat: The party whose interests he represents is authoritarian and exclusivist. He'll share power if he's forced to -- and then likely only with the military, another anti-democratic force in Egypt.
Until proven otherwise, Obama needs to be wary of the short-term tactical yes that is really long-term strategic no.
The Mullahs: "The No that Really Means No -- or Maybe ‘Yes, But...'"
The Iranians have been saying no to Obama on the nuclear issue since he came into office. And the reason isn't hard to divine: Iran's conviction that it has the right to enrich uranium is a matter of national identity and pride. I also believe that because Iran is a state driven by profound insecurity and grandiosity, it also wants a nuclear weapon to guard against the first and enhance the second, though this is eminently arguable proposition.
Can Iran's no become a yes? For the right price, maybe. Under the right circumstances the mullahs may be prepared to say yes...but.
A deal with the Iranians will involve a very high price -- enrichment of uranium at higher levels than the Israelis or the United States may be ready to accept and major relief on sanctions, at a minimum. Iran is hurting: Sanctions and the threat of force are taking a toll on Tehran, and the fall of the Assads in Syria will be another blow. At the same time, that result could also toughen Iran's terms for a deal and even accelerate its desire for a weapon as fear of Sunni encirclement intensifies.
We better get used to this parade of no's. You can choose your reasons why -- the world is a cruel place, we don't control it, Obama is weak, saying no to America isn't new, or all of the above.
But one thing is clear. Saying no to the United States may not be new, but it seems to have gotten a whole lot easier. And that's not great for our credibility and deterrence. There just doesn't appear to be much negative cost or consequence for saying no to the world's greatest power any more - unless, of course, you find yourself on the wrong end of a Predator drone.