John Rossomando is an analyst at the Washington-based think tank, the Center for Security Policy, and a former researcher for the Investigative Project who recently published, The Arab Spring Ruse: How the Muslim Brotherhood Duped Washington in Libya and Syria. His book scrutinizes the Obama administration’s complex approach to Islamist forces in the Middle East.
Sara Brzuszkiewicz: What is your opinion about the Obama administration’s approach to Islamists?
John Rossomando: It was a foolhardy and unfortunate move. Hillary Clinton’s emails show that now-National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan informed her that Muslim Brotherhood leaders such as Ali al-Sallabi had contacts with Al-Qaeda in Libya during the February 2011 uprising. [Mrs. Clinton’s old friend and adviser] Sidney Blumenthal likewise informed her that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt had close connections with jihadists during the Arab Spring. It didn’t stop the Obama administration from wining and dining Brotherhood members and from supporting their electoral aspirations.
The Obama administration let political narratives dominate, and it uncritically believed the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists that they shared American values about democracy and human rights. The Islamists played a clever semantic game that the Obama administration was too simple-minded to comprehend.
S.B.: In your book you explain that the Obama administration saw the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups seeking elected political positions as counterweights to Al-Qaeda. What does this dynamic imply, and can it be found in the political strategy of other governments?
J.B.: It was rooted in an academic narrative that said that if the West and America in particular enables Islamist political parties it will undermine terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda. Former Rhodes College professor Quintan Wiktorowicz, who advised President Barack Obama as Senior Director for Global Engagement at the National Security Council starting in January 2011, was a major proponent. He argued in his academic work that allowing Islamists into government would moderate them and turn them away from terrorism.
His pre-Obama case study involved the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan’s parliament, but even that ignored the close connections the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood leaders had with Hamas.
We’ve seen similar activities with how the British government initially reacted to the Arab Spring, along with the French. Many of the Libyan Islamists who played key roles in the Libyan uprising had close ties to either France’s General Directorate for External Security (DSGE) or British Special Intelligence Service (SIS or MI6), according to a reliable Italian intelligence source I worked with.
Narratives similar to those endorsed by Dr. Wiktorowicz also found a popular audience in European academic circles that have sway over European governments.
S.B.: How would you define the Muslim Brotherhood?
J.B.: The Muslim Brotherhood is a global movement that seeks to re-establish the lost global Islamic Empire known as the Caliphate and to Islamize the world. It believes that it and it alone has the true Islam and that Muslims who do not follow it are insufficiently Islamic. Accusations of “Islamophobia” against Muslims who do not toe its line is a non-violent way of shaming them. The belief that non-Brotherhood leaders of Muslim countries are insufficiently Islamic has led Brotherhood members to rise up against non-theocratic rulers, as happened in Syria in 1982 and in 2011. Similarly, Muslim Brotherhood leaders participated in armed resistance against Muammar Gaddafi in the 1980s and 1990s, and again in 2011.
Muslim Brotherhood members undergo a period of initiation into the group. Its members maintain secrecy especially in the West and in countries where they are persecuted. They will often deny their membership to those outside of the Muslim Brotherhood. All Muslim Brothers pledge obedience to the General Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, who, the group’s by-laws note, is the international movement’s ultimate authority. He is advised by a shura council and a guidance bureau that helps to set the movement’s goals.
S.B.: You believe that crucial mistakes were made before. Is Joe Biden changing path?
J.B.: It’s evident that the same cast of characters who managed the botched Islamist outreach with the Muslim Brotherhood (Antony Blinken, William Burns, Jake Sullivan, Colin Kahl, and Lloyd Austin) are back. They either provided access to the Obama administration for Brotherhood activists or oversaw the training and equipping of others linked to the Brotherhood who have ideologies indistinguishable from the Taliban. They enabled the Islamists and paved the way for the rise of ISIS.
The fall of Kabul was déjà vu all over again. I warned against this group of officials when they took power in January. I had no idea how right I was because it showed that they had learned nothing. They embraced the Taliban and had the audacity to say that they were “new and improved”. Meanwhile, the Taliban proved it still had intimate ties with Al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network, executed political opponents, and abused women.
S.B.: What does it mean to normalize Islamists?
J.B.: Normalizing Islamists means treating them as just another political element, instead of the criminal-terrorist element that they are. When Islamists gain power, freedom and multiparty democracy are the first things to go out the window, followed by women’s rights, freedom of thought, and freedom of religion.
Islamists rule by lies and intimidation. Normalizing them means normalizing everything that stands in opposition to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.S. Bill of Rights, the English Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
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