What Egypt Can Learn From The US Civil War

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Egyptian citizens voting, many for the first time, in 2012 // Credit: Jonathan Rashad via Flickr
Egyptian citizens voting, many for the first time, in 2012 // Credit: Jonathan Rashad via Flickr

It was 1864. The armies of the Confederacy were under heavy pressure. Having helped liberate Chattanooga, Union armies under William Tecumseh Sherman were now driving on Atlanta. Rebel armies under Joseph Johnston were blocking their way.

The rebels were badly outnumbered and outgunned, but Joseph Johnston was a wily character. He understood that a rebel army would always pose a threat to the federals, so his focus was on delaying the Union advance on Atlanta while trying to preserve his army.

It was a tall order, but he knew what he was doing, and the campaign rapidly developed a pattern. Johnston would adopt a strong defensive position. If (and often when) Sherman attacked him there, the Union troops would suffer heavy losses. So Sherman was forced to try to go around Johnston’s army in an effort to surround it and cut it off. But Johnston would always find a way to slip the noose and retreat with his army intact to another strong defensive position. Lather, rinse, repeat.

For the federals, the advance ground to a frustrating crawl, with a very high price to be paid for impatience. But it was also frustrating for Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Davis, who didn’t like Johnston to begin with, saw the front lines getting closer and closer to Atlanta and grew tired of Johnston’s relatively passive defense of maneuver. He wanted someone who would drive the Union troops away and save Atlanta, which Johnston thought impossible given his lack of resources. When it became obvious that Johnston would rather lose Atlanta than lose his army, Davis had him replaced with a general with a reputation for being far more aggressive, a general who had told him he would attack if he was put in charge – John Bell Hood.

And Hood (for whom Fort Hood is named) immediately lived up to that reputation, and he did indeed attack. He launched a counterattack against Sherman’s federals, a counterattack that gained nothing and caused grievous losses. A second counterattack was even worse. As was a third. And a fourth. Eventually, the Confederates were forced to abandon Atlanta (as Johnston knew they would be), but because of Hood’s actions, the rebel army was so chewed up that Sherman just ignored it and went on his famous March to the Sea.

For Hood, this was… insulting. Hey! I still got a army here! After scrounging up some replacement troops, he did the only thing he knew how to do – attack. This was the famous Tennessee Campaign of 1864. Even though badly outnumbered, Hood would try to capture Nashville to divert federal resources from the campaigns in the east and maybe fore them to abandon Atlanta.

The result was a disaster for the Confederates. The Union army in Tennessee tried to use Johnston’s tactics against Hood, retreating in good order to strong defensive positions. In a brilliantly executed maneuver, Hood actually succeeded in cutting them off at Spring Hill – only to wake up the next morning and find the Federals had marched right by him in the dark because his troops had somehow forgotten to block the main road.

A furious Hood chased them down at Franklin and launched a frontal attack across two miles of open terrain against prepared Union positions; some say it was to punish his troops for the debacle at Spring Hill. The result has been nicknamed the “Pickett’s Charge of the West,” such self-inflicted butchery that six Confederate generals were killed, the army practically destroyed.

Nevertheless, Hood was determined to attack again. Sticking to their plan, the Federals retreated to Nashville, which they had turned into a fortress and where they were massing their troops. Hood prepared to attack, but before he could do so, the Federals attacked and drove him off. He and his army staggered back to Mississippi with less than half their troops remaining.

John Bell Hood got sacked and his army was never a factor again. It was a catastrophe for the Confederacy. Needless to say, the Confederate leadership was not happy with Hood and his penchant for the attack in the face of enemy numbers, enemy defenses, reason, or even sanity. But they have only themselves to blame. When you put in charge a guy who says he will attack, don’t go whining when he does, in fact, attack.

Historical parallels for today are easy to find if one knows where to look. As I write this missive, massive demonstrations are breaking out across Egypt. It’s hard not to see this outpouring of anger and disgust with the rulers of those two countries and not see parallels with the story of John Bell Hood at the end of the Civil War.

Egypt under Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood appears to be rapidly descending into complete dysfunction. When we last left out heroes on the banks of the Nile, dictator Hosni Mubarak had been overthrown in a comparatively peaceful revolt centered on Cairo’s Tahrir Square. In a scene reminiscent of pulling the rug out from the Shah of Iran, Obama withdrew US support for “ally” Mubarak. The Egyptian army took over and held relatively free (at least by Middle East standards) elections. The winner was the Muslim Brotherhood and its leader Morsi.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not a new or unknown organization. It was founded in Egypt in 1928. Their credo is “Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” Fundamentalists within the group have long advocated the use of Shar’ia law as “the basis for controlling the affairs of state and society.” So, these guys are paragons of peace and goodwill, unless you happen to be Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, female, black, homosexual, or anyone else who has no wish to comply with Shar’ia law. And they have shown themselves not above using violence to achieve their goals: it was the Muslim Brotherhood that was responsible for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

To put it bluntly, these are not nice guys (though some, less-informed, in the US  news media do in fact call them “nice guys”). Many are Islamofascists. In fact, they are the original Islamofascists, at least in contemporary times. They are a spiritual and philosophical ancestor of al Qaida, the Taliban, the Iranian mullahs, Hamas, Boko Haram, and other such militant groups around the world.

Not surprisingly, as rulers who prioritize religious purity over the needs of the people, Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have proceeded deteriorate future prospects. Living in a world of paranoid conspiracy theories and fantasies of another caliphate, Morsi celebrated his election by trying to give himself virtually unlimited powers. A large segment of the population rather vehemently objected to this return of pharonic dictatorship, but their objections came to nothing. After this hopeful opening, Morsi took his scimitar to the economy.

The same Egypt that for thousands of years was a granary for Europe and the Middle East can no longer feed itself thanks largely to Gamal Abd al-Nasser’s construction of the Aswan High Dam, which has poisoned much of the soil along the Nile that used to be so fertile for farming. So now the Egyptian economy is dependent on tourism to provide it with the hard currency it needs to buy food.

The Muslim Brotherhood bears no responsibility for the disastrous effects of the dam, but it is about as friendly to tourists as the TSA. For starters, no matter how wonderful Egypt’s ancient monuments are, most Western tourists are not up for a vacation in a blazing desert with no alcohol, segregated beaches, and a stricter dress code. Hotel occupancy in Cairo is down to 15 percent. Only five of the usual 320 cruise ships now sail the Nile. Luxor in Upper Egypt used to get 20,000 tourists a day; now they are lucky to get 500.

Luxor knows a thing or two about the negative effects of Islamofascism. In November 1997, gun-wielding members of the Islamist Gama’a Islamiyya attacked Luxor, killing 58 foreign tourists. The town was outraged at Gama’a Islamiyya for trying to ruin their economy.

Now Gama’a Islamiyya is in the Egyptian parliament, a critical ally of Morsi. He tried to install a prominent Gama’a Islamiyya figure, Adel al-Khayat, as governor in Luxor. The people of Luxor were outraged, went into open revolt, and prepared for a fight in the streets. The anger compelled al-Khayat to turn down the appointment. But the damage was done. Ashraf Ahmed, head of a Luxor shopkeepers’ syndicate, was quoted by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review as saying “the biggest mistake of my life” was voting for Morsi in 2012’s presidential election.

Yet Luxor is merely one front in this war against tourism. Another front, far more chilling to foreigners, is Giza. Salafist allies of Morsi from the Nour Party in parliament say the Giza Pyramid Complex offensive to Islam and have called for its destruction or, in the alternative, covering it in wax or something. Christo was unavailable for comment. The Pyramids are in enough trouble as it is. So desperate are the Giza vendors for business that they have taken to harassing the few tourists they actually get, prompting a State Department advisory that ran on the front page of USA Today.

This consistent pattern of going Jurassic Park on tourists has almost completely destroyed it as an industry. Foreign investment is cratering for similar reasons – many don’t want to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt can’t get the money it needs to buy food. Now food prices are skyrocketing. The economy is now on the verge of collapse.

This was not what the Egyptian people wanted or expected when they toppled Hosni Mubarak. Now, in what is really a major, major accomplishment for the Muslim world that deserves recognition, as I write this millions of Egyptians are rallying against Islamofascism. One quote attributed to the BBC (likely erroneously) says, “The number of people protesting today is the largest number in a political event in the history of mankind.” A bit of an exaggeration, but these protests are clearly massive, perhaps on a scale not seen since Nasser. From the Washington Free Beacon:

Anti-government demonstrators in Egypt expressed anger and contempt for the Obama administration as they took to the streets on Sunday to demand the removal of Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohamed Morsi.

“Millions of anti-Morsi activists were expected to gather today in historic Tahrir Square, the site of the same demonstrations that brought down former President Hosni Mubarak… The demonstrators maintain Morsi has become a power-hungry autocrat who is intent on making the Muslim Brotherhood Egypt’s permanent ruling party… They also blame the Obama administration and U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson for propping up Morsi and facilitating the Muslim Brotherhood’s power grab.”

 Wait? What?

“We are very critical of the Obama administration because they have been supporting the Brotherhood like no one has ever supported them,” Shadi Al Ghazali Harb, a 24-year-old member of Egypt’s Revolutionary Youth Coalition, told the Washington Free Beacon on Friday afternoon during a telephone interview from Cairo.

The White House is “the main supporter of the Brotherhood,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the American support this president would have fallen months ago.”

Al Ghazali Harb specifically dubbed Patterson “the first enemy of the revolution,” claiming “she is hated even more than Morsi.”

Activists hung pictures of Patterson with a red “X” drawn across her face at Egypt’s Defense Ministry during smaller protests Friday afternoon.

“She’s done a lot to harm our relations with the United States,” Al Ghazali Harb said.

Is anyone else noticing a disconnect here?

Pro-democracy activists such as Al Ghazali Harb said the June 30 demonstrations have even attracted the support of those who originally voted for Morsi in Egypt’s elections.

“We’re treating the Brotherhood as an occupation,” he said, noting that nearly 20 million Egyptians have signed onto an anti-Morsi petition. “Our whole country is at stake.”

“If you’re here in Egypt and sense the public opinion more are against the Brotherhood than has ever been,” he said, explaining that the current demonstrations are stronger than the ones that brought down Mubarak.

“We’ve crossed the point of no return,” Al Ghazali Harb said. “This regime cannot stay in power.”

Western experts said the Obama administration’s efforts to normalize relations with Morsi’s government and provide it billion of dollars in military aid have irritated the pro-democracy activists.

“The administration believed that it could influence the Brotherhood to act democratically through friendly ‘engagement,’ and this meant not criticizing the Brotherhood too publicly or harshly when it began acting autocratically, including when Brotherhood cadres violently attacked opposition protesters in December,” Eric Trager, an Egypt expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the Free Beacon.

“The opposition thus concluded that the administration was totally supportive of the Brotherhood’s behavior — which it wasn’t,” Trager said. “Ultimately, the administration failed to manage perceptions.”

I will be the first to say that the foreign policy of Barack Obama in the Middle East is, to put it charitably, inept, at least to the extent to which it is supposed to benefit the United States, which is sort of, you know, Barack Obama’s job. In more than a few instances, it’s hard to see how his policies are beneficial to the US, and in a few (notably Iran and Honduras) it’s hard to see how his actions could even be intended to benefit the US.

And I dearly love Egypt and I want it to succeed. I want its people to be happy and free and prosperous allies of the US and Western Civilization, for without the work of ancient Egypt, evinced by those pyramids and sphinxes we love so much and the Islamofascists hate so much, the US and Western Civilization would not be here today.

But I gotta stick up for Barack Obama on this one.

Sure, he’s too conciliatory to the Muslim Brotherhood, but this is not on him or his incompetent diplomatic advisers. Because in all the controversy over Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood and what they are doing to Egypt, one rather small detail gets pretty consistently overlooked:

The Egyptians voted for Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Yes, I’ll state it again. Morsi and his Islamofascist allies did not take power by coup or violent revolution. The US did not put them in power. They were elected. They won. At the ballot box. Legitimately. Yes, it was only, like, 51% to 49%, but they still won.

The Egyptians voted for Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ashraf Ahmed, that Luxor shopkeeper, said “the biggest mistake of my life” was voting for Morsi.

To which I must respond by asking a simple question: What did you think you were voting for?

The Muslim Brotherhood. “Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Quran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.” Says if they are in charge you will get shar’ia law. Collaborated with the Nazis in World War II. Murdered Anwar Sadat.

While they’ve often hidden themselves physically, the Muslim Brotherhood has never hidden what it stands for. It’s not like they’re new, either. 85 years they have been around.

Were you asleep? Did you miss that whole shar’ia law part of their platform?

What did you think you were voting for? Dennis Kucinich? Richard Simmons?

Numerous US defense and foreign policy analysts knew what the Muslim Brotherhood was, what they stood for, and what they were planning to do. This is why the US stood by a dictator like Hosni Mubarak for so long. They knew if elections were held the Muslim Brotherhood would likely win, and that it would be a catastrophe for both Egypt and the US. Granted, those defense and foreign policy analysts were not working for Barack Obama, but over the years the message certainly got out.

The Confederacy wanted someone who would attack. They wanted to attack. So they picked John Bell Hood. Because he said he would attack. And he did. And he got his troops slaughtered. The Confederates were unhappy, but they have only themselves to blame. Hood did exactly what he said he would do. And they picked him anyway.

The Muslim Brotherhood is doing everything they said they would do, and in doing so have turned one of the jewels of the world into a catastrophe. But it was not Barack Obama or the US who put them in charge of Egypt. It was the Egyptians themselves. As we say here in the US, “Elections have consequences.” Shadi Al Ghazali Harb, this is not on the US. This is on you.

That they are blaming the US for their own election of the Muslim Brotherhood is a sign of political immaturity. Paradoxically, that they are acting to correct their mistake before the damage gets any worse is actually a sign of coming of age. This contradiction is not uncommon in countries whose system of government is in turmoil.

Egypt, millions of us here in the United States including yours truly love you and are rooting for you to emerge from this turmoil stronger and better than ever.

And a major step on that road to recovery is realizing that when you put John Bell Hood in charge, don’t act all shocked and angry when he attacks.

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


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Leave a Comment
  1. Alex_G @SM Hood We'd love to have your perspective. Send in your article to [email protected]
  2. SM Hood The author's summary of Sherman's Atlanta campaign against Joseph Johnston and later John Bell Hood is one of the most shallow, factually deficient pieces I have ever read on the Civil War in the West in 1864. After reading his seventh grade history class-level lecture on Sherman, Johnston, and Hood, I could stand no more. Heaven knows what his views on the current Egyptian crisis might be, or his reasoning.
  3. Alex Gauthier One bone i wanted to pick on this topic is on the American public's perception of the Muslim Brotherhood. There's no debate the militant side of the MB has plenty of atrocities under its belt, yet the more moderate elements, particularly the younger crowd, has demonstrated a dedication to nonviolence and political activism centered around community service (things like providing foods and services where the government failed). It's important to keep in mind that this movement may not be as monolithic as many Americans think. PBS has a great documentary on it here http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/revolution-in-cairo/inside-muslim-brotherhood/
  4. Charlotte Dean Fantastic analogy! I agree that the US blame game smacks of an immature democracy, where the people are still trying to internalize the idea that they are now also responsible for electoral outcomes, and the levels of manipulation by foreign powers are at their lowest in years. This is a predictable outcome, mixed in with elements of hope (young moderates rejecting islamofascism) and worry (calling for mubarak-esque resignation instead of impeachment or a special election). This democracy is so painfully nascent that traditional democratic power transitions have not the infrastructure or public awareness to reach the lips of protesters. The people are still familiarizing themselves with their new weapons, all the while distrustful that those weapons wont be spirited away by a new caliphate.
4 comments
SM Hood
SM Hood

The author's summary of Sherman's Atlanta campaign against Joseph Johnston and later John Bell Hood is one of the most shallow, factually deficient pieces I have ever read on the Civil War in the West in 1864. After reading his seventh grade history class-level lecture on Sherman, Johnston, and Hood, I could stand no more. Heaven knows what his views on the current Egyptian crisis might be, or his reasoning.

Alex Gauthier
Alex Gauthier

One bone i wanted to pick on this topic is on the American public's perception of the Muslim Brotherhood. There's no debate the militant side of the MB has plenty of atrocities under its belt, yet the more moderate elements, particularly the younger crowd, has demonstrated a dedication to nonviolence and political activism centered around community service (things like providing foods and services where the government failed). It's important to keep in mind that this movement may not be as monolithic as many Americans think. PBS has a great documentary on it here http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/revolution-in-cairo/inside-muslim-brotherhood/

Charlotte Dean
Charlotte Dean

Fantastic analogy! I agree that the US blame game smacks of an immature democracy, where the people are still trying to internalize the idea that they are now also responsible for electoral outcomes, and the levels of manipulation by foreign powers are at their lowest in years. This is a predictable outcome, mixed in with elements of hope (young moderates rejecting islamofascism) and worry (calling for mubarak-esque resignation instead of impeachment or a special election). This democracy is so painfully nascent that traditional democratic power transitions have not the infrastructure or public awareness to reach the lips of protesters. The people are still familiarizing themselves with their new weapons, all the while distrustful that those weapons wont be spirited away by a new caliphate.

Alex_G
Alex_G

@SM Hood We'd love to have your perspective. Send in your article to [email protected]