The Trump administration is conducting its foreign policy at the behest of other governments, and it makes the world a less democratic place.

The Muslim Brotherhood may soon be designated as a terrorist organisation by the United States thanks to the prodding of Egyptian autocrat Abdel Fatah el Sisi, who recently visited the White House.

US President Donald Trump cannot just snap his fingers and erase political Islam, even if Sisi convinced him he could.

The New York Times report on Tuesday describing the potential move also notes the frustration of administration officials who are already trying to scale back the designation, perhaps only to Egyptian members of the Brotherhood. 

US foreign policy supports democracy around the world, according to the State Department’s website. But if that is the case, the US president should stop taking advice from Sisi, who recently secured a mandate for power for the next decade. His regime has also executed political prisoners. 

In Sisi’s Egypt, politics itself is outlawed, and any politics pose a threat to Sisi’s rule as president, which is set to last to at least 2034.

Indeed, taking his advice runs counter to the text of various US federal government websites. And a terrorist organisation designation for the Brotherhood will go a long way to outlawing politics itself across the region. 

Outlawing politics does not make anyone safer, nor does it achieve US foreign policy goals of promoting democracy or even the “stability” that realpolitik demands. Instead, all it does it give Trump’s brain a brief burst of dopamine after receiving praise from the guy who runs Egypt as his fiefdom. 

The Brotherhood’s ideas are not going anywhere, and Trump is merely stumbling into a forever war by proxy against the expression of Islam in politics. 

Christianity expresses itself in politics in the US all the time. Sometimes the influence is helpful to human wellbeing, and sometimes it isn’t. But achieving a separation, or at least a healthy distance, between state and religion cannot happen at the point of a gun, but rather by the inclusion of religion in the democratic process of negotiation between different ideologies. 

Islamist politicians might bridle at electoral losses or setbacks, but that does not make them autocrats, just politicians. But Sisi wants politics outlawed in his own country. Getting the US to call the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation is good for Sisi, but not the US.

Bamboozling the thick-witted president of the United States has become something of an international sport. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the Michael Jordan of tricking Trump by playing to his dumbest impulses. Designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation would be as stupid a diplomatic decision as moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. It does, however, please people who happen to be in Trump’s immediate field of vision. Like an infant, dazzled and delighted by a game of peek-a-boo, the man struggles with object permanence. That is a great opportunity for men like Sisi or Netanyahu, who don’t care about what the State Department website says about democracy. 

President Barack Obama, Trump’s professorial predecessor, also made ill-considered foreign policy decisions that made the world less safe, but at least he made them himself. 

Although Trump talks about his cynical, transactional relationship with other world leaders, and boasts at rallies about wringing more money out of Saudi Arabia, he is beyond naive about the motivations of people who step into his office asking for something. It is this combination of gullible naivete, sinister cynicism, outright cruelty, and proud ignorance that makes Trump’s foreign policy so hard to understand.

Here is a good way to think about it. Getting the most powerful country in the world to do what you want is, clearly, a goal for allies and enemies of the US. This is a matter of naked self-interest for world leaders and always has been. 

Even the British Empire prompted the US to enter World War I with a doctored telegram it said it intercepted between Germany and Mexico. The Crown wanted America to enter the war against Germany, so it convinced the US foreign policy establishment at the time that Germany would invade the US with Mexican help. Although reluctant to engage in foreign entanglements, President Woodrow Wilson came to the allies aid. The entry of American soldiers into the war successfully clogged the meat grinder of the war on the Western front and helped it come to an end before it began again as World War II. 

But the meddling didn’t stop there. 

Nazi Germany then spent the 1930s trying to convince the US to stay out of the war, encouraging the idea of “America First” that was the rallying cry of Nazi sympathisers and now Trumpist windbags and racists today. 

Remaining a mere spectator to Nazi ambitions of world domination was, however, not a realistic option as America also exists on the planet the Nazis sought to dominate through war and genocide. 

In the same sense, persecuting the Muslim Brotherhood and anybody associated with it will only serve the ends of other countries who use executions and repression to outlaw politics inside their borders. But American Nazi collaborators and sympathisers were too cynically naive and racist to see their fate intertwined with the doomed millions under Hitler. 

It is that false sense of distance between the US and the world that serves as the basis for dumb ideas like designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. The US should not be an accomplice to anyone who terrorises his fellow citizens and calls it counter-terrorism, but that is precisely what Trump is doing. 

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