The Rear Admiral was a rare specimen among his peers, in the extent of his command of the English language.
The Egyptian Army sent him as an envoy to a particularly important foreign capital to woo skeptics of the current political process.
His graceful mingling among guests, his ability to dabble in small talk and toss light compliments, offered a breath of fresh air to what I was used to from decorated officers.
But then he began to talk politics, and it was downhill from there.
“People abroad say this is a military-backed government,” he said referring to the post July 3rd setup. “And I tell them ‘no, this is a military-backed country!'”
Part of the audience tensed their necks in a visible double take, while others exchanged furrowed eyebrows and silently wondered if they’d just heard what they actually just heard.
Without missing a beat, and adding carnage to damage, the Admiral went on to describe how Egypt as a country “depends” on the military, and how the Armed Forces are indispensable to the management of all walks of life within the state.
“But politics is always left to politicians.”
What followed was the longest and most boring justification of July 3rd I had ever heard, especially in view of the fact that everyone there that day were supportive of ousting the Muslim Brotherhood.
That support notwithstanding, we were made to listen as the Admiral likened the previous President to a taxi driver and the people to a passenger. “So you hire a taxi, and you agree on a fare, but the driver starts taking a route you’re not familiar with. ‘Where are you going,’ you ask the driver, but he just tells you he knows where he’s going and that you shouldn’t worry. Then the road gets darker and you ask him again…”
This narrative is astoundingly made to last for ten minutes, and it didn’t matter that feet shifted, eyes rolled, and the “uhuhs” came in short impatient intervals as we tried to show the Admiral that we all got. the. damn. point!
“In the end you’re only left with two options: either you attack the driver, cause him a head injury and risk the car swerving into a river (wtf?), or you take your phone and dial 911, and this is what the people did.”
Someone quipped that we shouldn’t be surprised if we heard the Admiral’s voice next time we called 911. Sniggers rippled across the room, but the Admiral remained unshaken.
Eventually a guest was able to squeeze in a question about Sinai.
“We are fighting a war over there,” the Admiral sternly said. Not an insurgency, not a security operation, not a battle. This was an all out war against elements of dark radicalism and heinous terrorism that bore serious consequences on the entire region. This was the message being expounded.
Another question followed about how the Army is doing in this raging war.
“We’re doing everything we can and we’re making huge advances, but so far we’ve had 280 attacks in the last six months, and the gas pipeline has been hit 17 times since. Moreover, the terrorists now have the ability to target our helicopters.”
Was it just me, or did everyone else feel the palpable irony. I couldn’t tell.
“And instead of helping us in the war, the American Administration is holding back arms shipments that are essential to our war efforts.”
How exactly are F-16s, Harpoon missiles, and Abrams battle tanks going to help win the war against cave-dwelling terrorists with manpads in a mountainous topography? Bigger armies tried and, guess what, they failed.
“But let me assure you about one thing,” the Admiral volunteered, “coordination with Israel has never been better. In fact I would say it’s perfect.”
This was a man who knew his audience well. But if only those media pundits could hear him now exalting cooperation and chumminess with Israel when all they could talk of is how their blessed Army is finally standing firm to “America” and all its allies. It was one of the starkest examples of “Doublethink” I’d ever come across.
“Amos Gilad [director of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau at Israel’s Defense Ministry] is a frequent flier to Egypt,” the Admiral merrily went on. “He spends more time in Cairo than he spends in Jerusalem. Israel understands our situation. Even US congressmen know this and ask their administration why are you doing this to the Egyptian Army.”
Is it any wonder that Tea Party stalwarts are strong supporters of the junta?
“What America must realize, is that we do not need their 1.3 billion,” said the Admiral sounding more like a bitter maiden who’d just been betrayed by her betrothed. “That is an insignificant amount which we can raise in weeks (from other donor countries who we will gladly sell ourselves to instead). The real issue here is the symbolism behind this 1.3 billion. It symbolizes our long and lasting relationship, and the question is whether Washington is keen on maintaining this relationship.”
This conversation unfortunately occurred before the historic trip to Moscow, so the Admiral could not brag about how the United States must be cowering in fear and regret. It also unfortunately preceded the discovery of the cure for AIDS, questions thereof I would have loved to hear the Admiral answer.
Perhaps to end our misery and redeem the time we wasted, a senior foreign official asked the Admiral how his government could help Egypt.
“At this difficult time we need all the support we can get.”
Pressed on what type of support, the Admiral asserted “All type of support. Political, economic, and military.”
Asked again, politely, if he could possibly wrangle the lonely thoughts in his head and muster something more concrete, the Admiral came up with “we know that our friends will find the right ways to help us.”
Call it brevity of vision, paucity of ideas, or malaise of thought, our Army officers are all the same, no matter how decorated or polished they may be.