Many Americans are outraged that a group of members of Congress led by Rep. Michele Bachmann are promoting conspiracy theories that US officials who are Muslim-American, including top State Department official Huma Abedin and several advisers to the Department of Homeland Security, are part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to infiltrate the US government. Many see Bachmann’s actions as part of a broader campaign to demonize American Muslims and marginalize them from participation in our nation’s political life.
What has gotten less attention is the impact of Bachmann’s actions on US foreign policy in the Middle East. Like the United States, the Middle East suffers from its share of conspiracy theories and many of the Middle East’s conspiracy theories revolve around the United States government. In particular, there is a widespread conspiracy theory in Egypt that the US government has deliberately engineered the success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s recent elections.
Unfortunately, the popularity of such conspiracy theories in Egypt has real consequences for the United States. Many people in Egypt and the United States would like US officials to speak forthrightly about violations of human rights in Egypt, regardless of which party controls the Egyptian government. The Egyptian government receives significant US military and economic aid, and so people in Egypt and the US correctly perceive that the US bears some responsibility for the Egyptian government’s actions. But when the political climate is such that many Egyptians see a dark conspiracy behind every utterance of US officials, that has the effect of discrediting anything US officials might say about human rights and of discouraging them from saying anything. That’s not good for the United States and it’s not good for the cause of human rights in Egypt, which, as in other countries – including the US – benefits from outside scrutiny. (If there had been no international criticism, maybe Bradley Manning would still be in solitary confinement.)
In this context, the US has worked to avoid doing things that would contribute to a public perception in Egypt that the US is backing one faction over another.
But conspiracy theorists in Egypt who claim that the US is behind the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood have cited Bachmann’s charges as evidence for their claims. Thus, Bachmann’s conspiracy-mongering directly undermines US policy in Egypt.
Although many Americans see Bachmann as a marginal figure in US politics, such distinctions are easily lost in translation. Bachmann was “taken seriously” for a time as a presidential candidate and today she is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Outside the US, her membership in the Intelligence Committee sounds to many like a real credential. And this is why Bachmann’s membership in the Intelligence Committee is a serious concern for US policy in the region.
Former US officials, NGO leaders and academics concerned with US policy in the region are circulating a letter to Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi, urging that the anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists on the House Intelligence Committee be replaced. The letter is reproduced below:
To Protect US Interests, Replace Anti-Muslim Conspiracy Theorists on the House Intelligence Committee
Dear Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi:
We write out of concern for the impact on U.S. interests in the Muslim world of the actions of some Members of Congress in promoting anti-Muslim conspiracy theories suggesting that top U.S. officials who are Muslim-American are part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to infiltrate the U.S. government.
As you are aware, Reps. Michele Bachmann, Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Thomas Rooney and Lynn Westmoreland recently wrote to various government agencies and asked them to investigate the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood on U.S. officials who are Muslim-American, targeting top State Department official Huma Abedin and several advisers to the Department of Homeland Security.
As you are also no doubt aware, the promotion of these conspiracy theories by Members of Congress has been cited by conspiracy theorists in Egypt as evidence for the claim that the U.S. government has deliberately helped engineer the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This has come at a time when the U.S. government has worked hard to avoid any public perception that it is backing one faction over another in Egypt’s nascent democracy.
The United States Government spends significant resources in the Muslim world working to combat various conspiracy theories, such as the claim that the U.S. government has engineered the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. By promoting these conspiracy theories, these Members of Congress are undermining U.S. policy in the region.
Just as many Americans are not familiar with the roles and significance of various officials in foreign governments, many people in other countries are not familiar with the roles and significance of various officials in the U.S. government. The promotion of these conspiracy theories by Members of Congress can thus have an outsized influence in the Muslim world compared to the influence of these same Members of Congress in U.S. domestic politics.
The leadership of the House doesn’t get to choose who voters in a particular district elect to Congress. But the leadership of the House does get to choose who serves on the House Intelligence Committee. Three of these five Members of Congress – Reps. Michele Bachmann, Thomas Rooney and Lynn Westmoreland – currently serve on the House Intelligence Committee. Their tenure on the Intelligence Committee – where they have oversight over U.S. intelligence agencies – can be cited in the Muslim world as giving credence to their conspiracy theories among people who have limited knowledge about how the U.S. government works. Rep. Bachmann’s advocacy of these conspiracy theories is particularly damaging to U.S. interests because of her greater prominence, including the fact that for a time she was taken seriously as a presidential candidate.
Despite considerable criticism across the political spectrum, these Members of Congress have refused to disavow their actions.
We therefore urge you to act to replace them as Members of the Intelligence Committee.
cc: Mike Rogers, chair, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Dutch Ruppersberger, Ranking Member, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Signers [in formation]:
Samuel M. Hoskinson, Former Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council; National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and South Asia; Former senior member of the National Security Council staff in three presidential Administrations; Former Deputy Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs
Haviland Smith, Retired CIA Station Chief, Chief of the Counterterrorism Staff and Executive Assistant in the Director’s office
William C. Harrop, Former Inspector General, Department of State, former U.S ambassador to Guinea, Kenya, Zaire and Israel
Dennis Jett, former Ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, Professor of International Affairs, Penn State University
Pat Kushlis, U.S. Foreign Service Officer (Ret.), cowriter, WhirledView
Timothy Towell, former Ambassador to Paraguay
Stephen Kinzer, Author, Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future
Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan
Ervand Abrahamian, Distinguished Professor of History, City University of New York
Kenneth Cuno, Associate Professor of History and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Illinois
Hadi S. Esfahani, Professor of Economics, University of Illinois
Carolyn Eisenberg, Professor of U.S. foreign policy, Hofstra University
Matthew P. Hoh, Senior Fellow, Center for International Policy
Gareth Porter, Investigative journalist and historian
Kevin Martin, Executive Director, Peace Action
Mark Weisbrot, co-director, Center for Economic and Policy Research
John Feffer, author, Crusade 2.0: The West’s Resurgent War on Islam
Robert Naiman, Policy Director, Just Foreign Policy