Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made an aggressive gambit last month to win broad international support — most specifically American and European support — for military intervention to fight ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) in Libya — his first foray onto the global battlefield. Clearly, this is not his first bold act. His speech challenging Islamists to consider the violent dimensions in the texts of Islam confronted terrorists on the ideological front. But, just as his ideological challenge received scant attention in the West, his strategic challenge was also rebuffed.

Some claim the rejection occurred because of Sisi's human rights violations at home. Others claim it was nothing more than the recalcitrance of Europe and the U.S. to get involved. After ISIS issued a video showing the beheadings of 21 Coptic Egyptians and the immolation of a Jordanian pilot, Sisi felt obliged to attack targets in Libya.


Some U.N. officials contend Sisi lacks credibility because of his crackdown on "moderate Islamists," albeit Sisi supporters contend the crackdown, when it did occur, was aimed at members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group now banned in the country. There is another concern that Egyptian involvement in neighboring Libya could alienate moderate Islamists, scuttling a chance for political reconciliation in that troubled nation. It should be noted that the adjectival phrase "moderate" has many meanings in the Middle East.

For example, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), along with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, contend that there are moderate members of the Muslim Brotherhood with whom the U.S. could sensibly negotiate. Sisi vigorously challenges this contention. In fact, he argues — with justification — that the Muslim Brotherhood created al Qaeda and militant extremists like the ISIS with targeted funding.

Within Egypt, Sisi's militant posture toward ISIS has won broad approval. It appears that his stature is also emerging in the region. Most of the Gulf States quietly approve of his actions and even Israel, soto voce, supports the efforts of the Egyptian president.

With ISIS exploiting porous borders in the Middle East neighborhood, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Libya may all be in a war zone of one kind or another. Recognizing the threat from ISIS and the imperial ambitions of Iran, it would make sense to organize a defense condominium led by Egypt in which other nations in the Gulf pool their military assets and coordinate their battle plans.

If the U.S. administration recognized its interests in the region instead of focusing on withdrawal, it could use its diplomatic influence to forge this military alliance. Even if boots on the ground were not deployed, the U.S. could provide logical assistance and some military hardware.

First, of course, Sisi should be recognized as an ally in the global effort against Islamic extremism, and Egypt should be recognized as the obvious Sunni Arab nation leading this union — what I have dubbed the NATO of the Middle East. This emerging alliance could be the counterweight to Shiite aspirations and the stabilizing influence in an area that has only known chaos. Moreover, U.S. involvement would be limited, but critical. President Obama is likely to reject such a proposal, since he hasn't warmed to Sisi since the military takeover of the government two years ago. But the president may be left with few options. His very limited war doctrine, which beseeches the Congress to restrict the war power of the executive, and his half-hearted attempt at bombing "safe" areas in Syria and Iraq, will fail — in fact, are failing.

Whether he likes it or not, President Obama will soon be searching for alternative remedies for his futile efforts. These alternatives are staring him in the face, if he will only look.

London is president of the London Center for Policy Research.