Now what? Quite understandably there’s been vigorous debate inside the administration about the best way to approach Morsi, and about how to use U.S. aid. What seems to be emerging is a cautious, step-by-step approach in which Morsi’s government would get U.S. support in obtaining economic assistance from the International Monetary Fund as well as a long-delayed debt-swap deal — provided that it follows through on promises to preserve the rights of women and religious minorities, respects democratic norms and preserves peace with Israel. In a visit to Cairo Sunday, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns sketched those terms following a meeting with Morsi during which he delivered a letter from Obama.
Burns didn’t publicly mention military aid, but the administration has been thinking about that, too. The consensus is it should be continued for now, but some officials believe it should eventually be restructured, reduced and focused on missions like counter-terrorism and border protection, rather than the purchase of expensive American hardware.
The Post’s deputy editorial page editor, Diehl also writes a biweekly foreign affairs column and contributes to the PostPartisan blog.
In conception, that’s not a bad plan. The challenge will be avoiding the classic pitfalls of U.S. Middle East diplomacy. One is to shower too much attention and favor on those who happen to be in power. Though the military and the Muslim Brotherhood hold the strongest cards for now, neither can be a strong or reliable partner over time. America’s real friends are Egypt’s secular democrats and its emerging middle class, who have been shoved to the sidelines but are the country’s best long-term hope.
The other big danger is that U.S. policy will be pushed back into the old ruts by Egyptian or domestic pressure. The military will resist any alteration of the aid program, or supplanting of its influence in Washington by civilian leaders. Some in Congress will demand that the administration deny aid to an Islamist government. Giving into those pressures would be the quickest way to blow this opportunity for diplomatic change — and turn Egypt into a second Pakistan.