Meanwhile, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has charged Obama with a lack of leadership on foreign policy issues from Syria to Iran to Russia to the European financial crisis, but neither Romney nor his surrogates have weighed in with a better idea on Egypt.
Even to Republicans, Egypt seems to exemplify the rule that there is only so much a U.S. president can do to run the world.
More than any of the Arab Spring countries, U.S. policy toward Egypt since its revolution began last year has been hemmed in on all sides. The secular democracy the administration once envisioned has not materialized because — as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said ruefully last week — the youthful demonstrators who started the revolution “decided they wouldn’t really get involved in politics. ”
Attempts to organize them through aid to nongovernmental organizations backfired, leading to complaints of U.S. interference.
When the Muslim Brotherhood emerged as the only truly organized civilian force, the administration was faced with accepting an outcome that it had hoped to avoid. It has tried to swallow its concerns even as it has warned Islamists that Egypt’s precarious economy is not likely to survive the international isolation that extremism might provoke.
As an Islamic electoral victory appeared certain, Egypt’s generals threatened to renege on their promise to cede the power they have held since the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
In the past two weeks, the military has shut the doors of the newly elected parliament, written new constitutional powers for itself, and delayed revealing the outcome of the presidential vote. On Friday, after results of last weekend’s election were delayed, tens of thousands of Egyptians returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to warn of chaos to come.
The Obama administration defended the Egyptian military this year from a Democratic-led attempt in Congress to punish it with an aid cutoff. Now some U.S. lawmakers have renewed the push for punishment. But there is little indication that the generals are listening.
The Egyptian crisis, a former senior U.S. military official said, is a lesson on whether the era of buying relationships with powerful militaries abroad has outlived its usefulness. “What do we mean by a relationship? What are the pieces of it? In one sense, we gave them a lot of money,” he said. “That held us together.”