President Obama backed Mohamed Morsi to the hilt. He now refuses to back away from the military junta that has killed more than 500 and injured thousands. His only rule for Egypt is, it seems: Back whoever is in power at the moment. This is not a policy; it is the refusal to exercise leadership and it, not surprisingly, results in increased anti-Americanism when we reflexively back whomever is currently oppressing the Egyptian people. So much for the notion that national security adviser Susan Rice was going to bring about a foreign policy more robust and attentive to human rights.
In his statement today, the president’s logic was hard to follow. He announced:
While Mohammed Morsi was elected president in a democratic election, his government was not inclusive and did not respect the views of all Egyptians. We know that many Egyptians, millions of Egyptians, perhaps even a majority of Egyptians were calling for a change in course.
And while we do not believe that force is the way to resolve differences, after the military’s intervention several weeks ago there remained a chance for reconciliation and an opportunity to pursue a democratic path.
So much for democracy, huh? Is there anything in there that sounds like the military acted in an illegitimate way? This is not democracy prevention but anti-democracy prevention.
But wait. Obama then condemns the violence (so a bloodless coup would have be fine?): “The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government and security forces. We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest. We oppose the pursuit of martial law, which denies those rights to citizens under the principle that security trumps individual freedom or that might makes right.”
So we’re suspending aid, right? Oh, not at all. We’ll cancel a joint military exercise (inevitable I would think since the Egyptian military is busy killing its own people). But because we have such a warm relationship with Egypt, we won’t cut off financial or even military assistance.
His blather as to his hopes for Egyptian democracy is meaningless so long as we are propping up the government that defies democracy and human rights.
He acts as if our incoherence should be a point of pride. (“We’ve been blamed by supporters of Morsi. We’ve been blamed by the other side as if we are supporters of Morsi.”) In fact this is an implicit admission that no one can figure out what the heck we’re for and against. The president decries the notion that the United States should pick winners in Egypt, but by his actions he has been supporting everyone who temporarily grabs power. That is the antithesis of democracy promotion and leaves us looking foolish and inept. He should have stayed on the golf course.
UPDATE: Reaction to the statement by right-leaning foreign policy gurus has been swift and brutal. Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute observes:
“You’d think in light of the slow motion collapse of the Middle East, the President of the United States might do more than string together a series of platitudes. Events in Egypt are not America’s doing, but they will affect us mightily, and will require [having and] applying some principles and engaging aggressively. This isn’t something you do between the 7th and 8th hole.”
And Middle East expert Reuel Marc Gerecht e-mails me, “There was so little in the President’s speech. He chose not to call a coup a coup and follow crystal clear US law; now since the coup has drawn lots of blood, and will surely draw much, much more, he is in an untenable situation but is still handcuffed by his first mistake.” He adds, “The president has turned a bad situation into a worse one.”
Even before today’s presidential utterance, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared: “This is a test of American leadership, from Benghazi to Cairo, to Damascus, we’re — to Baghdad, we’re failing across the board. Obama’s foreign policy is not working. The Middle East is literally in flames. And the biggest prize of all is Egypt. If we lose Egypt, if Egypt becomes a failed fractured state, I just cannot imagine what Israel’s future looks like.”