It must be the fault of Other People, you know
For a moment, at least, American and European diplomats trying to defuse the volatile standoff in Egypt thought they had a breakthrough.
As thousands of Islamist supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, braced for a crackdown by the military-imposed government, a senior European diplomat, Bernardino León, told the Islamists of “indications” from the leadership that within hours it would free two imprisoned opposition leaders. In turn, the Islamists had agreed to reduce the size of two protest camps by about half.
An hour passed, and nothing happened. Another hour passed, and still no one had been released.
The Americans heightened the pressure. Two senators visiting Cairo, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, met with Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the officer who ousted Mr. Morsi and appointed the new government, and the interim prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, and pushed for the release of the two prisoners. But the Egyptians brushed them off.
“You could tell people were itching for a fight,” Mr. Graham recalled in an interview. “The prime minister was a disaster. He kept preaching to me: ‘You can’t negotiate with these people. They’ve got to get out of the streets and respect the rule of law.’ I said: ‘Mr. Prime Minister, it’s pretty hard for you to lecture anyone on the rule of law. How many votes did you get? Oh, yeah, you didn’t have an election.’ ” (snip)
The next morning, the government issued a statement declaring that diplomatic efforts had been exhausted and blaming the Islamists for any casualties from the coming crackdown. A week later, Egyptian forces opened a ferocious assault that so far has killed more than 1,000 protesters.
See? It’s the fault of McCain and Graham! And perhaps a few others. And what’s Bystander In Chief Obama supposed to do?
The violent crackdown has left Mr. Obama in a no-win position: risk a partnership that has been the bedrock of Middle East peace for 35 years, or stand by while longtime allies try to hold on to power by mowing down opponents. From one side, the Israelis, Saudis and other Arab allies have lobbied him to go easy on the generals in the interest of thwarting what they see as the larger and more insidious Islamist threat. From the other, an unusual mix of conservatives and liberals has urged him to stand more forcefully against the sort of autocracy that has been a staple of Egyptian life for decades.
Mr. Obama has found Egypt’s tumultuous political transition a headache for more than two years. Accused of sticking for too long by President Hosni Mubarak, the longtime ruler in Egypt who was ousted by a popular uprising in 2011, and then criticized when he later abandoned him, Mr. Obama gambled on Mr. Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader elected a year ago. He found Mr. Morsi a useful and pragmatic partner in handling issues like a violent flare-up in Gaza. But Mr. Obama became convinced that the Egyptian was not being inclusive enough at home to stabilize his own country.
In all seriousness, the full measure of Blame is on Egypt. But, Mr. Obama surely hasn’t helped, and has made the situation worse with his leading-from-behind whishy washyness. His vacation time-out comment on Egypt last week has been called tepid and timid by people on the left and right, and seemed to highlight his preference for the Muslim Brotherhood. We saw little else from Obama during the previous years that Egypt has been having issues. This is not to Blame Obama, but as an ally of Egypt’s, and a nation that is supposed to stand for liberty, this whole Smart Power schtick is a bloody failure.
One thing to note: we can’t fault Obama and his admin for condemning the violence. While they certainly do not seem to understand the threat from the Islamists in whole and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular (something Egyptians seem to understand), the US can’t be seen as supporting this type of crackdown. But, we should also note that Team Obama is failing to condemn that his buddies in the Muslim Brotherhood are burning Christian churches all over Egypt.
And, unsurprisingly, Egypt may be turning to Russia in the face of worthless measures by the Obama administration, which seems to practice “how to lose friends and alienate people.”