What Next for U.S. Foreign Policy in Egypt?

Around the web, commentators remark upon the latest developments in Egypt, declaring it a lose-lose outcome for the U.S., which risks losing it best regional ally, and of course for the Egyptian people, who find their political scene fractured beyond repair.

New York Times columnist Roger Cohen outlines the importance of the so-called Arab Spring:

For the United States and Europe, this amounts to a colossal strategic failure. Nothing — and certainly not the outcome in Afghanistan or Iraq — was more important than getting Egypt right. President Obama, who began his presidency with an attempt to build bridges to the Arab and Muslim world through a speech in Cairo, has seen his greatest failure in that very city. Post-Tahrir Egypt stands now as a monument to America’s declining influence in the world, even in a nation receiving $1.5 billion in annual aid.

Looking forward, the diplomatic path looks increasingly fraught:

What now? A knee-jerk reaction would be to cut off U.S. military aid. That, however, would only increase the possibility of internal and regional mayhem. It is tempting, given the Egyptian military’s unconscionable attack on its own citizens, but should be resisted. The real lesson in Egypt is of America’s dwindling power under a wavering president whose hesitancy reflects that of most Americans after a decade of interventions. The price Egypt will pay has only just begun to be reckoned.

At the New Yorker, David Remnick writes:

Leaders and diplomats in the West, meanwhile, have run up against the limits of their influence. The task of statesmen is, often enough, to utter the indefensible and the insupportable in the greater interest of their nation. The Obama Administration has carefully avoided using the word “coup”—a linguistic trip wire that would trigger the automatic withdrawal of the $1.3 billion in aid that Washington annually remits to Egypt. On August 1st, a month after the coup, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the Army was “restoring democracy.” In his parsing of events, “The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people. . . . The military did not take over, to the best of our judgment—so far.”

So is there any way to salvage seeming progress toward democracy, in the wake of such a violent upending? Remnick articulates the difficulty of the U.S.’ position, but argues that leaders must stay engaged:

When White House advisers formulate a position that they believe is correct but which manages to repel everyone, they say that they have “hit the sweet spot.” In Egypt, they have struck it with regularity. Obama has succeeded in angering Egypt’s Islamists, its military, and what few liberals remain on the scene—this is the price we pay, above all, for decades of fealty to Hosni Mubarak. But the Administration also insists on the need to stay engaged, even with a military leadership as heedless and as brutal as Sisi’s. After all, it says, if the U.S. withholds its relatively modest contribution, Russia, among others, will surely rush in to make up the shortfall and gain the kind of foothold it has not had in Egypt since it was kicked out by Anwar Sadat, in the early nineteen-seventies.

[New York Times; New Yorker]

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4 Responses to "What Next for U.S. Foreign Policy in Egypt?"

  1. B urk   August 19, 2013 at 11:10 am

    The unfortunate part of this is the bitter feud between the Egyptian military and the M. brotherhood. But the military was playing along reasonably well during Morsi's year in power, and if we don't do anything rash, shows a high likelihood of sticking to their word of not taking power directly, but setting up a credible civilian administration. I think that Egyptians were broadly revulsed by Morsi's powergrabbing and incompetence, and the military is in large part still acting as a generally representative institution. Cutting off aid not would not be helpful. What would be helpful would be to keep making clear that future aid will disappear if the military does not keep its word to transition to a better-run form of civilian rule. Pure democracy has its problems, as our founders were very well aware of. Popular mandates can be poorly thought out and poorly executed, as in the case of the MB, which were headed to one-party rule.

  2. simple mind   August 20, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Just another example of the US cheering free and fair elections, then trying to undo the result (viz. Hamas in Palestine). Damn right Sisi is brutal. Just take a look at that mug on Wikipedia!

  3. Dave   August 20, 2013 at 10:52 am

    So did the U.S. have prior knowledge, and go along?

  4. Frank in SF   August 20, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    The failure of US foreign policy in Egypt and other countries in Syriana is a further example of the incompetence of the Obama Administration. In large matters and small, the Obama team has a problem using words with common meaning to describe a situation that is apparent to all observers, even the most myopic and ideological. It is as if HC Andersen's parable was describing the posturing and preening of President Obama and the sycophancy of his retinue.