President Barack Obama briefly interrupted his fourth vacation of the year to issue an audio-only statement about the Egyptian crisis, which has to make this one of the most lackadaisical presidential statements in history, culminating in the announcement that America would cancel a joint exercise with the Egyptian military to express our displeasure. Having deposited this short statement, Obama promptly returned to the golf course. It’s a wonder he didn’t just demand the Egyptians leave him alone to eat his waffle in peace.
Unfortunately, Obama foreign policy has left American without influence in Egypt, the Middle East, or much of anywhere else, for that matter. Both sides of the Egyptian conflict despise Barack Obama in roughly equal measure. There’s not much the President could do, other than speak loudly and hope nobody notices he has neither a stick, nor carrots. If canceling aid to the Egyptian military is off the table, there’s not much left to say.
The President spoke of how “democratic transitions are measured not in months, or even years, but sometimes in generations.” He didn’t talk like that back when his Administration was eagerly throwing Hosni Mubarak face-first through the saloon doors. If that particular democratic transition had been managed more carefully, Egypt might not have been saddled with Mohammed Morsi’s domineering but inept Muslim Brotherhood government. Perhaps Mubarak had to go, but the Brotherhood didn’t have to be what replaced him.
Although he spent most of his time castigating the Egyptian interim government, Obama did mention the offenses of the Muslim Brotherhood, to his credit: “Let me say that the Egyptian people deserve better than what we’ve seen over the last several days. And to the Egyptian people, let me say the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop. We call on the Egyptian authorities to respect the universal rights of the people. We call on those who are protesting to do so peacefully and condemn the attacks that we’ve seen by protesters, including on churches. We believe that the state of emergency should be lifted, that a process of national reconciliation should begin, that all parties need to have a voice in Egypt’s future, that the rights of women and religious minorities should be respected, and that commitments must be kept to pursue transparent reforms to the constitution and democratic elections of a parliament and a president.”
Obama very delicately referred to the fall of the Morsi regime as “the military’s intervention several weeks ago,” because the much more obvious term “coup” would trigger the suspension of aid under U.S. law. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who has been trying to halt military aid to Egypt, issued a statement after Obama’s speech restating this point. “While President Obama ???condemns the violence in Egypt???, his Administration continues to send billions of taxpayer dollars to help pay for it,” said Paul. “The law is very clear when a coup d???état takes place, foreign aid must stop, regardless of the circumstances. With more than 500 dead and thousands more injured this week alone, chaos only continues to grow in Egypt. So Mr. President, stop skirting the issue, follow the law, and cancel all foreign aid to Egypt.”
“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” said President Obama, right before announcing that the only aspect of our traditional cooperation that wouldn’t be continuing was the biannual joint military exercise. Even those who wonder if the full story of this conflict between the Coup Lite government and Morsi loyalists has been told – were those Brotherhood camps really just “protests” and “demonstrations?” – may find the current contortions of the Obama Administration bizarre, and distressingly indicative of American weakness. However it began, the bloody reality in the streets of Egypt – with a death toll now surpassing five hundred – is impossible to ignore. The Obama Administration, on the other hand, remains fairly easy to ignore.
Update: Adding a dash of pathos to Obama’s serving of weaksauce, Daniel Greenfield of Front Page Magazine points out that the Egyptians already canceled the exercise Obama just announced he would cancel.