On Egypt, Paralysis and Entangling Alliances
Robert Merry at The National Interest laments President Obama’s wishy-washy stance on the events in Egypt. Following the second overthrow of the government in as many years, “one might ask where Obama has stood on the momentous questions facing the Egyptian polity in recent days,” Merry writes. “The answer is that he has stood at various locations at various times—and hence nowhere at any time.”
Obama indeed seems to be walking a rhetorical line. It’s not a coup, but he’s unhappy about the affront to democracy; Morsi was duly elected, but wasn’t a good democrat; by law, the military’s actions negate U.S. aid, but we’re not going to discontinue it. Obama is wary of taking a strong stance either way because either way, he’s going to offend people that he is beholden to.
Undoubtedly, Washington has its own neck in the game in Egypt. No force in Egypt is as close to Washington as the Egyptian Army, reliant as it is on the flow of weapons, money, and military training. So the Obama administration is hesitant to take a hard line against military coups and for democratic processes because, heck, the military is the epitome of what America wants in an obedient, undemocratic client state.
That said, the Obama administration is visibly embarrassed by its own reluctance to show the world it supports democracy in Egypt. But there are other forces pulling at Washington to stick with the military.
As Paul Mutter at the popular Egypt blog The Arabist writes, “the US’ important security partners, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are gleeful at Morsi’s removal – the Saudi response arrived quickly from the King himself, to ‘strongly shake hands‘ with the military. The Emiratis pronounced themselves pleased, too, following ‘with satisfaction‘ the ouster of Morsi.” Similarly, Mutter continues, “Israel is not unhappy to see Morsi go, and will probably refrain from making loud noises about his departure…”
“So,” Mutter asks, “with Saudi Arabia and the UAE visibly pleased by the coup, and Israel unlikely to complain in private about developments, what is the US to do?”
Three of Washington’s foremost allies welcome the forcible ouster of the duly elected (and admittedly unsavory) Morsi/Muslim Brotherhood. So even if the Obama administration were to stand on democratic principle, in the vein of Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech that declared, “No system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by another,” and openly criticize the Egyptian military and cut off aid, it would still be hampered by its close relationship to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel.
National myths about the purity and wisdom of the Founding Fathers are usually fallacious and the one about America’s early isolationist policies, avoiding entangling alliances with the Old World, is no exception. George Washington’s farewell address is nevertheless a pointed critique of America’s current diplomatic and military commitment to virtually the entire world. “Nothing is more essential,” Washington said, “than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded.”
“The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave,” he added. “It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.”
If we weren’t so beholden to the interests of the aforementioned nations, we might be more apt to do the right thing in Egypt – namely, to stay the hell out of it.
“What’s the lesson for America?” asks Robert Merry. “It is that we should stay out of the internal politics of other nations because our involvement inevitably tosses us into inconsistent and even hypocritical postures and makes us look like a sanctimonious nation.”
Indeed it does, but Merry then goes on to say this means our policy should be to continue the $1.6 billion in aid regardless of what happens on the ground in Egypt (“that’s for Egyptians to decide,” he says). Merry’s advocacy of non-intervention should extend to the termination of all foreign aid, for it is all an attempt to peddle for influence and control. That inevitably draws us in to their internal affairs, and into hypocrisy, sanctimony, and wickedness.