Manu Brabo, Associated Press
As the crisis in Egypt continues — with over 900 protestors dead and a large number of police and military casualties as well — so does the debate about what exactly should be done by the leaders in the west. Of particular interest to speculators has been what action the West, chiefly President Obama and the United States government, can take to stem the violence.
The Telegraph points out that unlike Syria, which was largely independent of Western resources and money, Egypt’s entire economy is practically based upon Western tourism and industry. “Stern firms, many of them British, are major players within its energy market: billions are owed to BP, BG Group and others, who have kept the lights on throughout the recent turbulence (even as unsustainable energy subsidies plunged the government in Cairo into debt)." This fact gives foreign governments some leverage to use when it comes to handling the chaos.
“Obama’s team has been way too indecisive,” claims Politco columnist Bruce Jentleson. “Getting away with waiting to the bottom of the ninth to make the shift away from Hosni Mubarak may have taught the wrong lesson. At one key juncture after another in Egypt, steps have been too partial, most recently with the cancellation of the Bright Star military exercise, which was not accompanied by any further significant suspension of military aid despite the military’s thumbing its nose at U.S. efforts to mediate.”
The New Republic’s Isaac Chotiner is equally displeased with how the Obama administration has handled the violence. “The president kept tripping over himself, first claiming that America follows its values, then talking about American interests, and making no attempt to synthesize the two. His announcement about the military exercise must have the junta in Egypt laughing to themselves, especially if the exercise consisted of shooting unarmed people in the head, which is something they seem good at even without (more) American training. But again, the problem is not that Obama looks weak per se; it's the policy behind the weakness. He hasn't tried to use aid as leverage (and still refuses to use the word 'coup'), he hasn't (one assumes) put much pressure on American allies who are backing the Egyptian military, and he hasn't even attempted to lay out the reasons that military rule in Egypt might, in the long term, play against American interests.”
But John Cassidy at the New Yorker counters that Obama has a very clear policy, just not one that most people would probably like to actually hear. “It isn’t that Obama is running away from the reality in Egypt, Syria, and other Middle Eastern countries, or that he doesn’t have a coherent stance towards the region. He’s got a policy, and it’s the pragmatic, self-interested approach that the United States had adopted throughout the Middle East for decades until George W. Bush blundered into Iraq. I am talking, of course, about the policy of supporting, or at least tolerating, autocratic and repressive regimes that agree to promote Western interests — a tactic that dates back to the aftermath of the First World War, when the British and the French installed a series of absolutist monarchs across the region.”
It might not be romantic, or inspiring, but then again realpolitik rarely is.
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