As the death toll from the massacres continues to mount in Egypt, critics are taking this as an opportunity to excoriate President Obama for his handling of the crisis. Of course, it would be far easier for the White House to defend its policy toward Egypt if anyone could make heads or tails of what it was.
From the outset of the Egyptian unrest in 2011, America's loyalties have been either muddled or nonexistent. While this nation stated its opposition the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak, no effort was made to keep him in power, and the United States was quick to recognize the authority and legitimacy of his coup-sanctioned successor, Mohammed Morsi.
But as Morsi's presidency quickly began to squander its claims to democratic legitimacy, America watched. As unrest over Morsi's blind eye to sectarian violence and his utter economic incompetence devolved into protest, America stood by. As mass protest morphed into military action, America tacitly accepted what looked like a coup, as if a military junta might be the best steward of Egypt's sputtering democratic aspirations.
But now as public protests between Egypt's factions turn into full-fledged battles, the world watches helplessly as Egyptians' hopes for freedom, reform and prosperity now go up in flames, literally.
This is why ForeignPolicy.com rightly describes U.S. Egyptian strategy as "speak softly and carry no stick."
To wit, President Obama has stated that, "America cannot determine the future of Egypt. That's a task for the Egyptian people. We don't take sides with any particular party or political figure." In other words, the USA will wait it out while the Egyptians slaughter each other, and then we'll talk with whomever is left standing if and when the bloodshed subsides. That kind of cynicism is a colossal embarrassment to this administration and a major blow to the international credibility of the United States.
To be fair, it is exceedingly difficult to look at this conflict and sort out the good guys from the bad guys or come up with a clear course of action that would effectively improve the situation. And after over a decade of United States military invention in the Middle East, few have any appetite for further investment of American lives and treasure in yet another regional conflict in that troubled part of the world.
But at the very least, U.S. leaders should be, exceedingly clear about expectations for the kind of Egyptian ally that our nation can best support. Specifically, it is an Egyptian government that honors the dignity and worth of each Egyptian by protecting rights of conscience, personhood and property through the rule of law and constitutional democracy.
This administration's public hand wringing, along with ludicrous assertions by Secretary of State John Kerry that a political solution is still a possibility, make the U.S. look both impotent and ridiculous. But standing by and keeping options open seems to be more important than helping the Egyptian people. Witness, for example, this administration's refusal to acknowledge Morsi's military ouster as a coup d'état, thereby leaving the door open to continued financial support of whatever Egyptian government emerges from the wreckage.
This isn't just a bad policy. It's no policy at all.