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home : opinions : opinions November 20, 2014

7/17/2013 6:00:00 AM
Column: US stance on Egypt sets bad precedent
McCains' comment.

U.S. suggested compromise, Morsi rejected.

F-16s to Egypt.

Parliament dissolved.

Tom Cantlon
Courier Columnist

The way we are dealing with the change in Egypt is terribly wrong, damaging, blatant and illustrative.

Mind you, President Morsi needed to go. He clearly had no respect for the cultural variety of his own country. He needed to be removed, though, by way of the earliest possible elections that could be forced on him, with his own party as one option in that election - a fresh read of the people's will. Instead he was run out by the military. Some of the country cheered, some were outraged.

Our most telling role in this is that we give Egypt about $1.5 billion in aid a year, mostly in military support. Our own laws declare that if there is a military coup, we have to end that support. As of this writing, we have not.

This is the worst possible reaction. Even if we are glad Morsi is out, we have in effect said, "Yeah, democracy was inconvenient in this situation and we like the coup result, so it's okay with us." Even if we support what we hope the military will do, there were ways to make a show of supporting democracy. Prior to the coup we could have warned that the funds would be cut off. Or after the coup we could have announced the cutting off of funds, even while we sent quiet messages to the military leaders not to worry, that the funding would be restored as soon as the interim government holds elections. Senator McCain has called for something similar.

On the contrary, the administration has gone the other direction and announced that the scheduled delivery of four F-16 fighter jets will go ahead as planned. We're not even going to let them sweat it out any. It's like giving them a gold star for a job well done.

I have only partially followed events since the revolution, but I'm left with the impression that every party in this drama acted badly. Morsi showed little interest in running the country so that it could accommodate other religions besides Islam, or secularists. Then again he didn't have much chance to govern well. The top court, full of pre-revolution appointees, declared the parliament invalid, leaving Morsi a ruler with no structure to operate in. There are claims others undermined him. That the police simply would not show up to straighten out traffic jams or pursue crimes. Then within days after Morsi is gone, they're all back busy on the job. There had been long frustrating lines for inadequate gasoline supplies. Then days after his ouster there is plenty. None of that is a defense of Morsi, just a fact, that everyone is out for their own interests, in non-democratic ways. The administration did try to talk Morsi into accepting compromise and setting elections, to preserve democracy, but when Morsi refused we seem to have sided with the military; a military that wants to maintain power but, as I heard someone say, without the messy obligation of actually governing.

We have strategic interests in the region and want a strong Egyptian military for those reasons. Most of the problems we have in the region, though, are blowback from our meddling over the decades. Still, the way this has been handled sends the message that we are all big talk and pompous fluff about important principles, yet just the same as any other country or faction; power first and principles when convenient.

A lot of people involved in the Arab Spring were not angels. They were hoping there own faction would gain in the process. But there was also a lot of genuine desire for something like democracy, for some degree of tolerance, for some ruling power that's smart enough to know that ruling for the people is the best way to success. This coup, though cheered by some, is one more blow to those aspirations. What bitter irony to have world's lantern of democracy confirm that.

The Mid-East uprisings began with people casting their lives on the barricades of democratic revolt, often literally, with all the earnestness of protestors convinced that if all the people rise up they must be heeded, and willing to risk all to support that momentum. It ends with the U.S., of all places, saying, "Coup? Sure. Why not?". The prologue to the Arab Spring belonged to small, brave protestors raging, "Give me liberty or give me death!" The epilogue belongs to the U.S., responding to democracy's failure with a mere, thoughtless shrug.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, July 19, 2013
Article comment by: Cordes Coyote

Hey, you know all that completely wrong-headed geopolitical policy you folks did to other countries all those years ago in the name of capitalism? Its consequences are coming home to roost now in things like the Iraq and Afghan Wars and Arab Spring. And my generation gets to deal with it while yours spends my tax dollars on comfortable retirement and expensive deaths, all while complaining about the entitled young people. Cheers and enjoy the free healthcare!

Don't forget to vote yourself some more benefits, and complain about the state of the world you left behind.

Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2013
Article comment by: We Don't Need No Stinking Democracy

They like a guy who knows how to crack a whip. Look at the most successful country there: the UAE. They rule pretty fairly, they can make decisions and get stuff done fast, and they are smarter than the dumb people wearing the sacks. Egypt's no different.

Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2013
Article comment by: Yukon Jack

This is WAY beyond blaming Bush and Obama. We are here because of a Foreign Policy of pragmatism. And it's all caught up to us. For years the US would back a thug, any thug, as long as he wasn't a communist and we thought we could control him. Well the communists are gone and the people there have a long memory. They know we can't be trusted we'll change sides at the drop of the hat.

What's sad is that this shouldn't even be our problem. The middle east with its artificial boundaries are a relic of European imperialism. But because we saw oil, because we were fearful of communist intrusion, we played both sides against the middle.

People that have lived under tyrannical dictatorships and monarchies aren't prepared to live under democratic ideals. This is something that should've been slowly and practicably introduced over time perhaps starting with local governments and slowly expanding from there.

Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2013
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

So it seems that Tom sort of likes the "military coup but is bothered because we supposedly can't continue aid if they have one. Big deal, they won't have it forever. And you are OK with that right? You even talked yourself out of it being a "coup" later in the column. I agree it's way better than that idiot Morsi. I think he outta come here and run for president. That way we could continue our reign of Muslims that were born in foreign countries. Perfect. The scary thing is he'd probably win.

Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2013
Article comment by: Last Dog Standing

Democracy is a force of nature. The better organized Muslim brotherhood won and then tried to consolidate power with a Sharia bent. Warned once, twice ousted. Have a little faith. It really is not up to us, as the old cold warriors can't figure out. Digital technology and communications are the great democratic equalizer. The apple is mightier than the gun. The military is the default, the null, from which we will see the next evolution.

Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Article comment by: Claude Angeli

I think it's important to remember that the people started this coup, the military came in to restore order. It is a dangerous time in Egypt but the people themselves stood against the Muslim Brotherhood, this is extraordinary moment. We have watched for years as Islamic fundamentalism has ruled all of the Middle East but now the people have had enough. While its too soon to know its possible that win, we have waited for in our long wars is happening. It's emerging from the people there, that's real change. The foreign aid we give them is an agreement with a peace deal made a long time ago. Since then there has been no war between Egypt and its neighbors. It's important the people feel supported but how to do that is complex. No past Presidency has been equipped to deal with this no condition. Obama is on new ground, yes he can do it wrong or he can do it right, just exactly what to do is not clear. I'm hopeful for now.

Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Article comment by: Dear Tom

Most of the time I find some things to agree with you on in your column. I rarely fully agree with you, but I find common ground. I find none in todays column. Neither you nor I, know what is going on behind the scenes in Egypt, with our diplomats, Europeon diplomats and Egyption factions. I am sure the powers that be in Egypt know they are walking a fine line in regards to American aid. I do not believe we are blindly providing the Egyption military resources. I think your liberalism got the better of you on this one. Egypt is clearly a lynchpin in the middle east, I don't think we can publicly treat them like children and expect good results. I will give you a mulligan on this one. Most of your columns are well thought out and substantive. I just think you missed it on this one. Have a great day.

Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Article comment by: Simple Question

Tom: You expected Obama to suddenly start respecting our laws and our Constitution?
Why would you? He routinely ignores both, as it suits him, and has been since he took office.
Laws don't apply to Gods.

Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Article comment by: As I See It

Obama worshipers reap what they sow.
He's a disaster and has yet to find a situation or problem he cannot make worse. Whether it is a local criminal case he inserts his racial bias into (making a mockery of the concept of a fair trail) and encouraging post verdict rioters everywhere, or foreign policy. He reminds me of Gertrude Stein (paraphrased) "there's no there, there".
He stand for nothing, ignores the law, the Constitution, and his own promises anytime it serves him to do so. The guy has the ethical standards of a rattlesnake. See the latest on another topical issue: Unions have now (duh) realized he lied to them about the Healthcare law, and are upset with him and demanding changes. Hey Union leaders, welcome to the real world. How does it feel to be treated like the rest of us?

Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Article comment by: Tom Steele

It would seem we need to support Egypt as the largest Arab and Muslim country. And it has been the military that has been the stabilizing force in Egypt. As long as America makes it clear Israel is our friend and we will assist her in their defense against any invading force, Egypt will stay under control.

Posted: Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Article comment by: There You Go Again

Tom, Tom, Tom, don't you know that Obama is not involved with our foreign policy, that's the State Department. Also, Obama is not involved with judicial policy, that' s the Department. Also, he is not involved with the IRS illegal targeting of opposition political groups, that's the IRS, etc. Actually, all these groups report to him. Only the mainstream media, like you, gives him a pass.

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