The situation in Egypt highlights the quandary the United States also finds itself in in Syria and, to put it bluntly, our nation’s impotence.
To be clear, the quandary is three parted. The first part is the question of whether we provide passive support, as we appear to be, for the military’s effort to change governments, which puts us back at square one where we were just two short years ago. What’s more, America’s acceptance of what has been called a military coup may potentially lead to Islamists to lose faith in elections. It follows that the second part of the quandary centers on the question of whether we stand up for democratic government, which the military is most certainly not. And lastly, do we have any influence at all in Egypt – which isn’t clear that we do – other than the billion and a half in aid that is now up for grabs.
In sum, the United States appears to have acquiesced to what could be called a military coup, having pushed the military out before and committing ourselves to democracy, but letting a democratic government be thrown from power. In this way, we have been all things to all people. We didn’t stand with the military before, but we’re with them now. We hastened Mubarak’s departure and now we’re bringing the military back all the while saying we’re for democracy, but if we’re for democracy then shouldn’t it be for the Islamists. We are, indeed, in a murky situation.
There is an obvious contrast between Egypt and Syria, where we’re in a difficult situation without influence as well. After years of watching the civil war rage, we are now belatedly providing arms to the Syrian rebels all the while trying to make sure that they are getting to the command of the Free Syrian Army and not falling into the hands of Al Qaeda.
Both of these situations speak to the waning influence of the United States in the region, typified by Secretary of State John Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy and effort to not necessarily broker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but simply to get talks going again.
Meanwhile there has been no apparent public effort, whatever private efforts there may be, to engage with the new Iranian president on their nuclear program – a worrying situation for all of us who have been following this story closely. It appears that the Obama administration will sit back and wait, once again, to see what Iran does as opposed to going after the new administration and making our demands clear.
Further, in light of all this, President Obama’s focus last week was on Africa and while his efforts to reach out militarily, to fight Al Qaeda and to economically assist the Middle East region, nonetheless it is hard to escape the impression that our President’s influence and, indeed, the United States’ influence is shrinking rapidly as seen by our quandary over ongoing military aid to Egypt. And while we are hoping Egypt does not devolve into a situation like Syria where we are desperately playing catch-up to provide arms to people who may well advance our interests and freedom broadly speaking, we can’t be sure of this at this point.
Over the past few years, it has become obvious that our influence has become less and less while the possibility for further chaos has gotten greater and greater. Now is the time for strong, assertive American diplomacy – not the haphazard approach we have seen as of late. To be sure, these are not easy problems to solve, but we must make a more concerted effort to make sure that we are supporting the right players in Egypt and that our aid and influence is going to the right places.