John King analysis: Obama's losing bet in Egypt
August 15th, 2013
04:31 PM ET
10 years ago

John King analysis: Obama's losing bet in Egypt

Washington (CNN) – President Obama on Thursday sharply criticized the Egyptian military's deadly crackdown. In doing so, he also acknowledged an administration bet gone bad.

No, the administration still won't use the term "coup" to describe the forced ouster of Egypt's democratically elected government. But, in the president's words, "the United States strongly condemns" the action of an interim government it was counting on to take a measured path after seizing power.

"Instead we've seen a more dangerous path taken through arbitrary arrests, a broad crackdown on Mr. Morsy's associates and supporters and now, tragically, violence that's taken the lives of hundreds of people and wounded thousands more," the president said Thursday morning during a break from his August vacation.

A day earlier, it was Secretary of State John Kerry delivering the criticism of the military-led interim government. To the tough rhetoric the president added this: a decision to cancel planned joint military exercises next month.

That sanction is one of the modest options the administration has as it tries to hastily reposition its Egypt policy. The bigger message would be to suspend the $1 billion plus in annual US aid to Egypt, a step the administration is loathe to take because it believes that crucial support is part of its leverage in a diplomatic crisis like this.

But calls for revoking that aid are already increasing, and will even more so if the military government does not find a way to diffuse the crisis.

"The law is very clear," Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said Thursday. "Everyone here in Congress can read. They recognize that the law says when there is a military coup, the aid must end."

The administration says that aid is "under review," and is hoping the situation on the ground improves before the push to impose more meaningful sanctions gains more momentum.

President Obama put it this way: "While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back."

In that same statement, the president said, "We don't take sides with any particular party or political figure."

But the administration in essence had taken sides – with the military it is now condemning.

Not long ago, there was cautious optimism in the senior Obama administration ranks, as more moderate figures agreed to take prominent roles in a transitional government and US regional allies, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates chief among them, tried to broker between and among the competing Egyptian political factions.

But the violent crackdown in recent days, and the administration's attempt at repositioning itself now is evidence those hopes for moderation and a clear path to new elections were perhaps unrealistic.

"Who are we kidding here," says veteran Middle East diplomatic hand Aaron David Miller. "We are looking for a Hollywood ending. There is no Hollywood ending here."

After 30 years of an autocratic Mubarak regime, Miller believes the Egyptian military is too powerful and entrenched to embrace major democratic reforms, and the society too fractured and without the history or the political institutions to sort through its current crisis peacefully.

And so Miller sees few good options for what he describes as a consistently "risk averse" American president in the Middle East whether the issue be Egypt, Syria, Iran or the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"This is not an easy one," Miller said. "You want clarity, find another region."

Filed under: Egypt • President Obama
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. bill pike

    don't let wolfe biased or CC–cheeseburger candy–hear you say anything against obama--or we will all be saying John who???

    August 15, 2013 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    "You mean things like cancelling White House tours due to the sequester?"

    Nope. Nice try though. Sequester demanded that the budgets be cut by a certain percent across the board. To the doing so forced certain programs to be suspended is the result of the Sequester, not an exercise of discretion in what got cut. If you can't differentiate the two, then too bad. And btw, grow up...nobody cried about it when Dubya closed the WH for a couple YEARS.

    August 15, 2013 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  3. Phoney President Obama

    "Wouldn't it be good for the country if Obama had taken up the offer to prioritize?"
    Absolutely not. Precedent should NEVER be set that Congress can just pass its responsibility to enact a budget off to the POTUS and simply hand it off to the executive branch to decide how everything gets allocated. NEVER. EVER. That is NOT how it's supposed to work. That is NOT how the Constitution organized out government.

    Well that position seems rather strange on your part. That is exactly what Congress did and Obama signed when it came to Obamacare. Spelled it all out for him, he agreed to it and signed it. Then decided unilaterally that in 7-10 cases (SO FAR) he would do something different. Why does he think he can violate laws and not do as they say?

    So in the case of Obamacare, Obama violates the law for what many know is political reasons/gain, and then refuses flexibility when it IS offered to him when it comes to his very own sequester cuts. Sorry, he and you can't have it both ways. It has become pretty clear to everybody that everything Obama does is for his own political gain, OUR laws and the country be damned. THAT is NOT how it is supposed to work!

    August 15, 2013 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  4. just asking

    Akintola Mojeed
    Quick action must be taken to avert the killings in Egypt.

    do you have enough jail cells and/or grave sites to hold the entire muslim brotherhood?

    August 15, 2013 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  5. nuggin

    What else can you expect from the White House. the president is behind what ever the Muslim do and supports them no matter what their actions are. I'm happy to see one country that is not afraid to stand up to them and repay them in kind

    August 15, 2013 07:31 pm at 7:31 pm |
  6. just saying

    obama hasn't had a winning bet in 4.5 years. it is almost impossible to do but he has achieved a perfect 100% failure rate. he now holds world class records for the highest unemployment rate for the longest time, the highest debt accumulation, the highest deficits, the lowest labor participation rate, the highest food stamp recipient count, and soon, the most destruction ever seen when obamacare starts wrecking the healthcare system driving up our debt and deficits further, as all massive government entitlement programs do.

    August 15, 2013 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  7. Revolution

    What still a few Obama supporters left? Now that is a dying breed!

    August 15, 2013 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  8. ibrahim sabry

    we want to say that all egyption people know well that opama want to make egypt acopy of sudan or iraq we have to say also we dont need your support but we want to see the truth .

    August 15, 2013 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  9. rs

    tom l.
    You keep referring to me as right wing and fail to realize that I am a libertarian. For some unknown reason you think I watch Fox News and listen to Rush all day but then why would I be on a site like CNN if that's all I did. I like to listen to all viewpoints and then base my personal thoughts after educating myself from many points of view. Something you sorely lack as you have to go to your democratic echo chamber and spout off the talking points that are so tired and worn out. It's sad that you think that you think for yourself when, in all reality, you haven't had an original thought since I have read your posts. At least PD Sniffit is entertaining with his 25-cent words and total vitriol and racism. You are a monotone regurgitator.
    Well, Tom, when you're right, your right. "Libertarianism" is little more than rich man's anarchism- and that explains a lot about the views you espouse here.

    August 15, 2013 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
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