Obama cancels joint exercises with Egypt's military, but not aid

“The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government,” Barack Obama announced in a statement from his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard — but that’s about all the United States does.  Obama announced that the US would cancel its joint exercises with Egypt’s army in September, but said nothing about the continuing US aid after the coup:


 President Barack Obama has scrapped joint U.S.-Egypt military exercises scheduled for next month, saying American cooperation with the Egyptian government cannot continue when civilians are being killed in the streets. He directed his national security team to see what additional steps the U.S. might take going forward.

National Journal’s Brian Resnick is hardly impressed, noting that the White House reaction since the July 3 coup has been “more rhetorical than action-oriented”:

The president offers tough talk and a small, and perhaps symbolic, action to condemn yesterday’s bloodshed in the streets of Cairo—keeping strategic aid in place while canceling a long-standing military exercise with Egypt.

“Our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual as civilians are being killed in the streets, rights are being rolled back,” the president said in a statement while on vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. But don’t mistake these words for the president completely cutting off ties with the region. He made no mention of the contested $1.3 billion that the U.S. sends in aid to the Egyptian government, which includes things like jet fighters. Instead, the president announced he will cancel a joint military exercise between the U.S. and Egypt called “Bright Star,” a regular tradition stemming from the 1978 Camp David Accords. …

Last month, when mass protest forces then-Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi out of office, the president said “I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsi and his supporters.”

Clearly automatic rifle fire and tear gas were not what the president had in mind when he said “move quickly and responsibly.”


Actually, the editors at the Washington Post complain that Obama’s message wasn’t clear on that point at all.  Continuing aid, they argue, sent a laissez-faire message to General Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, and that Obama bears at least indirect responsibility for the massacre that followed:

Because of those decisions, the Obama administration is complicit in the new and horrifyingly bloody crackdown launched Wednesday by the de facto regime against tens of thousands of protesters who had camped out in two Cairo squares. At least 278 people were reported killed, including many women and children. Chaos erupted around Egypt as angry mobs stormed Christian churches, which went largely unprotected by security forces. The military imposed a state of emergency, essentially returning Egypt to the autocratic status quo that existed before the 2011 revolution.

The Obama administration duly protested the latest crackdown, just as it previously urged the miltary [sic] not to use force against the demonstrations and to release Mr. Morsi and other political prisoners. The military’s disregard for these appeals was logical and predictable: Washington had already demonstrated that its warnings were not credible. Indeed, even as police were still gunning down unarmed civilians in the streets of Cairo Wednesday, a White House spokesman was reiterating to reporters the administration’s determination not to make a judgement about whether the terms of the anti-coup legislation had been met. …

It is difficult to imagine how the assault on the Brotherhood, which won multiple elections and is still supported by millions of Egyptians, can be followed by a credible transition to democracy. More likely, it will lead Egypt toward still greater violence. It may be that outside powers cannot now change this tragic course of events. But if the United States wishes to have some chance to influence a country that has been its close ally for four decades, it must immediately change its policy toward the armed forces. That means the complete suspension of all aid and cooperation, coupled with the message that relations will resume when — and if — the generals end their campaign of repression and take tangible steps to restore democracy.


Canceling the joint military exercise looks like just about the least the US can do — and almost the least significant way in which to announce it, too.  Obama didn’t even bother to get in front of a camera to emphasize the point, or allow questions from the press, which at least John Kerry did at a State Department briefing yesterday.  Given the scale of the deaths yesterday in Cairo, this hardly looks like a robust rebuke; it seems more like an expression of impotence.

CNBC’s broadcast of the audio-only statement had an unfortunate interruption in the beginning, which in context of the vapid handling of the crisis in Egypt over the last two years is unsettlingly relevant:

“Are you disabled?” Seems so.  But meanwhile, back to important priorities:

President Obama played his fourth round of golf in five days on Thursday after breaking from his vacation to condemn the violence in Egypt.

After wrapping up his public address — in which he announced the cancelation of joint military exercises with Egypt next month — Obama departed for the Mink Meadows Golf Club in Vineyard Haven.

Beats talking with reporters on foreign policy, I guess.

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