Obama abroad: Waffle, vacillate, fail

Whether out of reticence, ambivalence, tactical calculation or the difficulty of making policy in Washington, the administration’s response to the human rights violators it has faced in five years in office has been mealy-mouthed and confusing. In Egypt’s case, Washington backed Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship until Mubarak had no chance of surviving, then switched course and backed his democratically elected successor, Mohamed Morsi. But then it refused to openly criticize Morsi when his behavior grew increasingly authoritarian. Then, when Mubarak’s old cronies then threw Morsi out, Obama seemed to switch course again and refused to criticize them either. Adding to the confusion, in just the last week, Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham visited Cairo to push the generals to restore civilian control while Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to defend them by declaring that the Egyptian military had acted to restore democracy.

The result of this vacillation? All sides in Egypt now hate the United States, which they’re convinced backs their enemies.

What this suggests is that even more important than having the right policy is having a policy, and sticking to it. By trying to play both sides, the Obama administration is winning over neither. It’s left with the worst of all worlds, and both Americans and the people of Egypt, Turkey, Cambodia, Zimbabwe (you can go down the list) are paying the price.