I’m not particularly troubled by the administration’s public indecisiveness following the coup. Egyptians were deeply divided over it, and the U.S. didn’t need to immediately take sides in the country’s internal conflict. But despite this public indecisiveness, the U.S. could have privately taken a stronger stand in its diplomatic dealings with the new Egyptian regime, using cessation of aid as a threat if the government decided to brutalize its opposition. With such behind-the-scenes diplomacy, the administration could have at least tried to save lives and slow the further polarization of Egyptian society.
The real problem, then, is that the administration’s public indecisiveness was not accompanied by canny behind-the-scenes efforts, but by dithering in that sphere as well. The U.S. didn’t clearly communicate that there were red lines in dealing with the protesters that could cause a suspension of American aid.
Whatever one thinks of the Brotherhood — and I’m extremely critical of it — the status quo helps nobody. The dead protesters did not deserve to be killed. The moral costs for the U.S. are too high; and from a pragmatic perspective, the country’s image is further damaged in the region because it’s associated with the present atrocities.