It's time to hold our nose and back Egypt's military

Administration officials say they understand all these considerations, and that Obama is trying to be pragmatic, but that surging pressures about the killings are driving him to actions he knows will backfire. He’s taken modest measures so far, cutting off aircraft deliveries and joint military exercises and calling for an end to violence. But officials say he won’t be able to hold this line for long; a tougher one is already being signaled. In private phone conversations with interim government officials, Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly warned against military brutality. And they know the contents of these rough exchanges will soon spill into the public domain. Then a collapse of communications between Washington and Cairo becomes inevitable, as does the loss of all possible influence for the good. The worst thing we could do would be to cut off military assistance, thereby humiliating the Egyptian government and driving the relationship into crisis. That’s the clear message conveyed to the White House from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan, the last of America’s Arab friends.

There is but one, difficult way out: the Obama team, on a private basis, has to help the military and the moderates frame a viable plan and process for establishing democracy in Egypt, and start implementing it as soon as possible. That requires less corrupt and better laws and more efficient and fair administration of power. Elections, first local and then national, should be scheduled for about two years from now. As soon as possible, the security forces have to stop shooting the street protestors and try simply to contain the violence. The White House must convince them that they cannot kill their way to stability. They have to regain the trust of their own people and of the world by offering a clear and workable plan to create democracy. They’ve got to show they can do what Morsi had no intention of doing: building democratic institutions and culture from the ground up.