This morning President Obama announced that he is cancelling this year’s joint military exercise with Egypt, Operation Bright Star. It’s a symbolic gesture intended to show that, should the army continue to pursue its present course, the White House may eventually decide to suspend military aid. But cancelling Bright Star also underscores American impotence. The administration reportedly warned Egypt’s military regime against a violent crackdown, an admonition to which, with 638 now confirmed dead after yesterday’s nationwide confrontations with Muslim Brotherhood supporters, the army obviously turned a deaf ear.
It’s true that American influence is limited. A billion plus dollars doesn’t go as far as it did in the 1980s when Egypt first allied with the United States, but the Obama White House has sold American values cheaply. As Fouad Ajami writes today: “When the Obama administration could not call the coup d’état by its name, we put on display our unwillingness to honor our own democratic creed…When our secretary of state opined that the army was ‘restoring democracy,’ we gave away the moral and strategic incoherence of an administration that has long lost its way.”