Obama’s reaction to the killing in Cairo yesterday was about what we have come to expect from him in foreign policy, and that’s not a compliment. He announced that the U.S. would not hold joint military exercises with the Egyptians, which was just about the smallest punishment that he could have chosen short of doing nothing. Other than that, Obama repeated what has become an increasingly stale slogan: “We don’t take sides with any particular party or political figure.” This would be the right position to take if it were actually U.S. policy in Egypt, but it isn’t. The U.S. may not be endorsing specific parties or individuals, but it is tacitly endorsing the coup and the government that was created by it.
Unfortunately, this manages to combine a bad policy of supporting the Egyptian military regime with the insulting pretense that the U.S. is merely a passive observer instead of a patron of the offending government. Much like Obama’s Syria policy, his reaction to the violence in Egypt seems guaranteed to please no one in Egypt or the U.S. The U.S. isn’t in a position to improve conditions inside Egypt, but it does have control over how it reacts to events there. By law, it should already have suspended aid to Egypt, and following this week’s brutality Washington has the perfect excuse to do what it should have done weeks ago. Unless the U.S. takes much more significant steps to distance itself from what is happening in Egypt, it will keep taking the blame for the behavior of a client government over which it clearly has no meaningful influence.