In Egypt, the United States
once again faces a dilemma with few if any good options for resolving it.
President Barack Obama interrupted his Martha's Vineyard vacation to lay out the U.S. prescription for ending the military crackdown that has claimed the lives of hundreds of Egyptians protesting the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, the country's first freely elected president.
Obama urged an end to the state of emergency and the beginning of a process of "national reconciliation." He called for respect for the rights of women and religious minorities and urged continued plans for constitutional reforms and democratic elections to choose a new president and parliament.
Right now, these goals seem more like wishful thinking than practical policy. Egypt is in chaos and we lack the political leverage to dictate policy there.
We've supported the Egyptian military, which has presided over a bloodbath in the aftermath of Morsi's ouster, to the tune of about $1.3 billion a year, since shortly after the Egyptian-Israeli Camp David Accords were signed in 1978.
We supported Egypt's military ruler, Hosni Mubarak, for 30 years until he resigned in 2011 in the face of mass protests that we greeted with intial relucatance and then heralded as a triumph of popular democracy.
Even now, when Egypt is being run by its defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, we refuse to call Morsi's forcible ouster a coup because that would trigger a U.S. law requiring suspension of the military stipend. Make not mistake, however, a freely elected civilian president was pushed out of his job by the military.
The international community has almost universally condemned the military crackdown. Our response has basically been a series of token gestures, delaying the scheduled delivery of F-16 fighters and canceling a large joint military exercise next month.
Given the U.S.'s current low standing in Egypt -- both sides blame America for the current stalemate, for conflicting reasons -- and Secretary of State John Kerry's preoccupation with the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, it may demand someone of Vice President Joe Biden's stature and persuasiveness to broker an interim settlement, leading to a second round of free elections.
It may fail, but at the least it would show that U.S. concern for Egypt's future transcends cold-blooded geopolitical considerations.