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America On The Sidelines In Egypt

Unfolding events in Egypt continue to confirm just how ill-advised was President Obama’s fateful decision two years ago to embrace the Egyptian version of the Arab Spring.

When Mr. Obama threw President Mubarak under the bus early on, the die was cast. The White House encouraged the Muslim Brotherhood, pulled the rug out from under the Egyptian military and sent the worst possible signals to Israel as well as Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arab regimes concerned with security and Islamic fundamentalism.

While much of the world is wringing its hands over the ferocity of the Egyptian army’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the bloodshed became inevitable once Mr. Obama opened the door to the Brotherhood’s gaining power, albeit through an electoral victory.

President Obama seemed blinded by the thought that Mr. Mubarak’s departure, followed by popular elections, would bring Western-style democracy to Egypt, the most important country in the Arab world. He seemed unwilling to entertain the thought that Egypt did not have the political culture and the social institutions needed to embrace a democratic form of government. Or that the Muslim Brotherhood, the most effective political force in Egypt, could win election even if it did not enjoy the support of most Egyptians. Or that Islamic fundamentalism is incompatible with modern governance.

In addition, the president seems not to have given sufficient thought to the fact that the Egyptian army, the largest in the Arab world and more than a match for the Muslim Brotherhood, would look to take advantage of any opportunity to seize power from the fundamentalists who, by forcing Mr. Mubarak out of office, had diminished the military’s role in Egyptian life.

Israel and Saudi Arabia have to be appalled by the apparent willingness of the U.S. to risk the stability of the region based on unrealistic expectations for Egyptian democracy. And the Egyptian generals are showing little if any respect for Mr. Obama, thumbing their noses at his threat to cut off aid to Egypt in light of the escalating violence in and around Cairo.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly promised to more than make up what would be cut. And an Israeli senior official told reporters, “If you insist on big principles, then you will miss the essential – the essential being putting Egypt back on track at whatever cost. First, save what you can, and then deal with democracy and freedom and so on…. At this point, it’s army or anarchy.”

Clearly, President Obama’s standing has been severely diminished in the eyes of America’s friends and foes alike. The message for him in all of this is that simply wishing for something, even if you are the president of the United States, won’t make it so. It certainly should not be the basis for American foreign policy.

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