Update (as of August 18)
Well, we’ve watched and we’ve been patient. According to an excellent report in today’s New York Times, we have also been quite active behind the scenes, with all concerned Egyptian parties, th EU, and presumably the Israelis. And we have gotten exactly nowhere, it seems.
General Sisi has responded to all our efforts to restrain him by giving us the back of his hand. His reasoning, I am certain, involves the assumption that the US is a paper tiger. It won’t cut off aid because Israel won’t let it, and even if it did for a while, the Saudis and the Emirates will make it up.
Meanwhile, in parallel developments, Netanyahu has responded to Kerry’s pleas for resumption of negotiations by authorizing a new housing spree in the West Bank. His reasoning is also pretty obvious, at least from where I sit. We can’t back out because AIPAC won’t let us, and negotiations suit him as long as they go nowhere.
I conclude from all this that perhaps it is possible, finally, for America to wake up and get the hell out. We’ve given diplomacy its best shot. Let’s get out of the arena and let the protagonists punch it out.
(July 6, 2013)
There’s a three-way split in Egypt these days between the ardent Muslims, the secularly inclined moderns, and the old guard. None of the three is strong enough to rule by itself. Morsi tried and failed because he wasn’t clever or tolerant enough to avoid alienating both of the other two. If he had made at least a modicum of concessions to at least one of them he might have survived. Now the army has stepped in, and will most likely deal pretty harshly with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The army occupies a somewhat ambiguous role between the old guard and the secularly inclined moderns. It is also beholden to us as we have equipped it, while supplying the wherewithal to keep Egypt’s economy more or less afloat. As we know, we have been doing this mainly for Israel’s security vis-a-vis its large neighbor. I find it hard to believe the army would have stepped in as it did without a green light from Washington. I find it even harder to believe we would have given that green light without a nod of approval from Tel Aviv. According to one news report, one of the first things the army did when it took over was close the tunnels to Gaza.
There must have been some pretty hot arguments in our National Security Council as to which way to lean as the pot began to boil. Obama has just moved Susan Rice up front and she is a strong democracy first advocate. But the realists seem to have had their way, for now at least. Presumably Tel Aviv is on board with that decision.
Maybe our best policy for now is to lie low and look before we leap. We have strong cards in our hand but how best to play them? About the only advice I have, in case anyone is listening, is that we should avoid establishing ourselves in public as the kingmaker, and above all should avoid giving the impression we are acting as Israel’s agent.
Actually, the best way to accomplish that is to make it so.