Recent events in Egypt put President Barack Obama in a tough spot, even if not as difficult as that of deposed Egyptian President Morsi. At least the latter gentleman knows his own mind, even if paying a high price for it, whereas Obama is at wit’s end to articulate where he stands on the sanctity of democracy and its place in American foreign policy.
Mr. Obama is bound by his own words, international law and the expectations of allies, such as Great Britain, not to acknowledge or support coups that overthrow duly-elected governments. For the president, it is an inconvenient truth that Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, accomplished his office through the ballot box and was as constitutionally legitimate as Obama, but for one small fact.
Morsi pushed through constitutional changes that are rather favorable to the fundamentalist thinking of the Brotherhood. Of course, those views about the desired progress of society and place of religion in the equation are hardly simpatico with the left leaning ideas on Harvard Yard and other American temples of the “progressive” movement.
Like most Americans, I have no truck with the ideas of the Brotherhood, but the mob in the streets objecting to Morsi chose methods other than ballots to remove him. Sadly for him, the Egyptian military is neither under civilian control nor primarily financed by the Egyptian government. It gets its manna from the Obama Administration via more than $1 billion annually in U.S. foreign aid.
Now, the new government, in a fit of liberal tolerance is jailing Brotherhood leaders. And it would seem democracy is accomplishing more progress in U.S. sanctioned Iran than American supported Egypt.
During its recent perils, the Obama White House did not support the elected Egyptian government. It stated the Morsi government must respect the will of all the people, much as the U.S. president did pushing through Obama Care despite the disapproval of the majority of Americans, as expressed through town meetings, polls and a Massachusetts Senate election.
Instead, the U.S. president gave a wink and a nod to a military takeover in Egypt, which the State Department is now indicating may not be a coup, because the generals have not imposed a military leader. Instead, they have put in place as president Egypt’s highest judge, after he was in office but two days. Even if a figurehead, that makes the military removal of a duly-elected Egypt president not a coup, therefore legitimate?
That question has the legal minds at the State Department working overtime.
The upshot, in Egypt Obama’s principal representative, Ambassador Anne Paterson, is vilified by all sides, and the Muslim Brotherhood is likely permanently disabused of the notion that participating in democratic processes can lead to its views taking hold anywhere from Syria to Yemen.
This is a mighty grand mess that will result in untold bloodshed and further reinforce anti-American views across the Middle East. Now, the Arab Spring could easily become pan-Arab anarchy, and much blood will be on American hands. Only a fool would think this situation would not inspire new terrorists.
Those remarkable accomplishments notwithstanding, Americans are entitled to know: What is the U.S. policy toward overthrowing democratically elected governments? Is it unacceptable except when it gives rise to fundamentalist social and religious views the prelates within the American academy and mainstream media don’t like?
Who says America doesn’t have an insular aristocracy and Ayatollahs of its own?
Peter Morici is professor of international business at the Smith School of Business,, University of Maryland, and widely published columnist.