It is a measure of how far U.S. foreign policy has fallen under President Barack Obama that our relations with Egypt–one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid–depend entirely on a lunch in April.
That fortuitous meal was shared by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Egyptian Minister of Defense General Abdul Fatah Saeed Hussein Khalil al-Sisi on Hagel’s trip to the region, according to a report Thursday in the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal notes, alarmingly, that General Sisi is the only person with whom the Obama administration has any reliable contact, thanks to that lunch, and that Secretary Hagel is the only open channel–not Secretary of State John Kerry, not National Security Adviser Susan Rice, not President Obama. And Hagel is evidently not very persuasive, having failed to dissuade General Sisi from removing President Mohamed Morsi from power.
General Sisi, on the other hand, may look back on that lunch fondly, after being guaranteed the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets despite the ongoing turmoil. Though Hagel warned Sisi on July 1–before the coup–“about the potential implications of a coup on the U.S.-Egypt relationship, including Washington’s ability to continue to provide military aid, according to officials,” evidently that warning was neither serious nor taken seriously.
The Journal cites officials who still maintain that Hagel has been “tough” with General Sisi. Their obvious aim is to portray the Obama administration as being deeply concerned about human rights and democracy, but the message the Egyptian military understands is the one conveyed with those F-16s: more power to you, literally.
That is what passes for “smart power” and “tough diplomacy.” At least the meal was likely quite delicious.