When you take a trip to Egypt don’t expect much beauty. Antiquity, yes; style, no. The country is old, old, old, and dusty, dusty, dusty. I can never forget the sight of driving into Cairo while ancient wooden carts with worn rubber tires rolled along beside me and beggars walked by with their wares balanced on top of their heads. Fascinating to see; not inviting to live with.
Egypt has been one of Americans foremost partners in the Middle East. Whatever you think about Hosni Mubarak, he was a cornerstone for American foreign policy in the region. Americans knew what Egypt was about and Egyptians trusted the United States.
Sorry. That agreement and mutuality has come to an end. Egypt has even begun talking to Russia about new relationships. Now exactly what Americans were expecting for Christmas.
The problem is the Obama administration’s lack of a coherent strategy for the Egypt and the entire Middle East. Nobody knows for sure what comes next and the administration keeps shifting up and down worse than the American House of Representatives who now have 90% of the American republic giving them a thumbs down.
Whether the person behind this incoherent lack of planning is Secretary of State John Kerry or President Barack Obama or both is not clear. What seems to be apparent in these last few years is that the Obama style is one of delegating decisions to staff personnel while he remains distant at the top. If so, Kerry is the one who needs the guide dog, but Obama gets the fallout just as he has done on the profoundly troubled healthcare system. If the United States is to regain any footing, a new clear-up plan of action is badly needed.
For example, Washington tied itself in knots trying to avoid calling the Morsi ouster a coup (which it was). The threat of cutting off aid to Egypt because of the turmoil only lowered American standing as both Saudi Arabia and Russia offered to fill the gap. American Ambassador Anne Patterson spanked Egypt for the mass demonstrations that led to Morsi’s downfall. This left the impression America favored the Islamist regime. Recently, the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram ran a front-page story accusing Patterson of conspiring with the now defunct Muslim Brotherhood. Not a good sign! The list of errors goes on and on.
While many in Egypt were angered by Russia’s support of Syrian President Assad, that issues disappeared when Russia immediately blessed the military takeover of Egypt. In late October, Egyptian delegates completed a three day session of talks in Moscow. In turn, Russia dispatched the head of their military intelligence to Cairo. Putin wastes no time in bidding in this high stakes game of poker.
The American political system has been locked in turmoil until this past week’s final budget agreement. Republicans hell-bent on destroying Obama’s health care legislation ignored every other consideration under the sun. Democrats have not been singularly bent, but have not given any broader oversight to the Middle East. The time has come for American leadership to wake up and pay attention to the Kerry-Obama leadership.
There are hard questions to be answered.