Obama Condemns Egypt Violence, Doesn’t Do Much Else
In a speech delivered via audio only from his vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama spoke out against the violence in Egypt, but he didn’t do much else:
VINEYARD HAVEN, Mass. — President Obama, deploring the military-led Egyptian government’s deadly crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters there, said on Thursday that the United States would pull out of scheduled joint military exercises with the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula.
“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual while civilians are being killed in the streets,” Mr. Obama said in remarks delivered from his rented vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard.
“The Egyptian people deserve better than what we’ve seen over the past several days,” the president said, adding that the “cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop.”
Mr. Obama’s announcement, though less sweeping than other potential steps like suspending $1.3 billion in American military aid to Egypt, is the first concrete American response to the violence, which American officials for weeks have urged the Egyptian authorities to avoid.
The joint military exercises, known as Bright Star, were scheduled to start next month. They are a major biennial exercise led by American and Egyptian forces, and involving hundreds of troops and airmen from both countries, that date to the early 1980s.
The president said he had asked his national security staff to study whether further measures were warranted, given the widespread bloodshed in Cairo and other cities. He said the United States opposed steps like the imposition of martial law.
But while Mr. Obama condemned the violence, which has left more than 500 demonstrators dead and thousands wounded, he emphasized that the United States did not intend to abandon its broader partnership with the Egyptian military, which has spanned three decades.
And Mr. Obama made no mention of whether the military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi last month constituted a coup, a legal designation that could trigger a cutoff of the military aid. The administration has avoided making that judgment, saying that to do so would not be in the American national security interest.
The president also expressed sympathy for antigovernment protesters whose wide-scale uprising against Mr. Morsi precipitated the military’s intervention. Mr. Morsi’s government, he said, was not inclusive and had lost the support of “perhaps even a majority” of Egyptians.
Still, the president said, the proper path for Egypt was a process of political reconciliation, not a brutal crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s supporters and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Administration officials fear that suspending that aid could destabilize the region, jeopardize Israel’s security, and would deprive the United States of its only lever to use on the generals. Analysts also say that if the United States withdrew its support, Egypt’s generals would be able to replace it with increased assistance from Saudi Arabia.
“America cannot determine the future of Egypt,” Mr. Obama said. “We don’t take sides with any particular party or political figure.” He added, “I know it’s tempting inside Egypt to blame the United States,” noting that protesters have alternately accused Washington of supporting Mr. Morsi and colluding with those who deposed him.
Of course, by continuing for the most part the military aid that the United States has been providing to the Egyptian military for the past three decades, one could argue that the United States is taking sides in Egypt’s current political disputes. As with last month’s decision to delay the delivery of four F-16s that are part of a larger contract, cancelling a military exercise is little more than a symbolic exercise. The military aid will continue, as will the high level contacts between the U.S. military and the Egyptian military. How, precisely, the Egyptians will think that they are being punished by this is entirely unclear to me.