The president has not gotten a lot of love from any direction in terms of his handling of the situation in Egypt. This very day, the New York Times‘ Roger Cohen called the military coup a “colossal strategic failure” for the U.S. and Europe. At the Wall Street Journal Bret Stephens blasted Obama for failing to realize that a quick victory for the military over the Muslim Brotherhood was clearly in our national interest. Partisans of one or the other Egyptian faction share a frustration that the president has not reflected their own sense of urgency over the crisis.
So it’s interesting to read a piece at Foreign Policy by Aaron David Miller explaining Obama’s positioning on Egypt as entirely consistent with his overall policy towards the Greater Middle East:
For Barack Obama, the Middle East is divided into five core interests and two discretionary ones. What really counts is getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan; keeping the country safe from attack; weaning America off Arab hydro-carbons; carrying out the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security; and trying to prevent Iran from acquiring nukes. From his vantage point, he’s checked the box in at least four so far; and he’s working on the fifth — the success of which is far from assured.
The two interests of choice, if you will, are pursuing Arab-Israeli peace and making the Middle East safe for democracy. Those are desirable but really not critical, whatever John Kerry may think about the importance of an Israeli-Palestinian deal, and the president has shown very little inclination to risk much on either of them.
You may think the Middle East is a mess and Obama’s approach a complete muddle. But I bet you, given his domestic priorities and where he thinks the American public is on these issues, he doesn’t.
On this last point, Pew got some attention yesterday with a poll showing that 51% of Americans support cutting off military aid to Egypt, while 26% want the aid to continue and 23% don’t have an opinion. If you consider that a big chunk of the majority preferring an aid cutoff almost certainly do so not to “punish” the Egyptian military but because they’d prefer to wipe their hands of the whole situation, and you can understand why Obama probably figures he’s not running too many domestic political risks in low-keying the U.S. role in what happens next. Pew found that only 22% of respondents were following events in Egypt closely. I doubt the other 78% are terribly unhappy with Obama for treating other issues as more important.