Friday, July 5, 2013

Morsi's Ouster Fuels Debate About U.S. Middle East Policy

Actually, we've been having a debate on Middle East policy since this presidential amateur took office.

At the Los Angeles Times, "Morsi's ouster fuels debate on U.S. policy on the Mideast":

WASHINGTON — The military overthrow of the democratically elected government in Egypt, for decades America's most important Arab ally, has rekindled a fierce debate about whether the Obama administration's Mideast policy has been too passive and ineffective.

President Obama declared that U.S. allegiance was to "democratic principles" after Egypt's military ousted President Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday, but critics charge that the White House made only halfhearted attempts to steer Morsi's increasingly authoritarian government toward democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights.

"They've been late, and slow, and not taken these problems seriously," Michele Dunne, a former State Department official and administration advisor on Egypt who now heads the nonpartisan Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, said Friday.

Obama repeatedly failed "to use leverage to ensure that Egyptian authorities adhere to democratic principles," the Project on Middle East Democracy, an advocacy group in Washington, said in a statement.

The critics, who include Democratic foreign policy stalwarts as well as Republicans, say the upheaval in Egypt, on top of the administration's inability to stem the civil war in Syria or persuade Iran to curb its nuclear program, adds a blot to Obama's foreign policy record.

They blame, in part, Obama's desire to reduce America's overseas commitments after a decade of war, along with his apparent effort to pull back from a leadership position in favor of a more supporting role in the Middle East.

Administration officials say in their defense that Washington has limited influence in Egypt's domestic affairs and that visible efforts to apply U.S. pressure can backfire. They say they have dealt with key political players but have often kept their diplomacy quiet to avoid inflaming Egypt's polarized political environment.

After President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in an "Arab Spring" uprising in February 2011, the White House tried to encourage a transition to democracy. In national elections in June 2012, Morsi won 52% of the presidential vote and his party — the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood — won 48% in parliamentary elections.

Morsi cooperated with Obama in working out a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas in November, and White House aides hoped for a relationship with Cairo that could be a model for other Islamist-dominated countries. The chief focus was security cooperation, including joint counter-terrorism operations and support for Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.

Critics now say the U.S. focus on security meant the White House was unwilling to push back when Egypt's military abused human rights, including ordering military trials for 10,000 civilians accused in connection with the 2011 protests, and when the Morsi government began trying to monopolize power.
More at the link.