Saturday | January 21, 2017
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A blood red line in Egyptian sand


A few weeks ago Barack Obama piously pronounced that the Syrian government had crossed the famous “red line,” based on unsubstantiated claims that government forces had used “chemical weapons” “against their own people.” He was outraged because the death toll was 150, or so, and that gave him the excuse to send weapons to unspecified rebel forces.

This week the military government of Egypt slaughtered more than 500 of “their own people.” Today there is a red line in the sands of Egypt and it is the blood of protesters, mowed down perhaps by weapons we have provided. Obama has canceled joint military games with Egypt, but our funding of their military continues.

The president’s radio and television response to the horror in Cairo was again pious. Full of platitudes about inclusive governments, the need for both sides to take a breather, and the sophistry about how it takes time to establish a democratic government,

But it only takes a few minutes for a military coup to occur, and one did, in Egypt a few weeks ago, while the president was searching for a reason to aid the Syrian rebels.

The president wouldn’t even call it a coup, because in doing so he would have had to cut off that billion-dollar aid we send each year to the Egyptian armed forces.

Had the democratically elected government of a Central American banana republic been overthrown by a popular uprising, ousting a military dictator, the president would have called home the ambassador and cut off relations with the new revolutionary government. But not in Egypt.

Our ambassador remains in Cairo, not far from where the blood of thousands of protesters was spilled. In his address to the American people on Thursday, the president said nothing about severing diplomatic relations with Egypt. He didn’t even call the ambassador home “for consultation,” an action we have taken many times before in similar situations.

If the president needs more evidence that the military has no interest in returning to civilian control in Egypt, consider this. The military has just appointed generals to head the governments of 19 districts in the country.

Not one civilian was chosen for that task. And the military just announced an extension of the incarceration of the president the people chose in a hotly contested but, for that part of the world, a fairly democratic election.

The world is no longer America’s to dominate, although for a long time we thought it was. Time has passed us by. Let’s recognize the fact that we have alienated much of the third world, in Asia, Africa and Latin America. That old shibboleth that “We are the most generous people on the world” doesn’t sell any more. American warfare in too many countries, either in the form of our armed intervention or generous military support to our favorite side, has soured whatever esteem we were held in by foreigners.

It’s time for the president, particularly this one who justifies so many of his decisions and much of his action on moral grounds, to put the moral values he claims to hold into genuine action.

Mr. President, call home the ambassador, call the overthrow of the elected president what it is — a coup — cut off military aid to Egypt, demand the release of the jailed president, and ask Congress to impose economic sanctions on trade with Egypt until the military despots turn the government back to the people.

Ralph E. Shaffer is professor of history and an occasional contributor to Stephens Media.


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