As the NY Times details, the administration went all out to persuade the military that had overthrown the Muslim Brotherhood to compromise and allow the Islamists to rejoin the Egypt government. Secretary of Defense Hagel made 17 often-lengthy phone calls to General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi trying to get him to make nice with the Brotherhood. And they’re baffled as to why they were ignored as Sisi ordered police and troops to clear out the Brotherhood’s armed camps in Cairo this week.
In Egypt, Obama’s main problem is his lack of understanding of the threat that the Muslim Brotherhood poses to both the non-Islamist majority in that country as well as to the region. This spectacle of American impotence is worrisome no matter what you think the U.S. should do about Egypt. But it’s not unrelated to the administration’s other foreign-policy failures that are piling up in the Middle East. Having failed to act decisively to try to avoid a far bigger bloodbath in Syria, and content to waste years on futile diplomacy on the Iranian nuclear threat while devoting disproportionate effort on reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks that have little chance to succeed, it’s obvious that Egypt isn’t the only venue where Obama has demonstrated his cluelessness.
Obama came into office thinking that he could charm the Iranians into giving up their nuclear ambitions and that American pressure on Israel could magically create peace with the Palestinians. If problems arose elsewhere in the Middle East, he thought they would be easily resolved with bad guys like Bashar Assad conveniently leaving the stage because President Obama said he “must go.” So now we see an Iran that thinks it can go on fooling the West with a diplomatic process intended to stall talks until they can build a nuke while the United States invests precious time and energy on muscling Israel into making concessions to a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in ever signing a peace agreement.