But there also moments when the ground moves, and you have to take a step back and reassess whether the approach that realism seems to dictate is actually realistic. So, for instance: There is a difference between supporting a longstanding, creaking dictatorship on terms negotiated during the Cold War and supporting a second-generation junta that’s just deliberately overturned a democratic election. There is a difference between supporting a leadership, however corrupt, with a proven record of delivering relative stability and a leadership that so far is mostly delivering bloody chaos. And there’s a difference between supporting a government that’s willing to bend to your wishes at crucial moments and a government that seems intent on embarrassing you while telling the world it doesn’t need your help.
Douthat is right. While I think President Obama has largely handled the tumult Egypt correctly over the last two years—that is, he hasn’t jumped in to support any side, and has tried to maintain the U.S.’s close relationship with the Egyptian military—at this point I think it’s clear that trying to use that relationship, and funding, to influence the military’s decisions has failed. The military has crushed the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters despite our attempts to broker a deal and an inclusive government. What good, then, is treading lightly with our remarks and with our military funding? What has it gotten us?
This relationship has provided us with significant influence during Mubarak’s reign and acted as a bridge between Egypt and Israel—the main bulwark of relative stability in the Middle East since the 1970s—but that influence seems to be gone. Pretending that it isn’t, and continuing to provide aid despite that and despite the military government’s massacre of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, only further reduces our influence by making it appear that the U.S. needs its friendly regimes more than they need the U.S.
It’s difficult to know what this path will mean for Egypt and Israel, but it’s rather apparent that maintaining our relationship and funding with absolutely zero strings attached isn’t going to prevent Egypt from heading down it.