The message the White House sent to young Islamists in Egypt this week was clear: What jihadists have been telling you about American hypocrisy for years
is true. Democratic norms apply to everyone but you. Participating in elections is pointless. Violence is the route to power. Wherever he is hiding in the
mountains of Pakistan, Ayman al Zawahiri is likely pleased.
After golfing for five hours on Wednesday and having drinks with a campaign donor, Obama announced on Thursday morning that the United States was
cancelling a military exercise with the Egyptian military and immediately went golfing again. There was no announcement that the administration would cut
off the $1.3 billion in annual American aid to Egypt, most of it military.
"The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by the Egyptian interim government and security forces," Obama said. "We deplore the
use of violence against civilians."
In a portion of his statement that bordered on lecturing, Obama said it was the responsibility of Egyptian to decide their future. He is correct. But that
does not absolve the United States -- the Egyptian military's largest Western backer -- from flatly condemning a coup and the killing of hundreds of
The administration must stop trying to be the opposite of the Bush administration. Speaking boldly about core international principals is not the
equivalent of invading Iraq. Consistency is vital.
In Egypt, a false equivalence should not be drawn between the Egyptian army and the Muslim Brotherhood. Deposed president Mohammed Morsi was not inclusive
and ran the government terribly, but he did not kill hundreds of demonstrators.
The White House deserves credit for dispatching Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns to Cairo to try to strike a compromise. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.)
and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) recently traveled to Egypt as well. Working with Europe and Arab diplomats, American officials warned Egypt's military ruler
against a crackdown. So did Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Yet the military carried out the crackdown anyway. My Reuters colleague Paul Taylor reported Wednesday that the Muslim Brotherhood had accepted
an international plan to defuse the crisis but the Egyptian military rejected it. As Joshua Hersh of The New Yorker wrote from Cairo Wednesday,
this is a
"catastrophe of choice" by Egypt's generals.
It is one thing to be unable to control the police state re-emerging in Egypt. It is another to provide $1.3 billion in aid.
The administration's response to the killing is an enormous mistake on the global stage. The real issue is not trying to placate Egypt's generals. It is
the perception of the United States among the world's 1.3 billion Muslims. If Islamist political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, abide by
political norms they should be allowed to participate in politics. Violently repressing them will not work.