August 19, 2013

David Rohde: U.S. offers feckless response to Egypt's avoidable massacre

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Obama's response to the massacre so far confirms the arguments jihadists have used as a recruiting tool for years. Hard-line militants have long said that a hypocritical Washington obsessively protects the lives of Americans, Europeans and Israelis but largely ignores the deaths of Arabs and Muslims.

Some administration officials may argue that cutting the $1.3 billion in aid would further destabilize Egypt's economy. But Saudi Arabia and Gulf nations are providing $12 billion in aid to the Egyptian government. Some may argue that continued aid helps Israel. But the re-emergence of a police state will destabilize Egypt, not stabilize it. Some officials may argue that the aid allows us to maintain influence with Egypt's army. But what influence do we have left?

Meanwhile, in other parts of the region, the administration's approach to counterterrorism is failing. Prison breaks freed hundreds of jihadists in Iraq, Pakistan and Libya. Yemen is increasingly unstable. The threat of a potential attack prompted the closing of 22 American embassies across the region.

Clearly, the lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan is that sending American troops to any of these countries will only make things worse.

But the administration's detached approach  -- so clearly shown by Wednesday's response -- is not working either. Americans exhaustion with the region is understandable. But we must engage with the region, support democratic principles and not pretend that we can walk away.

Drone attacks and global surveillance are not a substitute for consistent long-term support for governments and moderate groups that embrace basic international norms. As I've written before, a return to rule by generals and regents is a fantasy. Consistent diplomatic engagement, economic investment and security force training will not quickly stabilize countries or end violence. But it is a vastly better strategic approach than the current one.

History is against Egypt's generals. It is also against continuing to give them $1.3 billion in American aid.

Maine native David Rohde is a columnist for Reuters, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and a former reporter for The New York Times and Christian Science Monitor.


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