Egyptians are paying in blood for Obama's hopeless indecision

This marks the biggest retreat from global responsibility by a US President since Woodrow Wilson in 1919

Column LAST UPDATED AT 12:17 ON Fri 16 Aug 2013

WHEN it comes to Egypt, and a lot more besides in world affairs, President Obama seems to be saying his indecision is final.

He has spoken from his Martha's Vineyard vacation home to condemn the violence of the Egyptian security forces which, at a conservative estimate by the Egyptian Health Ministry, had left 638 dead by Thursday and 3,717 wounded.

But he has refused to condemn the perpetrators of the violence – the Egyptian Army generals who ordered the clearing of the Muslim Brotherhood protest camps.

William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, was quick off the mark to state the Egyptian military regime's use of force this week has been completely unacceptable. Denmark, an important player in overseas assistance, has halted aid to Egypt.

Obama by contrast has merely delayed a delivery of F-16 fighters to the Egyptian Air Force, and put off the regular joint US-Egyptian military manoeuvres, Exercise Bright Star. He has not cancelled the annual $1.3 billion aid to the Egyptian military. So far this week he has not even mentioned it.

On Wednesday he wagged only half a finger at the Egyptian generals. "Our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the street, and rights are being rolled back," he said in a prepared statement from his holiday retreat.

The one word that Barack Obama is desperate to avoid is 'coup'. If he were to call the ousting of President
Morsi and the military grab-back of power on 3 July as a coup d'etat – and whatever the rights and wrongs about Mohamed Morsi's conduct of the presidency, that indeed is what it was – under current US legislation he would not be able to continue to give succour and aid to the Cairo regime.

But the issue of this stunning exercise of presidential indecision goes beyond the crisis in Egypt – huge though that now is.  

When it comes to so many issues in world politics, the Middle East especially, Barack Obama appears gripped by a pathological state of indecisiveness. He has shown this in his less than assured handling of President Putin of Russia, the new Chinese leadership, and above all in the fallout from the Arab Spring.

He doesn't know what to do about the continuing civil war in Syria, the growing autocracy of the new regime in Tunisia, the al-Qaeda civil war in Yemen, and the worsening state of affairs in Iraq, Somalia and
Sudan.

There is no harm in being calculatedly cautious. President George H W Bush is by temperament a cautious man, but a courageous one who would take tough decisions when they were needed – particularly in mobilising a broad western and Arab coalition to oust Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait. If his son George W Bush had inherited the same ability, we wouldn't have the dire consequences of his precipitous invasion of Iraq – indeed, we might not even have had the invasion of Iraq in 2003 in the first place.

Obama has not taken a leaf from the book of either Bush. His latest posture marks possibly the biggest retreat from global responsibility by a US President since Woodrow Wilson returned from the Versailles
conference of 1919. Having talked up a new world order based on the League of Nations, he saw the US reject it and retreat into less than splendid isolation.

Obama's career as international leader peaked early with his Cairo speech – which some, though far from all - including this critic, say triggered the Arab Spring. With it came the disastrously premature award of the Nobel Peace Prize barely after he'd been elected.

But even he might soon find his line of retreat into isolation blocked. The US has embraced the principle adopted by the UN in 2005 of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) – which says there is a fundamental obligation to protect people from murder, massacre, torture and genocide at the hands of their own regime. One of the most
articulate US commentators on this is Professor Samantha Power, his new ambassador to the UN.

The fence is already cracking under Obama's lean frame – it is no longer for sitting on. He knows if he doesn't move, he hands the initiative to the reactionary militarised regimes that want to crack the Muslim Brotherhood across the region, of Maliki's Iraq, Assad's Syria, the junta in Egypt, the princes of Saudi Arabia, even the Revolutionary Guard ruling Iran.

Then the Brotherhood will turn to al-Qaeda for help: after all, the terrorist network is inspired by one of the Brotherhood's most famed radicals, Sayyid Qutb, executed by President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt in 1966.

It is no use trying to keep neutral, which is what Obama appears to be attempting, in a belief we in the West have no real dog in this fight. If we stick to that line, al-Qaeda will haunt us by bringing their dogs to their fight – and in our own lands. · 

Disqus - noscript

There is no winning is there, you are trigger happy like Bush and Blair and you get condemned, you try diplomatic channels like Obama and you are accused of sitting on the fence. The only leverage the US has right now is this widely qouted $1.3b military aid. Never mind that its miniscule compared to the $12-$15billion from the wealthy Arab Gulf countries like the Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar. They would probably love to fill any void the U.S. leaves just as China has done in sub-saharan Africa where western nations (mainly Britain) now does not only have influence but access as well and can only pontificate from the sidelines like a toothless bulldog. Mr Fox do you know where the gulf states might want to steer Egyptian domestic and foreign policy once the US loses access & influence? People like you forget that cutting aid is a one off deal, the only card you have, once the U.S. does that it has no diplomatic clout and therefore no chair at the table & it will be race to the bottom to join the "Who is who" of a pariah states. This is home advantage to more militant islamist. Remember the successful (not) Blair & post Blair foreign policy on Mugabe and his uncooth cabal?

The Egyptian military is doing what it can, and what it announced it would do, to get the country back to work. The MB was in cahoots with AQ a while back with a shared Caliphate agenda. "Reactionary" is an inappropriate label to sling at leaders who have the impossible task of keeping a lid on religion's destructive potential. Without a more nuanced grasp of the situation all you are really qualified to say is that the death of so many is regrettable, and that you therefore don't like the boys with the guns. That's even if you could be sure which ones they are.

"Indecision" is right wing code for not taking military action.

Obama is perhaps wiser than this correspondent - diplomatic work is often best kept quiet rather than shouted through the media. We, the west, are calling for compromise, but the Moslem Brotherhood and generals will not talk - yet. One day they may, or at the next election the Moslem brotherhood will lose.

So no news is good news, and not news for the media, which is why they invent trivial unfounded accusations.

This is more an internal Egyptian affair and not directly an international affair. The Moslem Brotherhood are already an enemy of the west, but although sharing some of the aims of Al Qa'ida, may not want to work with them.