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Jon-Christopher Bua Headshot

Obama's Egypt Crisis

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President Obama and his family are home from their family vacation on Martha's Vineyard.

Although the president managed several rounds of golf with some of the movers and shakers - the moneyed elite of finance, entertainment and politics, he has not had much relaxation since the crisis in Egypt has been on his and his senior staff's minds the entire time.

As he returns to the Oval Office, in addition to Egypt he will find his desk piled high with even more headaches than usual including:

- Edward Snowden and his latest leaks which seem to indicate that the Administration may not have been telling the whole truth on the NSA programs and it flaws.

- The political battles ahead with Congress on the issues of funding the government, implementing Obamacare, immigration reform, raising the debt ceiling, etc.

No matter how hard he tries to focus on his domestic agenda, the president is plagued by a
never-ending stream of international crises demanding his attention.

And right now Egypt is clearly front and center.

Perhaps the real challenge of leadership for this second term president comes as he is asked to "do something" to stem the violence in Egypt which continues to spin out of control by the hour.

The crisis in Egypt has put president Obama in the uncomfortable position of being caught between US support for the flowery notion of Jeffersonian Democracy and the cold reality of getting what you may not want in "so called" free elections.

Although the US for the most part has historically encouraged and backed democratic movements, this kind of support has become increasingly more complicated as the results of these democratic elections have sometimes put in place hard-lined Islamic governments not always friendly to the US and its allies.

For many years the US backed the Hosni Mubarak military regime which came into power after the assassination of president Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Although there are many criticisms that could be levelled against the Mubarak Regime and the way it treated its own citizens, it did prove to be a stable and important player in this troubled region and a reliable international partner with the US, Israel their allies.

The US and its presidents have always played a key role in this region and have tried to stay on the right side of history.

With the support of President Jimmy Carter, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat and Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin began serious peace negotiations and shared the 1978 Nobel Prize for Peace for this monumental act.

Staying involved in the region has become very tricky business especially after the events of the Arab Spring - where many US friends in the region have come under increasing pressure from their citizens for democratic reforms.

During the Arab Spring, President Obama was forced to acknowledge that many of the governments that had previously enjoyed US support might now fall to the demands of their citizens no longer willing to live under authoritarian rule.

Although the US originally supported what seemed like a democratic movement to oust Hosni Mubarak, since the election of Morsi the US has exercised a great deal of caution about showing support for the Morsi Government backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Up to this point the US has not called the military ouster of President Morsi a "coup" in a effort to avoid triggering a statutorily required cutoff of aid to Egypt.

The administration clearly hoped it's 1.3billion dollars worth of military aid could still be used as leverage to influence the Egyptian military - which is clearly running the show.

The overall US strategy here is not so clear.

The US still has very important relationships with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and Kuwait - all who are watching the unravelling of the Arab Spring with a cautious eye.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of - the Israeli-Arab Peace talks; continuing problems in Syria; and the escalating violence in Iraq.

Interestingly, it may be that despite challenges from the Republican opposition and the international community that president Obama was "leading from behind" this time it was not the case.

In a move reminiscent of George H.W. Bush who built an Arab coalition to support Operation Dessert Storm, president Obama and his foreign policy team were working behind the scenes with an Arab coalition of their own to avoid a violent confrontation between the Egyptian Military and the Morsi Supporters.

Secretary of state John Kerry, deputy secretary of sState William Burns, the European Union's envoy for Egypt Bernardino Leon and Qatari foreign minister, Khaled bin Mohammed al-Attiyah and UAE chief diplomat Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan all apparently worked together to present a proposal to scale back the protests and begin talks between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian government.

Despite these valiant efforts and the fact that former Egyptian vice-president Mohamed ElBaradei also backed this plan, it seems that no one was able to convince General Abel Fatah al-Sissi the head of Egypt's military to agree.

Unfortunately, al-Sissi directed the Egyptian military to take a very hard line against the Morsi supporters so now there may be no way to turn back.

There seems to be no good options for the Obama administration.

At this point, if they totally cut off aid they are only making a symbolic gesture which is unlikely to have the desired outcome of stopping the violence and they may lose almost all ability to influence the situation.

This gesture also comes with other unintended negative consequences like hurting those in the US who manufacture the weapons and goods that Egypt purchases with this aid and leaves a vacuum for others to fill like Russia.

What occurs in Egypt will have far reaching consequences across the entire Middle East.

It will affect the Arab-Israeli peace talks and will also affect the way the Arab world looks at participation in the political process.

It could also affect American prestige and influence in key disputes with Iran, Syria, etc.

Oh yes! There is one other scenario I need to mention.

Egypt, who controls the critical Suez Canal, uses it as a bargaining chip and threatens to limit its access plunging the US-UK and their allies into a post Cold War Soviet style standoff with President Obama's "new best friend" Vladimir Putin!

Jon-Christopher Bua's blogposts for Sky News appear here

Around the Web

Egypt: Barack Obama cancels joint military exercises - Telegraph

Obama condemns Egypt bloodshed - BBC

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Barack Obama condemns bloodshed in Egypt - video - The Guardian

Obama cancels joint military exercise with Egypt | The Times

Tell Obama to halt US arms for Egypt, Labour tells UK ministers

Obama cancels war games with Egypt as diplomatic pressure mounts over ...

Egyptians are paying in blood for Obama's hopeless indecision

Egypt crisis: UN Security Council demands 'restraint'

Obama balances goals in Egypt