They will comply with our wishes to the extent that they do not imperil what the Egyptian army regards as vital. Gen. Sisi either did not believe we would cut off his military aid, or was willing to take that risk when he gave the order to fire on the protesters.
He read the Americans right. What do we do now?
As our interests dictate maintaining the peace between Egypt and Israel, keeping Egypt as an ally against Islamic terrorism, and protecting Christians, we cannot sever ties to the army that runs the country. In these goals, Egypt's military, no matter the brutality with which it behaved on Wednesday against the Brotherhood, is an ally.
But if we were to retain any credibility as the champion of peaceful protest, we had to signal that what was done by Egypt's security forces was done without our approval. President Obama did that by canceling the military exercises with the Egyptian army in Sinai.
Yet Egypt has problems we cannot solve. It is divided between secularists and fundamentalists, whose visions are irreconcilable. It is divided between a middle class and millions of poor for whom neither Mubarak nor Morsi was able to create any measure of prosperity.
Without constant infusions of aid, Egypt, a country whence the tourists and investors alike have fled, cannot create a robust economy until radicalism and extremism are in the past.
Egypt today cannot sustain itself. But America's role as primary foreign aid provider is coming to an end. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the Gulf states are today sending many times the aid we are sending to Cairo.
Let them take the lead. The fate of Arab peoples is far more tied up in what happens along the Nile than is the fate of America.
While we do not know what will succeed in the Middle East, we do know what has failed. Nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq has left us bleeding and near bankrupt. Our flipping and flopping in Egypt's turmoil has alienated all sides. Our wars have accomplished what?
Perhaps lowering our profile and shutting up would serve us better. This part of the world will be decades sorting out its future in light of the political, religious, ethnic and ideological forces unleashed by the Arab Spring and the rise of Islamism.
A phrase from the America of a century ago, when Mexico was in turmoil, comes to mind. Why not a period of watchful waiting?