President Barack Obama has cancelled joint military exercises with Egypt in the wake of a government crackdown on demonstrators demanding the return of deposed president Mohammad Morsi.
That crackdown (through yesterday afternoon) had led to the deaths of 525 people and the injury to more than 3,700 others. Friday in the Muslim world is the equivalent of Sunday in the West (or Saturday in Israel), and it is likely those numbers will rise dramatically.
President Obama took time off from playing golf with the rich folks long enough to announce that he was cancelling the joint military exercises with the Egyptians.
He "stopped short," as the Financial Times put it "of suspending aid to Cairo." That would be $1.3 billion in military aid and about $200 million in other aid.
"What," you might reasonably ask, "were the President's other choices?"
I might remind you that I am an expert in a very limited area: L Street, NW between 18th and 19th in Washington, DC. Cairo is something on the order of 5,800 miles outside of that.
Nevertheless, any sign of a vacuum in societal order will be at least partially filled by yet another off-shoot of al Qaeda (see, also, Syria; death toll 100,000+ according to the UN.
Hope that the Egyptian military will restore order may go unfulfilled. Again, from the FT:
The crackdown on the Islamist protest camps has also triggered a wave of attacks against dozens of Christian targets including Coptic churches like one, an ancient 1400 year-old church in southern Egypt that attackers looted, set alight, and returned the next day to demolish its remains.
"No one is stopping them," a Catholic priest said. "There is no army and no police. They have brought tools and are removing the marble and the ancient pictures. We have contacted everyone you can imagine."
Remember the looting in Baghdad that signaled the breakdown of civil society shortly after Saddam was removed from power? Iraqis are still suffering from the sectarian violence that, at least in part, the looting spawned.
It may be that the President is leading the United States into a pre-World War II isolationism. If so, it would not surprise me to see polling that supported him in that.
Egyptians want to kill one another? Syrians want to depopulate their entire country? Russians want to spend all of their money intimidating Europe like the good old days? China wants to … who knows what China wants.
Let them all have at it.
We're not worried about the Russians sending nuclear weapons our way, but we didn't used to worry about some guy having one sewn into his gut to explode upon landing on a plane in an American city.
We tried to be the Cop of the World -- playing at once both the good cop and the bad cop roles -- and it hasn't worked out so well for us, or for the world.
I don't really believe that the United States can abrogate its responsibilities to use its good offices to make the world a better place for its seven billion inhabitants.
But I'm beginning to believe Mr. Obama has decided, or is in the process of deciding, that the world is too complex for one country -- even a country as strong and wealthy as the United States -- to lead.
So, the Obama "leading from behind" thing is ending.
Now, we're just behind.