The Proper U.S. Response to Cairo Embassy Attack
A handful of Republicans pushed Wednesday to cut off aid to Libya and Egypt. Fortunately, most Republicans and Democrats in Congress reject the idea. In Libya, the government is largely secular and pro-American. It is also weak and unable to preserve order against the many forces — from remnants of the Gaddafi era to radical Islamic militants — that challenge its authority. Cutting off support isn’t the answer. If anything, we should be increasing assistance, especially security assistance, to help Libyans make their country safer, for themselves and us.
The bigger and more important challenge is Egypt. The attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo were not carried out by or at the instigation of the elected Egyptian government. As The Post’s David Ignatius rightly points out, many of the protesters who stormed the compound Tuesday oppose the current government. But that government’s failure to protect the embassy, a core international obligation, and President Mohamed Morsi’s failure to condemn the attacks are worrisome.
There is also reason to be concerned about the Morsi government’s policies more generally. The record is mixed.
Egypt is certainly more democratic than it was under the Mubarak regime, which the United States supported for 30 years. The month-old Morsi government has respected Egypt’s long-standing peace treaty with Israel. When Morsi traveled to Iran recently, he infuriated his hosts by denouncing tyranny and calling for action against Tehran’s ally in Syria. The Egyptian government’s primary interest has been to seek assistance for its faltering economy, and it has been negotiating responsibly with the International Monetary Fund. This is all to the good.
Some conservatives are starting to make a glib comparison between the evolution of Egypt today and the Iranian revolution of 1979. This is a faulty analysis. Egypt is not declaring jihad on the West, and Morsi is not Ayatollah Khomeini. We need to avoid an undiscriminating Islamophobia and distinguish between those who want to kill Americans and those who may dislike the West but are primarily interested in rebuilding their societies after decades of dictatorship.