President Barack Obama’s failure to act amid spiralling violence in Egypt has led the US to lose all credibility in the Middle East, senator John McCain said Sunday.
The former presidential rival and influential Republican foreign policy voice said Barack Obama’s failure to follow through on a threat to cut off aid if there was a coup in Egypt, meant the administration was “not sticking to our values”.
McCain and senator Lindsey Graham visited Egypt last week and met general Abdel Fatah al-Sisi – who ousted president Mohamed Morsi – along with interim president Hazem el-Beblawi and others in an attempt to broker an agreement between military leaders and Morsi’s supporters.
McCain compared US inaction to Obama’s policy on Syria. “There is no policy. And there is no strategy. And therefore we react and we react poorly. One of the best examples is Syria where the president said Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons, that’s a red line. He’s used them and we have done virtually nothing in response to that. The centrifuges in Tehran continue to spin, Iraq unravels,” he said.
Obama is facing pressure from both conservatives and liberals in Washington who want him to act over spiralling violence in Egypt and withdraw $1.6bn in annual military aid until the coup leaders put the country back on the path to democracy.
On Sunday, more politicians added their voices to those calling for a temporary suspension.
Bob Corker, a senior Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee, told ABC’s This Week: “I think the actions of the last week, no doubt, are going to cause us to suspend aid. And I think it’s at the same time, a time for us to recalibrate and look at what is our national interest.”
But regional players Israel and Saudi Arabia are pushing Obama to go easy on the generals and are more concerned by the perceived Islamist threat presented by Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Speaking on ABC’s This Week, senior Democrat on the House foreign affairs committee Eliot Engel, also urged caution before cutting off military aid.
Asked if he thought now was the time to end the funding of Egypt’s generals, he replied: “No, I don’t, I think it’s a time to see what the next step should be. Obviously, we cannot let what’s been happening just happen, but I think we have to be careful and not cut off our nose to spite our face.”
He continued: “We essentially have two choices in Egypt, and that’s a military government – which hopefully will transition as quickly as possible to civilian government – or the Muslim Brotherhood. I don’t think the Muslim Brotherhood is a choice.”
Beblawi has proposed banning the 85-year-old Islamist movement, a move McCain suggested would prove a disaster. “When a third of the people support the Muslim Brotherhood … you are going to see insurgency all over the country. The Muslim Brotherhood has been underground for years, they know how to behave. I can see a long period of unrest in Egypt and repression. And again a violation of the United States values and our interests.”
Pressure for the US to act increased Sunday as European Union leaders said they would “urgently review” relations with Egypt. The EU has €5bn ($6.67bn) in aid and loans earmarked for Egypt that is likely to come up for review, officials said.
Herman Von Rompuy, president of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, head of the European Commission, called for an end to the violence that has left several hundred people dead.
“The EU will remain firmly engaged in efforts to promote an end to violence, resumption of political dialogue and return to a democratic process. To this effect, together with its member states, the EU will urgently review in the coming days its relations with Egypt and adopt measures aimed at pursuing these goals,” the two EU leaders said in a statement.