Was Obama's Response to Egypt's Violence Enough?

The president will suspend planned military exercises, but made no moves to stop foreign aid.

Egyptian police
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In a statement Thursday in response to escalating violence in Egypt, President Barack Obama cancelled a joint military exercise with the country that was scheduled to take place next month.

Speaking while on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Obama said the United States condemned the interim Egyptian government's use of violence against supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi. Morsi, who was elected democratically in 2012, was ousted by a military coup in July. The violence has resulted in the death of more than 500 protesters who oppose the forced overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood leader.

"Given the depths of our partnership with Egypt, our national security interest in this pivotal part of the world and our belief that engagement can support a transition back to a democratically elected civilian government, we've sustained our commitment to Egypt and its people," said Obama. "But while we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back."

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Middle East.]

Hundreds of troops from both countries were to participate in the Bright Star military exercises, which the United States has conducted with Egypt since the early ‘80s. Suspension of the exercises were the only concrete action Obama announced in response to the violence in Egypt, but the president said his national security team would evaluate whether any further action was necessary.

The president has refrained from referring to Morsi's ouster as a coup, a designation that would require suspension of foreign aid under U.S. law. Obama Thursday said nothing about halting the $1.3 billion in military aid the United States gives to Egypt, notes U.S. News' Pat Garofalo:

That American dollars will, for now, keep flowing to Egypt is, at this point, just pathetic. As I discussed here before, U.S. law states that military aid should be cut off to any country whose leadership was put in place via coup, which, regardless of one's feelings toward Morsi, is undeniably what occurred in Egypt. So for that reason alone, aid should have been suspended. That such aid will continue to a military engaging in open slaughter of its citizens makes the situation dramatically worse.

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Garofalo also writes that the argument that the United States wants to keep the possibility of suspending aid as "leverage" to influence further military actions in Egypt is not sufficient justification for breaking U.S. law.

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