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In Egypt, choices for the U.S. run from bad to worse

Aug 22, 2013 - By The Chicago Tribune

The bloody images coming out of Egypt invite Americans to pick white hats and black hats: to punish the generals who staged a coup and killed many demonstrators. Or to hold our noses and work to restore a democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, no matter how much we disagree with his Islamist agenda.

In determining what America should do, there's no satisfying answer. But there is an obvious one: The U.S. shouldn't cut off aid to Egypt. Despite the brutality of the military regime, Washington cannot back away from the nation at the heart of the Arab world. Here's why:

Every country in the Middle East, every major power globally, has a stake in what happens now in Egypt. President Barack Obama has resisted growing pressure at home to cut off hundreds of millions in military aid to Egypt but has put on hold some financing for economic programs linked to the Egyptian government.

That's as far as he should go toward interjecting the U.S. into the Egyptians' internal struggle.

The reason to stay at arm's length has nothing to do with how much diplomatic leverage that U.S. foreign aid buys. A U.S. exit instead would quickly be supplanted by the growing opportunism and money of others who would relish greater influence in Cairo.

At the top of a long list: Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and, to some unknown extent, ruthless terror groups that ignore the tidy boundaries of nation-states.

A stable Egypt, an Egypt at peace with Israel, an Egypt that thrives economically, is crucial to American interests in the region.

Since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, America has dealt with unsavory allies in Egypt, including the former dictator Hosni Mubarak, who reportedly may soon be released from government custody.

We don't pick the leaders of Egypt. Egyptians do -- and not always at the ballot box. We suffer through their choices because walking away from the most populous Arab country, which sits at one of the Earth's most important geopolitical locations, would be the worst of many bad alternatives.

Morsi, Egypt's first elected president, lasted barely a year in office because he ruled as if he never would have to face another opponent in a free election.

That's why millions of Egyptians celebrated the sudden military takeover last month.

This is a time for the U.S. to make sure its voice will be heard by the Egyptian governments of future years.

An America that hopes to shape an Egypt that's evolving, however violently, ought to prove its constancy. That argues for continuing U.S. aid and, when the sand settles, for continuing the possibility of U.S. influence.

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