The U.S. government has long been a hypocritical champion of democratic governance, claiming to honor free elections but historically attempting to subvert their outcomes when the result is not to our liking. But the rank betrayals of our commitment to the principles of representative democracy, from Guatemala to Iran to South Vietnam, among the scores of nations where we undermined duly elected leaders, reached a nadir with the coup by a U.S.-financed military in Egypt against that country's first democratically elected government.
Embarrassingly, our law professor president refuses to label the arrest of Egypt's freely elected president by the military a coup because that would trigger an end to the $1.5 billion in U.S. aid as a matter of law. It remained for Sen. John McCain to set the president straight. "Reluctantly, I believe that we have to suspend aid until such time as there is a new constitution and a free and fair election," McCain said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." Stating the obvious, he noted that "It was a coup and it was the second time in two-and-a-half years that we have seen the military step in. It is a strong indicator of a lack of American leadership and influence."
The Egyptian military would not have acted without at least the tacit approval of the U.S. government, and evidence is mounting that Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice were in on the plotting before President Mohamed Morsi was arrested. The bloodshed that has followed is on their hands, and lots of luck ever convincing Islamists anywhere of the value of free elections as opposed to violence as an enabler of change.
The coup restored the corrupt military/bureaucratic class that has denied Egypt a modern government for half a century. It was accompanied by the spectacle of Morsi's failed rivals in the last election rushing to offer their services as "democratic" replacements. They included the leaders of the Al Nour party, the one Islamic group that sided with the coup and that makes the Muslim Brotherhood seem quite moderate in comparison.
As for Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei and the others who claim to be human rights advocates, they stand condemned by their silence in the face of the president's arrest, the shutting down of an elected parliament, and the banning of media that might be the slightest bit critical of the military's seizure of power.
After the bloody Monday morning massacre of civilians at prayer by the heavily armed Egyptian military, interim Prime Minister ElBaradei disgraced himself by equating the violence of the armed with the resistance of the unarmed: "Violence begets violence and should be strongly condemned," he tweeted. "Independent investigation is a must." Not a word from this celebrated liberal concerning the military's stifling control over any avenue of investigation by the media or government.
The same charade of objectivity was on display in the response of U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who, like ElBaradei, blithely equated the military's deadly excessive force with the rocks that soldiers claimed some of the demonstrators were throwing. "This is a situation where it's very volatile on the ground," she told reporters at a briefing Monday. "There are lots of parties contributing to that volatility."
The true victors of the coup are Mideast zealots who shun the ballot box as a rigged Western secular game, along with their sponsors in the bizarre theocracy of Saudi Arabia, the first country to welcome the downfall of Egypt's only serious attempt at representative governance. For all of the fanatical blather concerning Islam that has emanated from the oil floated theocracy of Saudi Arabia, the spawning ground for Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers, it is the peaceful electoral campaigns of the populist-based Muslim Brotherhood that the Saudi royalty finds most threatening.
Now it is the turn of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both of which denied aid to Morsi's government, to reassert their influence over Egypt by rallying around the country's military. As the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, "Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. are signaling they are prepared to start showering Egypt's new government with significant funding as it transitions away from Mr. Morsi and his Islamist movement."
So much for the promise of the Arab Spring; it will now be marketed as a franchise of the Saudi government. In the end, the argument was not secular versus religious, but rather whether power would reside in the ballot box or the barrel of the gun. The United States, and too many of Egypt's self-proclaimed secular democrats, ended up on the wrong side of that choice.