What's at stake if Obama goes 0-3 with Egypt

So far, the Obama administration is 0-2 on Egypt. They've got just one more chance to get it right. And it's all about using our aid as leverage, getting something back for our investment.

The first time at bat, in the early years of his presidency, Obama missed the opportunity to use U.S. influence and aid to pressure Egyptian President Mubarak to adopt economic and political reforms. Instead he invited Mubarak to the White House and called him a great friend.

That all changed when pro-democracy demonstrators took to Tahrir Square in February 2011. Initially, Obama praised Mubarak's decision to not seek reelection, but within few days, indeed just hours later, Obama did an abrupt about face and said Mubarak had to go….immediately. So Mubarak was yanked from office and thrown in jail, with no clear idea what would happen next.


The second time at bat was during the year-long Morsi presidency, when President Obama again missed the opportunity to influence events.

More On This...

Obama rushed to supportthe new Muslim Brotherhood government, despite their Islamist heritage. Even after President Morsi began systematically crushing all political opposition, and dismantling Egypt's fledging democracy.

Obama could have named and shamed Morsi's moves, but instead stood silent. The U.S. could have cut off aid, or at least threatened to, but instead we rewarded we Morsi with deliveries of new, advanced weapons. To the majority of Egyptians, Morsi is seen as Obama's man. It's no wonder that today's demonstrators in Tahrir Square blame America.

Morsi's removal from power not only gives Egyptians a chance for a do-over of their new democracy, it also gives President Obama a third time at bat. But rather than support the new government, Obama's initial reaction is to express "deep concern" about Morsi's ouster, and reluctance to stand strongly for U.S. aid and influence.

So far, every time the Obama administration has come to bat with Egypt they've struck out. Maybe this time they should take a deep breath and, whatever their initial instincts are, do just the opposite.

Now is not the time to cut aid, or to stand silently by and let things unfold or the Egyptian revolution be hijacked by anti-democratic forces.

Our continued aid gives us a seat at the table; the ability to influence the course of events. What Egypt needs now is aid, ours and that of others, to stave off the collapse of the Egyptian economy. It will buy them time and the political space to amend the constitution and form a new, inclusive government, provide security for Egyptian society, and get the economy going again.

Even so, Egypt may not succeed. But at least the aid will give them the chance.

Some in Congress have argued that Morsi's ouster was a "coup" by the Egyptian military to depose a democratically elected leader, which under U.S. law triggers a suspension of U.S. aid.

Coup, schmoo. If so, President Obama needs to go to Congress and request a waiver.

Morsi might have been democratically elected, but so was Hitler. Once elected, Hitler set about systematically crushing anyone who disagreed with him -- in Parliament, in the Courts, in the military, in the media.

Hitler persecuted religious minorities. Morsi was well on his way to doing the same thing in Egypt, sacking opposition leaders, putting his Muslim Brotherhood cronies in power, ignoring Muslim Brotherhood persecution of Christians.

Looking back, the world would have been a better place if the German military had succeeded in ousting Hitler when they had the chance. Thank goodness the Egyptian military was wiser.

Right now, the world is focussed on Egypt's political machinations -- was it a "coup"?

What will the Muslim Brotherhood do next? What will Obama do?

But even in Egypt, "it's the economy, stupid." After just one year in office, the Muslim Brotherhood has so mangled things that the Egyptian economy has gone into free fall.

Poverty rates have increased one hundred fold.Crime is up -- everything from murder to armed robberies to kidnappings.

There are food and fuel shortages with long lines for those with money to buy. Those without money, nearly half the population, have nothing to eat but subsidized bread.

Egypt is the world's latest importer of wheat, and is running out of foreign reserves to pay for it. And there is little likelihood the economy will improve any time soon to fill the coffers.

Foreign companies aren't investing in Egypt; wealthy Egyptians are getting themselves and their money out; overseas Egyptians aren't sending remittances back home; and tourism has dried up.

Nobody is visiting the pyramids.

Unless Saudi Arabia and the other wealthy Sunni oil states take out the checkbook, Egyptians could be starving by year's end.

Interestingly, the two new Egyptian leaders, Defense Minister General al-Sisi, and the interim president, Judge Adly Mansour, have long-standing, close ties with Saudi Arabia. Morsi did not. His first official visit upon assuming office was to visit Tehran and President Ahmedinejad, Saudi Arabia's arch adversary in the region. No wonder Saudi Arabia wasn't interested in providing aid to Egypt Muslim Brotherhood government.

Even with a massive influx of foreign aid, Egypt may not recover. It still needs to establish security and stability, form an inclusive but effective government, and provide conditions that will allow the economy to recover.

The Muslim Brotherhood has waited 80 years for power, and after just one year in office, showed that they were unable to govern. But they will not go quietly into the night.

Some have vowed "to die for Morsi" and start a civil war. They will be no match for the Egyptian Army, so a Syria-style civil war is unlikely, but there is a very real danger the more violent elements of the Brotherhood will team up with the Al Qaeda affiliates who have set up shop in the Sinai Peninsula. From there they could launch terrorist attacks on Egypt proper, threaten the Israeli border, and launch attacks on ships transiting the Suez Canal.

Egypt's future hangs in the balance, and with it the future of the region.

Forty years ago, my old boss Henry Kissinger negotiated a ceasefire following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The key to the peace was flipping Egypt, turning it from an American adversary into a friend, and taking the largest Arab country in the Middle East away from war and towards peaceful growth.

That landmark move was accomplished by the unprecedented wisdom and enormous courage of Egyptian President Sadat, the brilliant negotiating skills of the Henry Kissinger, and considerable U.S.economic and military assistance. It bought 40 years of Arab-Israeli peace because, without Egypt, the Arab states couldn't make total war on Israel.

If Egypt descends into a cycle of revolution and counter revolution, and ultimately chaos not only will it be a disaster for Egypt, but it will be a tragedy for the entire region.