WASHINGTON — The brutal military crackdown on civilian protesters in Egypt has damaged President Barack Obama’s already battered prestige and credibility in the Middle East, analysts say, but the deepening crisis isn’t likely to threaten America’s core security interests in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
Egypt’s powerful military leadership may be offended by Obama’s decision Thursday to cancel a biennial joint military training exercise that was scheduled to start next month to show his displeasure with the rising death toll, arbitrary arrests and virtual martial law.
But the generals who toppled the democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, on July 3 are not likely to suspend crucial counterterrorism cooperation with Washington, halt oil tankers and other commercial shipping in the Suez Canal, or jettison the peace treaty with Israel that has formed a cornerstone of regional peace for three decades.
Obama thus chose his words and his actions carefully when he interrupted his vacation to address reporters Thursday on the resort island of Martha’s Vineyard. He said he deplored the violence and condemned the “dangerous path” Egypt’s military has chosen.
But he also made it clear that Washington seeks to sustain its commitment — including $1.5 billion annually in military and economic aid — to the interim government in Cairo in the hope it will return to civilian rule.
“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,” he said.