Nancy A. Youssef:
The Obama administration was given multiple chances Wednesday to endorse alongtime ally’s airstrikes on America’s biggest enemy at the moment, the so-called Islamic State. Over and over again, Obama’s aides declined to back Egypt’s military operation against ISIS. It’s another sign of the growing strain between the United States and Egypt, once one of its closest friends in the Middle East.
This shouldn’t be a complete surprise; Cairo, after all, didn’t tell Washington about its strikes on the ISIS hotbed of Derna, Libya. Still, Wednesday’s disconnect was jarring. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest passed on a reporter’s question about an endorsement of Egypt’s growing campaign against ISIS. So did State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
“We are neither condemning nor condoning” the Egyptian strikes, is all one U.S. official would tell The Daily Beast.
In other words, these once-close nations are now fighting separate campaigns against their mutual foe. And that could prove to be very good news for ISIS. The rift between U.S. and the region’s most populous country portends of another division that ISIS could exploit, this time for its expansion into northern Africa and the broader Middle East.
U.S. officials privately said they do not have a better idea for confronting the threat and the ongoing strains between the two nations has led to a breakdown of trust.
“The Egyptian military, in particular, is very frustrated with us,” one U.S. government official explained to The Daily Beast. “It is mutual frustration.”
At a briefing with reporters Wednesday, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby called the relationship with Egypt “complicated.”
“We are constantly reviewing our relationship with Egypt,” Kirby said.
To the U.S., the ISIS threat may feel far away, in Iraq and Syria, where the U.S.-led air campaign is entering its seventh month. For Egypt, this is a danger that’s alarmingly close to home. ISIS is within its borders and in neighboring Libya. Extremist fighters have come from and travel through the Sinai. And many ISIS and jihadi fighters and weapons arrive in places like the Sinai from Libya.
Because of that, Egypt refused to join the 60-plus coalition formed last summer to confront ISIS. Instead, Egypt asked the U.S. for more weapons to confront its ISIS threat. But the U.S. has been largely hesitant, citing what it considers troubling political developments in Cairo. All the while, it appears ISIS has expanded its grip in the region.
On Monday, Egypt unilaterally launched an airstrike campaign on the restive Libyan city of Derna in response to a gruesome video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptian workers along Libya’s shores in the city of Sirte.
New Obama rationale: the friend of my friend is my enemy, the enemy of my friend is my friend, the enemy of my enemy is my enemy, my enemy is my friend, my friend is my enemy.