Battle for Egypt has just started
Egypt has been in chaos for months now with no end in sight.
It's been roughly a month since the Egyptian army overthrew the country's popularly elected President Mohammed Morsi, and there are virtually no signs that Morsi supporters will abandon their efforts to restore him to power.
That means a war of sorts, and now that it's started there is no telling where it will end.
Will a full-scale civil war break out in that impoverished nation? Will the Egyptian military be successful in restoring order by smashing the opposition? Will chaos continue for the foreseeable future, throwing this already destabilized area of the world into further spasms of self-destruction?
Whatever the eventuality, what role will the United States play in mediating the poisonous status quo?
The fairly obvious answer is that the United States is out of this ball game, somehow having managed to alienate the major players on both sides of the conflict.
The Egyptian army sees the U.S. as weak and vacillating, too friendly with Morsi and his Egyptian Brotherhood disciples.
Morsi accurately sees the U.S. as historically supportive of the Egyptian military. Further, as the leader of the Islamic Egyptian Brotherhood, he has long viewed this country as the Great Satan that must be denied any influence in the Middle East.
Although the U.S. can't do much, it can do something, and some members of Congress are pressing President Barack Obama to cut off $1.55 billion in proposed aid for Egypt in 2014. They urge that action from Obama as a means of punishing Egypt for the coup d'etat that removed Morsi from power.
One example of that stance came from U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who characterized the takeover of power as a "coup," a description that drew a harsh rebuke from the Egyptian government.
McCain, R-Ariz., and Graham, R-S.C., used the word "coup" during a visit to Egypt to describe the manner in which Egypt's military had seized power. Obama administration officials have avoided using that word because reaching such a conclusion would require this country to impose sanctions on Egypt.
Legalities aside, McCain and Graham are accurate. The military threw Morsi out, a move obviously not consistent with the democratic process.
But it takes more than one election to establish a democracy. Majorities rule in democracies, but they respect minority rights. The rule of law prevails in a democracy, not the rule of a tyrannical majority.
After his election, Morsi moved systematically to dismantle his country's nascent democracy, actions that drew many thousands of protesters into the streets to demand a change. The army responded to those demands by removing Morsi, contending it acted to save Egypt from becoming another theocratic, authoritarian state.
It would be nice if the opposing sides could work out their differences in an amicable democratic way, but it would be naive to think they can or will do so.
How do two sides used to using force to achieve their goals reach a lasting agreement?
Egypt's history is one of being ruled by kings and tyrants, who were backed by the military only as long as the military could abide them. But the military also has shown its sympathy for secular rule and public opinion. That's why it removed longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak from power and authorized the elections that allowed Morsi's elevation to power. Once it perceived Morsi as an aspiring all-powerful dictator, it removed him from power.
Now events have taken on a life of their own, leaving the U.S. in the unhappy role of interested observer.