A Tale of Two Cities

Events in two cities -- Cairo and Homs -- symbolize the crisis gripping the Middle East. An ad showing starving carriage horses in Egypt underscored the depth of hunger in Egypt. Even if by some miracle Egypt could attract tourists, the hospitality industry workers which once supported it -- including the carriage horses -- would by then be gone, dead or dispersed. This is what is literally meant by "eating the seed corn".

To the glue factory To the glue factory

But if the animals have it bad, the people aren't doing much better. The poor in Egypt can't afford to buy food. And that is with the loaves costing the equivalent of one US cent. There's precious little to buy either. Reuters says that Egypt, once the granary of the region, has two months of food stocks left.

Egypt has less than two months' supply of imported wheat left in its stocks, ousted President Mohamed Mursi's minister of supplies said, revealing a shortage more acute than previously disclosed.

Speaking to Reuters near midnight in a tent at a vigil where thousands of Mursi supporters are protesting against the Islamist president's removal, former Minister of Supplies Bassem Ouda said the state had just 500,000 tonnes of imported wheat left. Egypt usually imports about 10 million tonnes a year.

Two and a half years of political turmoil have caused a deep economic crisis in Egypt, scaring away investors and tourists, draining foreign currency reserves and making it difficult to maintain imports of food and fuel.

Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat, half of which it distributes to its 84 million people in the form of heavily subsidized saucer-sized flat loaves of bread, which sell for less than 1 U.S. cent.

World War ME Cairo

The troubles sweeping the region are creating scenes of human misery normally associated with wars of the 20th century or movies featuring zombies, apocalypses and Brad Pitt. After months of success, the Syrian rebels are now losing ground to the counterattacking Assad. One of the most devastated battlegrounds is the city of Homs.

Syrian rebels have asked for a truce in the besieged city of Homs to observe the holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Tuesday.

The new head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, revealed the offer as he gave his first interview since his election on Saturday. There has been no indication that President Bashar al-Assad’s government would be ready to accept a cease-fire.

Sunni Muslim rebels in the city 90 miles (140 km) north of Damascus have been suffering an onslaught of ground and air attacks. They have been struggling to hold onto territory since the militant group Hezbollah joined forces with Assad’s troops.

Wunderwaffe, Syria style Wunderwaffe, Syria style

The rebels claim they've been "sold out". There are no clear indications how Washington wants to handle the mounting crisis. In a week when the US delivered F-16s to Egypt, Navy amphibious ships moved closer to the action, steaming into the northern Red Sea, to await the word, whatever the word turns out to be.

"Egypt is (in) a crisis right now," Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos told the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. "When that happens, what we owe the senior leadership of our nation are some options," Amos said. He did not say what the options were....

U.S. Marine Corps officials said moving amphibious ships closer to shore would enable easier movement of helicopters and other equipment, if it were needed.

"Why? Because we don't know what's going to happen," he said.

The Washington Post, which probably wants to support President Obama, confesses itself to be totally baffled by the President's foreign policy. In an editorial board article dated July 12 it said:

It has been a month since the White House informed journalists that President Obama had decided to supply Syrian rebels with light arms. Since then, the regime has launched a bloody new offensive in the city of Homs, using heavy artillery and rockets to attack residential areas held by the rebels. Thousands of people have been killed, adding to a death toll approaching 100,000. President Bashar al-Assad has been boasting of his military successes and of the failure of outside powers to bring down his regime. Meanwhile, the United States has failed to deliver any of the promised munitions to beleaguered rebel forces — “not even a single bullet,” one source told The Post’s David Ignatius....

The delay can be attributed in part to congressional resistance: According to reporting by The Post’s Karen DeYoung, the administration’s plan has drawn objections from members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, which are responsible for reviewing covert operations. But the larger problem is an extraordinary failure of leadership by Mr. Obama. While deciding on intervention in a fateful Middle East war, the president has chosen a minimalist option likely to fail while declining to publicly explain or justify his actions.

Translation: not even the Washington Post knows what is going on. "A decision to intervene in a foreign war, even in a small way, ought to be the subject of a direct presidential address to the country and an open debate in Congress. Yet the news that the United States would, after more than two years of dithering, finally provide direct military aid to rebels came in a conference call with reporters by White House aide Ben Rhodes on June 13. While letting the world know about it, Mr. Obama chose to designate his action as covert, stifling public discussion and restricting details on the arms supplies to members of the congressional intelligence committees."

It's called "leading from behind". The Post concludes that Obama has managed to zero out American influence in the region, which is to say make enemies of pretty near everyone, ruin pretty much everything and confuse the hell out of anyone, including the Washington Post.

Mr. Obama’s fecklessness on Syria has baffled and alarmed important U.S. allies, including Turkey and Israel, which wonder if the United States can still be counted on as a force in the region. It has emboldened not just Mr. Assad but also Iran, which has been stepping up its own intervention in Syria in the belief that it will not be countered. Now the president is failing to deliver even on the modest action he decided on. It’s a spectacle that can only harm U.S. standing in the Middle East — and prolong Syria’s bloodshed.

The Obama administration surveys a landscape littered with the ruins of two Egyptian governments, chaos in Libya, war in the Sub-Sahara, slaughter in Syria, near civil war in Lebanon, a million refugees in Jordan, unrest in Turkey and a Taliban that doesn't even want to negotiate with him in Afghanistan. And oh yes, renewed tensions with Russia and an unstoppable nuclear program in Iran.

Quite a record. And it's only just begun.

The word the Washington Post is searching for, when it describes the inability of the President to sell his plans to Congress and the American people, is "strategy". He has nothing to sell. The President has no overarching goal. No coherent idea of where wants to go or how to get there. What he has in place of it is a series of slogans, a list of talking points, a grab-bag of nostrums, a collection of disconnected ideas and a number of vague intentions. And they all change from day to day, depending on who he's talking to.

This vacuity was initially identified as "sophistication" by his supporters. The absence of a definite idea was taken as proof of genius, as a lack of dogmatism, when in fact it was only an indication of a cipher. The President warned his supporters he was blank -- a screen onto which anyone could project anything. It is now becoming clear that he meant just that. The President's supporters got exactly what they wanted. And so did everyone else.

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