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Editorial: Cut off U.S. aid to Egypt

Egyptian Muslim brotherhood supporter of Egypt's ousted president

Egyptian Muslim brotherhood supporter of Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi overturn a police vehicle during clashes with riot police at Cairo's Mustafa Mahmoud Square after security forces dispersed supporters of Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi. (Aug.14, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

The savage military crackdown in Egypt that left hundreds of protesters dead has laid bare how little influence the United States has in that turbulent nation. But President Barack Obama should use what leverage he does have to nudge the Egyptian military to put the nation back on a course toward democratic, civilian rule.

That means cutting off the $1.5 billion a year in U.S. aid to the Egyptian military that unleashed armored vehicles, bulldozers, live ammunition, tear gas and snipers in a bloody assault on that nation's own people months after ousting its democratically elected president.

Obama condemned the violence Thursday and said the United States will not participate in biannual military exercises with Egypt next month. That's a direct shot at Egypt's military, which has long been trained and supplied by the United States. But it's not enough.

If it's going to maintain any credibility as a force for democracy in the region, the United States cannot be seen to collude with the military as Egyptian forces slaughter hundreds of former President Mohammed Morsi's protesting supporters.

Obama was right not to withdraw aid immediately after the military takeover. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party were not paragons of democracy. After winning the presidency in 2012 he claimed almost dictatorial powers and excluded non-Muslim factions from his Islamist government. The military is popular in Egypt and continuing the aid was a bid to retain some leverage with the generals. It hasn't worked. Weeks of diplomacy to advocate a peaceful end to the standoff didn't avert the military assault on two encampments packed with thousands of Morsi supporters.

Ending U.S. aid may not persuade Egypt's military to avoid violence either. It has gotten billions of dollars from other nations in the region since seizing power. But it would put the United States visibly on the side of democracy in the region, and that's the right place to be.