Obama's Egyptian balancing act

People celebrate outside the presidential palace in Cairo on 3 July 2013 Image copyright AFP

President Barack Obama treads a delicate line in his statement on the Egyptian crisis - he says he's "deeply concerned" by the action of the military in removing President Morsi and suspending the constitution.

But he falls short of condemnation or urging that Mr Morsi should be restored to power.

He does say that the Egyptian armed forces should move "quickly and responsibly" to return "full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible".

But note that it is "a" government not "the" government.

The fact is the Obama administration won't be tremendously disappointed by what has happened. But it will be worried that this could lead to a chaotic, undemocratic and violent future.

It has grown increasingly frustrated by Mr Morsi and has said that he had not listened or responded to the voices of the people.

But President Obama can hardly back what looks to many like a military coup.

Whatever you call it, a freely elected politician has been removed from power for ignoring people's demands. If it was a general rule, none of them would be safe, including Mr Obama.

Mid-term blues don't invite the interest of the Pentagon. It is perhaps the perennial problem of American foreign policy - in theory, red-blooded enthusiasm for democracy; in practice, fearful of Commies or Islamists elected by the pesky voters, and tempted by the lure of generals who take a more pro-Western line.

But this is given a particular twist under this administration because Mr Obama does not want to give the impression that the US chooses who should rule in the Arab world.

Indeed he was elected in part to challenge both that image and the reality behind it.

His statement repeatedly says that it is up to the Egyptian people what happens, and that the US backs core principles, not people or parties.

Indeed it opens by saying that.

But Mr Obama cannot pretend that the US is a disinterested observer.

It plans to give $1.3bn (£850m) to the Egyptian military next year. The president says he has ordered a review to see how that fits with US law after today's events.

Mr Obama might prefer that he doesn't have a dog in this fight. But he does, and he's telling it not to bite, without exactly bringing it to heel.