Following the violence in Egypt, President Obama announced today he is cancelling operation Bright Star, a bi-annual joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercise, but he did not go as far as to cut off aid to that same Egyptian military.
Why? The United States wants to keep its influence with Egypt, but acknowledged today that relationship and $1.3 billion in military aid are now in serious jeopardy.
A White House adviser who consulted with the president on his decision told ABC News in a background briefing the fundamental position of the United States is to maintain the current relationship with Egypt and remain engaged to help the military move in the right direction, while keeping "some leverage."
But the adviser said that position has become harder to sustain as Egypt keeps on the violent path it is on today, with hundreds dead and thousands injured following the government's crackdown on Egyptian protesters.
The adviser cited the suspension of the sale of F-16 fighter jets in late July as the first step to assert the United States' position on the current situation in Egypt. But because the Egyptian government has refused to stop the violence and channel its efforts into a more political process, instead forcefully clearing the squares against U.S. advice, the decision was made to cancel operation Bright Star -- a revenue generator for Egypt and the biggest military exercise between the two countries, involving 5,000 American troops.
The aide called both actions "high-profile responses."
Why not just cancel the $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, second only to Israel? The adviser said that would be a "difficult step to reverse" and would fundamentally change the relationship between the two countries.
"We want to make a considered judgment about that step, take the time to work through," the adviser said, adding that the Obama administration thinks the Egyptian military made a short-term calculation that it can crack down on the protesters and still return to democracy. But the Obama administration told Egypt that is hard to do, and the farther they go down their current path, the more difficult it will be to return.
"They know we are watching and looking for this current violent trend to end," the advisor said. "This type of crackdown is not a path to democracy or a sustained alliance with United States."