Four years ago, on June 4, 2009, President Barack Hussein Obama went to speak at Cairo University, where he pledged, to tumultuous applause, to tackle the Palestinian problem and to contest the widening spread of Islamophobia. That was leadership in action.

Four years later, when the Egyptian military toppled the lawfully-elected Morsi government and massacred Muslim Brotherhood supporters - a tyranny of state terror - Obama refused to classify it as a coup. This was no leadership.

Calling it a coup would have triggered sanctions against the Egyptian military under applicable US laws and even evoked calls for Morsi’s reinstatement.

It, arguably, may be conceded that, given the pervasive political corruption and intellectual dishonesty that shackles Washington’s Middle East policy, Obama has little room to manoeuvre. But leadership creates its own space, even within the limits of constraining parameters.

The doyenne of American journalists, Helen Thomas, 92, passed away on July 20. The octogenarian Helen, a path-breaking female journalist, was brutally shunned in 2010 when she dared to deviate from the beaten track and was effectively ousted from her perch in the White House for highlighting Palestinian dispossession.

One of the reasons former President Jimmy Carter’s imagery suffers in American media is because he dared to publicly empathise with the Palestinian plight. President Nixon, too, partially attributed his downfall to the relentless smearing of his presidency by similar vested interests.

The folly and failure of US policy in the Mideast is entrapped in false diagnosis. You cannot cure cancer by attacking only where it has metastasized (ignoring the origin of the disease). Leaders who are bright enough, honest enough, and courageous enough can figure it out and forge a path forward.

Those in Washington - and there are many - who are taking quiet delight over the Cairo carnage need reminding of the consequences flowing from the Anglo-American engineered ouster 60 years ago of the legitimate Iranian government of Dr Mosaddeq. Radical action begets even more radicalism. It happened in Algeria in 1992 and in the aftermath of the 2006 Hamas election win. Both elections were effectively rejected, with US acquiescence. Now Egypt, 2013, represents a hat-trick of nullification of election results in the Middle East. It sends a dual message to Islamic parties that power gained via the ballot box can be thwarted by bullets, and the West only likes democracy when it likes its results.

On the Morsi ouster, in effect, Israel, US, and the Arab Establishment are more or less on the same page.

So what is the principal charge against Morsi? Misgovernance. But it is a charge levelled against many governments by their opponents and the public. Obama is accused of the same by his diehard Republican opponents. But would that justify quashing his electoral mandate through a putsch by the Pentagon or gunning down his Democratic Party supporters?

The Egyptian coup cannot be compartmentalised. A precedent has been set with repercussions beyond the Middle East.

Had the Arab Establishment - when it really mattered - shown half the guts elsewhere as it has shown in confronting the Muslim Brotherhood, the prospects of the Palestinian people would have been altogether different.

The writer is an attorney-at-law and policy analyst based in Washington DC. He is the first Pakistani American member admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar.