(CBS News) What President Obama should do in Egypt after the country's military overthrew its president, Mohammed Morsi, is a "tough call," Sen. John McCain acknowledged Sunday on "Face the Nation." But as violent clashes rage on in the Middle East, the Arizona Republican added, "Egypt is just one segment of a failure of American leadership over the last five years, and we need to start being leaders rather than bystanders."
Whether to stand by the Muslim Brotherhood-backed - but democratically elected - president puts the administration "in a dilemma," McCain said. "Morsi was a terrible president. Their economy is in terrible shape thanks to their policies. But the fact is, the United States should not be supporting this coup."
McCain, a member of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, conceded the roughly $1.3 billion in aid the U.S. provides the Egyptian military annually is already "there in the pipeline" for the fiscal year. But, echoing his call Friday for the administration to suspend that money, he said the United States must "make it very clear that American assistance will be directly related to their transition to a civilian government."
"It was a coup, and it was the second time in two and a half years that we have seen the military step in," McCain said. "It's a strong indicator of the lack of American leadership and influence, since we've urged the military not to do that. And, reluctantly, I believe that we have to suspend aid until such time as there is a new constitution and a free and fair election."
Citing the president's vague commitment to providing military support to civil war-torn Syria, McCain argued the Obama administration, "as usual on these issues," is "undecided, and going forward with a debate while events transpire. ...We don't claim it's going to be easy, but for us to continue to support coups is a lesson of history that we should have learned a long time ago. I think it would be a mistake, and, frankly, a contradiction."
According to a White House statement, Mr. Obama at a National Security Council meeting Saturday "reiterated that the United States is not aligned with, and does not support, any particular Egyptian political party or group." It said the administration remains "committed to the Egyptian people and their aspirations for democracy, economy opportunity, and dignity."
Meantime the Egyptian military, CBS foreign correspondent Clarissa Ward said earlier on the program, while "almost certainly still in charge," is trying to promote "the appearance that the interim president [Adly Mansour] is now running the country so that they can really step back, reduce their footprint and try to resume a more neutral role in Egyptian politics. ...They hate the 'coup' word."
For their part, Ward continued, the Egyptian people "aren't really fearing a full-scale civil war, but they certainly don't rule out the possibility, and they are bracing themselves for more political instability, for more protests, possibly more violence. And I think everybody watching very closely to see what the Muslim Brotherhood's next move is here - whether they take a step back and regroup and wait for more elections, or whether they continue to rebel against the military's takeover."