Cutting U.S. Military Aid to Egypt Could Be More Helpful Than All the Military Aid It's Gotten So Far

U.S. is threatening to cut military aid after a military coup, but military aid's a big reason for Egyptian woes in the first place


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Since the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel in 1978, the United States has sent annual military aid to both countries as part of the agreement. Egypt has received about $1.3 billion a year in military aid (and a smaller amount in "economic aid") since 1979. The Camp David Accords helped set the stage for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat by Islamic fundamentalists in 1981; he was succeeded by Hosni Mubarak. As the Mubarak regime built on the authoritarian legacy of Sadat and his predecessor, Gamal Nasser, U.S. aid continued, the bulk of it to the military apparatus that allowed Mubarak to retain power, and which was understood by the U.S. to  be the underpinning of the Egyptian state.

No Amnesty International report on the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Egyptian state was going to jeopardize military aid the U.S. believed to be crucial to maintaining "stability" (pdf) in the region. It was the military that finally helped push Hosni Mubarak out of power in 2011 during mass protests in Tahrir Square. Military aid from the U.S. continued through the transition and after Mohamed Morsi was elected. Aid continued even as Obama said Egypt wasn't an ally anymore (the State Department quickly corrected him), and survived sporadic efforts to cut it as the regime in Egypt became less openly pro-American.

Since the weekend, Egypt has been gripped by protests even larger than the 2011 protests that saw the ouster of Mubarak. The military eventually issued an ultimatum, threatening to intervene if what they perceived as the demands of the people were not met. When the deadline passed, the military stepped in, ousting Morsi and suspending the Constitution he pushed through with a snap referendum last December. While the generals appeared to be backed by some of the most important religious figures in Egypt (the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University and the Pope of the Coptic Church) as well as Mohammed ElBaradei, a leading secular figure in the opposition, the military also reportedly shut down Islamist-run TV stations.

Now, for probably the first time in more than thirty years, the U.S. says its actually reviewing its military aid to Egypt (it set conditions before, but the aid's always eventually come) based on a rule requiring suspension of aid following a military coup (except when that doesn't suit Washington's interest, like in Honduras). The U.S. government is highly likely to decide the coup in Egypt wasn't really a coup and find a way to keep the aid flowing. Even though Egyptians on the street appeared to blame the Obama Administration for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government, much of the U.S. aid during Morsi's rule continued to go to the military. And that's the problem.

As Shikha Dalmia rightly noted last summer, U.S. military aid to Egypt has contributed a lot to the dire economic situation in Egypt because it's allowed the military to secure and maintain a stranglehold on the Egyptian economy. Economic woes played a large part in the series of Mubarak era food riots and protests that eventually led to his ouster, and were a major factor in the current round of protests. As I wrote earlier this week, so long as Egyptians (or any protesters) expect more government intervention to fix the economic problems caused by government intervention there isn't going to be a happy ending. The U.S. cutting military aid, then, might do more to set Egypt on a path to stability than any amount of U.S. military aid would.

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  1. What, you want riots int the streets or something?

    1. We were talking about this at the bar tonight.

      I’m not mad that we don’t have riots.

      Sure, there are legitimate arguments to be made that we’ve strayed far away from our constitutional path, but burning down the McDonalds isn’t going to make us reverse course any sooner.

      All politics is, in fact, local, so as Uncle Milton reminds us “we need to make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.”

      We aren’t going to find enlightened beings to figure it out for us.

      1. Shut up, Tman. A political shift without a burning McDonalds is a political shift not worth having.

        1. Maybe a Burger King.

          Have it your way MY ASS.

        2. Both of you are wrong. McDonalds can stay, but Citro?ns MUST BE FLIPPED.

          1. Don’t they just roll back over if you do that?

            You can’t kill that which was never alive.

            1. Y’all have an unhealthy lack of obsession with the riotous flipping of small French cars.

              1. jesse, your Citroen hatred is utterly misplaced. What needs to happen is that we find the remaining number of these and flip and burn them.

                Citroen has had some very cool designs, and occasionally continues to do so. Even if Renault had made some good products ever, nothing could forgive them of making a crappy knock-of of the Dodge Colt.

  2. the U.S. says its actually reviewing its military aid to Egypt

    Nah. I hear we don’t choose sides

  3. This post misses the point of our foreign aid. It is not given to help Egypt, it is given to persuade Egypt to play nice with Israel and help us fight Al Qaeda.

    And in part its a response to the fact that we give Israel a lot of money and that we used to give aid to Al Qaeda, which is now a threat.

    To foreign aid, the cause, and the solution of all our foreign problems!

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  5. “No Amnesty International report on the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Egyptian state was going to jeopardize military aid the U.S. believed to be crucial to maintaining “stability” (pdf) in the region.”

    When the U.S. started giving money to Egypt, we displaced the USSR as Egypt’s largest foreign donor. Our payments to Egypt weren’t really about stability–any more than our support for the Iranian coup in 1953 was about stability.

    It was about the Cold War. It was always about the Cold War. Our support for Israel was about the Cold War. During the Cold War, we were willing to support anybody and everybody that was willing to fight communists or those who sympathized with them–in Afghanistan, Iran, Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador, Vietnam, elsewhere in Asia, and various places in Africa…including Egypt.

    It’s very hard to unwind those alliances once they’re no longer useful, but we should have started once the Berlin wall came down. Once various Islamists started to present a security threat to the United States, being especially brutal to Islamists, like Mubarak and the Egyptian army were, kept the money taps open.

    1. I don’t see how you can square our support for Israel as being Cold War related. In the Cold War we were trying to win over allies from the Soviets. Our support of Israel enraged the Islamic world and pushed them towards the Soviets. Heck, we’re still dealing with this second hand animosity.

      I think we supported Israel, at great cost to ourselves, because we saw in them a kindred spirit; we’re a nation founded on Judeo-Christian religion and democracy and Israel was an island of that in a sea of very different regimes.

      1. Well there may be some chicken and egg going on there, but suffice it to say that by 1967, the Soviets were in it up to their necks with Israel’s enemies .

        Incidentally, the Russians can’t seem to unwind their Cold War relationships either. Who’s always standing up for Iran and Syria?

        Our support for Egypt is probably the biggest reason why our relationship with Egypt isn’t adversarial like our relationship is with Syria and Iran. Don’t you agree?

        1. I agree it makes Egypt more inclined to play nice with us and our allies. But I think some of the adverseness of our relationship with Syria and Iran has to do with our own past and present meddling in their affairs. I think we’d be better off generally to not support anyone other than in treaty obligations that directly benefit our actual security.

          1. I suspect you’re probably right, but the trends we’re talking about span decades and generations. They’re hard to reverse.

            I wish we could form some kind of free trade agreement with Iran–like we did with China. The obstacle to China trade in the past was the Democrats. We used to have to go through the Most Favored Nation debate on a regular basis–because, you know, China was a brutal totalitarian state that tortures people, etc.

            Meanwhile, our trade relationship with China improved our security relationship with them dramatically. They may still be a threat to our allies, but they’d do incredible damage to their economy if they ever went to war with us. Peace is much more profitable.

            I wish that were our relationship with Iran. Instead we’re pursuing sanctions. Those may be effective in making Iran burn through its foreign reserves and cripple their nuclear program in the short term, but long term, that’s the perfectly wrong direction to go.

            I wish we’d been able to send checks to Syria and Iran like we did with Egypt.

            1. I wish we’d been able to send checks to Syria and Iran like we did with Egypt.

              Maybe Syria, but Iran is it’s own special brand of nuts. Not all situations are the same.

              1. Yeah, we may have to fight a war of self-defense against them someday, and I’d just like for there to be a way to avoid that.

  6. That’s all there was to it. It was about the Cold War. Then it was about being brutal to the Islamists. Now that we’ve seen that the Egyptian people are perfectly capable of chasing an Islamist government out of power, I don’t know why we should keep sending them money.

    But let’s not pretend the money never had any purpose. Sending checks can be a lot less painful and a lot less expensive than sending troops (to places like Vietnam and Iraq.)

    I wish we could have just sent checks–like we did with Egypt–to Vietnam and Iraq instead of troops. Comparatively speaking, Egypt was a bargain.

    1. Now that we’ve seen that the Egyptian people are perfectly capable of chasing an Islamist government out of power, I don’t know why we should keep sending them money.

      Strange, all I saw the Egyptian people do was protest. It was the US-funded military that removed Morsi from power.

      1. Yeah, they were reacting to the people.

        All the reports I’ve seen suggest that the army’s move is popular right now.

        All bets are off tomorrow morning, but for right now, those millions of protestors seem to be jubilant.

        This kind of reminds me of the way Turkey used to do things. The Turks used to sleep well at night knowing that if an Islamist were to come to power, the military would step in with a coup.

        Incidentally, this too is a lot like what used to happen in South America. Free elections? Sure thing. But if the communists win, don’t worry–the army will step in and save us.

        I’ve often wondered… If, say, the Occupy Wall Street people ever came to power, how bad would things have to get before I started hoping the American military would step in and restore sanity?

  7. how bad would things have to get

    I’ve read that last paragraph like five times now while doing a mental rundown of the conduct of the US Gov over the last decade and I’m almost to the point of wishing there was a giant red RESET button hidden in a bunker in Colorado with a sign above it reading “In Case of Impending Tyranny Press Here.”

    But not quite yet, I guess.

    1. I’d think satan would be happy about the invocations. Isn’t Satan a bit like Warty?

      1. I think Satan resents the comparison.

    1. Reminds me of something, but I can’t put my finger on it.

      Oh, and HM, this dovetails nicely with my complaint in a thread a few days back about hereditary Jewish rights vs. modern contrivances for realizing them. My dispute isn’t about the poor Palestinians whose land the Israelis currently “occupy”, but with the massive expense and loss of life in preserving the Jewish claim. I understand why Americans take an interest in Israeli statehood, both as global police and (at least prior to virtually annexing Iraq) as a toehold in the mideast, but why should American taxpayers be put on the hook for maintaining the Jewish homeland?

      Not that I think you think we should, but you did defend the notion that Israelis have the privilege of existing in Israel and that, at least initially, they didn’t need Western aid in holding it. That we’re bribing Egypt, among others, to coexist peaceably seems to suggest a moral onus placed on us to maintain civility in the region.

      1. Half a bottle of sauv blanc is making me loquacious and fucking ambiguous, so I’ll refine: what is our imperative, now that the stone has been cast, for dealing with the Israeli situation? A century later (nearly?) the region seems no less incendiary than at its founding, and whatever chops they demonstrated in the six-day war and ensuing confrontations, we’re dealing with as much hostility, bigger civvy populations, and more destructive weapons. I’m caught between wanting to see Israel preserved, because I’m not a genocidal sadist, and not wanting the US playing lackey to others’ foreign policies. You seem better informed among libertarians I’ve read on the subject, and not as warmongering as Cyto and others. I’m interested in hearing your say.

        1. Oops, looking back that should read “half-century later”. Totes embarrassed.

      2. “Reminds me of something, but I can’t put my finger on it.”

        Wow — My exact reaction also.

    1. This Zimmerman thing is spreading far afield.

  8. Now if they can just get the protesters to stop being so rapey.

    1. Not a chance. Too many males, too much gazing.

  9. The thing is, the choice is basically between the military stepping in now and then and having an Islamist state.

    Which is better?

    That’s the trouble with democracy – it’s a tyranny of the majority. That’s what happened when Mubarek was ousted and the Muslim Brotherhood came into power. They started erecting an Islamist state, more oppressive than Mubarek. The people revolted. Not the majority, but enough that the military had to act.

    The problem isn’t supporting Egypt’s military. Quite honestly, I’d trust any nation’s military more than the elected government. People go into the military because they love their country. People go into politics because they love personal power.

    The problem is that we supported the Muslim Brotherhood.

  10. a military coup (except when that doesn’t suit Washington’s interest, like in Honduras)

    Eh, the link you offered there is misleading, as the Honduras “coup” was complicated. The President removed was violating Honduran law. The Honduras Congress, including members of both parties, voted to remove him after he continued to violate duly passed Honduran law. Zelaya refused to accede to that.

    A Constitutional crisis, certainly, leading to some horrible results. “Coup” is a bit of a loaded word, though.

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