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America Pays, Whoever Is in Charge of Egypt

Existing federal law may force the U.S. government to do something previously proposed by Rand Paul: cut off foreign aid to Egypt.

Under Section 508, “none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup or decree.”

While President Obama has been careful to avoid labeling the ouster of democratically elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi a coup, the provision is not subject to presidential waiver.

Last year, Paul introduced legislation to suspend foreign aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan. After the Senate overwhelmingly defeated his bill, Paul ran ads against swing-state Democratic senators who voted against it.

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“While they tear down and burn the American flag in Egypt and shout ‘death to America’,” said the narrator in the spot that ran in West Virginia, “Joe Manchin votes to provide U.S. taxpayer aid to Egypt.”

Paul also tried unsuccessfully to block the sale of fighter jets and tanks to the Egyptian government. “I think it particularly unwise to send tanks and our most sophisticated fighter planes to Egypt at a time when many are saying the country may be unraveling,” he said on the Senate floor.

The Senate thought otherwise, rejecting Paul’s amendment by a vote of 79 to 19. Every vote in favor, however, came from fellow Republicans.

According to most polls, the public stands with Rand on foreign aid. Of course, voters have an exaggerated sense of how much international assistance really costs in the grand scheme of the massive federal budget.

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Foreign aid accounts for less than 1 percent of federal spending. (A 2011 CNN poll [1] found that most Americans thought the figure was closer to 10 percent, with one in five believing it was closer to 30 percent.) But it can be pretty expensive in terms of the trouble it buys.

Years of propping up Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Cairo bought the U.S. the undying enmity of anti-Mubarak protestors, many of whom voted for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. Similarly, the anti-Morsi demonstrators who helped topple the government last week were chanting against Obama as well, resenting the administration’s apparent support for a leader they despised.

With Morsi gone, the tables on aid to Egypt have turned somewhat. With the military benefiting rather than the Muslim Brotherhood, many Republicans are reluctant to cut off aid. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called the army “a key partner of the United States and a stabilizing force in the region.”

Sen. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also sounded supportive of sending American tax dollars to Egypt’s military. “Our long-standing cooperation with Egypt, which is essential for stability in the region, should remain a priority,” he said in a statement.

Many foreign-policy experts regard the aid as America’s main source of leverage in Egypt, fearing that policymakers will have fewer options short of military involvement without it. Although Paul argued that sending tanks and planes to Egypt endangered Israel, AIPAC actually quietly opposed [2] his amendment.

But this is clearly a case of U.S. taxpayer dollars funding both sides of a conflict—and arguably alienating all sides of the region’s population in the process. When the subject was aid to Israel, Paul once said, “You have to ask yourself, are we funding an arms race on both sides?”

In this case, we face the options of funding a democracy that might empower parties holding anti-American views, supporting a military government that suppresses democracy, or funding elements that are less illiberal but lack democratic legitimacy.

Oddly, one Republican senator who may now be on Paul’s side is John McCain. “Reluctantly, I believe that we have to suspend aid until such time as there is a new constitution and a free and fair election,” McCain said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

McCain, an advocate for democracy promotion, originally did not want [3] the Muslim Brotherhood involved in any transition government. Now he says their overthrow must trigger a chance in U.S. policy.

“It was a coup, and it was the second time in two-and-a-half years that we have seen the military step in,” the old maverick said. “It is a strong indicator of a lack of American leadership and influence.”

Yet the reaction of a bipartisan gaggle of other senators on the Sunday talk suggests Washington is likely to try very hard to wriggle out of its legal bind on aid to Egypt, and it is possible that Congress will move to waive foreign-aid stipulations in this particular case.

Paul and McCain might make a strange bedfellows’ coalition on Egypt aid. More telling will be where grassroots conservatives stand now that the Muslim Brotherhood is gone.

W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? [4]

25 Comments (Open | Close)

25 Comments To "America Pays, Whoever Is in Charge of Egypt"

#1 Comment By Wes On July 8, 2013 @ 4:36 am

I really can’t understand this big flip-flop on the part of John McCain. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government had been instituting increasingly authoritarian policies and was not at all on the road to being a liberal democracy. This led Morsi and his government to lose popular legitimacy which was illustrated by the massive nationwide protests against their rule. Morsi’s supporters then launched large counter-protests, which threatened widespread bloodshed. All of this is why the Egyptian military deposed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government, which doesn’t make it a coup or at least not one in the traditional sense of the word.

Now I do believe that part, but not all, of the U.S.’s aid to Egypt should be contingent on the Egyptian government overturning the convictions of those Egyptian, American, and other foreign pro-democracy and civil society activists who were arrested and tried. As part of this condition, the Egyptian government should also be obliged to allow other Egyptian and foreign pro-democracy and civil society activists to operate freely in Egypt, because we could very well see yet another Egyptian “Revolution” in a few years if Egypt’s democratic structures and civil society don’t develop more and faster. Otherwise, this cycle of political, social, and economic instability would just continue in Egypt.

#2 Comment By spite On July 8, 2013 @ 7:47 am

“Washington is likely to try very hard to wriggle out of its legal bind”. I really don’t know why they even bother to pretend there is any legal and principled foreign policy being run here, I mean who exactly are they trying to fool here ?

#3 Comment By David McCombs On July 8, 2013 @ 8:12 am

I take issue with your statement “Of course, voters have an exaggerated sense of how much international assistance really costs in the grand scheme of the massive federal budget.”

At a time of massive budget shortfalls, it is important to look at every expenditure for return on investment. These expenditures will be known for there negitive return.

#4 Comment By collin On July 8, 2013 @ 9:40 am

Is it Egyptian aid a bribe to the military to avoid Israel?

#5 Comment By Daniel On July 8, 2013 @ 9:46 am

David McCombs, I concur. The negative return for this military aid vastly dwarfs its initial investment…it’s probably the absolutely worst use of government funds possible, with the ROI measured in terms of American deaths and maimed veterans, terrorist attacks and a poisoned attitude about the US whereever our military largess is found.

#6 Comment By Mont D. Law On July 8, 2013 @ 10:37 am

Does anyone have an explanation of how cutting off aid to Egypt serves American interests? If Egypt turns into Libya how is that a good thing? Is protecting Jordan, Lebanon and Israel an interest it’s profitable for America to abandon? How does standing by watching Egypt turn into another Syria lead to a good outcome for the US? As far as I can tell it just increases the chances of extended American involvement down the road. If it was coupled with a willingness to abandon the region entirely it might work. But there is zero political will for that.

#7 Comment By Clint On July 8, 2013 @ 10:52 am

Interestingly, in January, AIPAC opposed Rand Paul’s foreign aid amendment, blocking military sales to Egypt, because they thought that the measure, if passed, would diminish U.S. influence in Egypt.
The Senate voted 79 to 19 to table the amendment, which would have revised the debt ceiling bill to prohibit the federal government from selling F-16 fighter jets, M1 tanks and similar weaponry to Egypt.

#8 Comment By T. Sledge On July 8, 2013 @ 11:01 am

Egypt is being paid to uphold its obligations under the Camp David Accords. The Palestinians are capable of committing an occasional terrorist act, and the Syrians may huff and puff, but the Israelis will surely blow their house down.

Egypt alone, by her sheer size and centrality in the Arab world, could, should she to return to a hostile posture toward Israel, upset the (rotten) apple cart in the Middle East.

We ought to stop pretending that the billions we pay to Egypt annually are anything other than a bribe, and the Egyptians are anything other than eminently corrupt.

#9 Comment By Nick On July 8, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

Rand Paul once again demonstrates why he deserves my vote for 2016.

I am tired of watching US taxpayer money go down rabbit holes in the desert.

#10 Comment By Sean Gillhoolley On July 8, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

With the financial and economic problems that the US is facing, I do not understand why it is giving ANY money to any other country. That money could be better used at home. The military is also at its breaking point, with soldiers expected to serve one combat tour after another without break. Suicides in the military have skyrocketed, as have domestic abuse, homelessness, and the myriad physical consequences of a military that uses its soldiers as scientists use guinea pigs. Everytime I see a Support the Troops bumper magnet I get a little angrier, knowing that those people really mean support the war, whatever war is going on that day, and rarely seem to care about all the used up soldiers that have been tossed aside once their usefulness is gone…as has always been the case with society and the military.

#11 Comment By Home Again On July 8, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

In a time of mass unemployment, deficits and economic chaos here at home it is mind-bogglingly irresponsible for Congress to send tens of billions of dollars every year to corrupt, parasitic “friends and allies” like Egypt and Israel.

This aid began almost 40 years ago. It was supposed to buy peace. At the very least the recipients were supposed to grow up and pay their own bills after a decade or two, not become permanent dependents living on the American dole.

But instead of peace and an end to aid we got contempt and more demands for money, weapons and special privileges. In the case of Egypt we paid for a corrupt military dictatorship, while Israel has come to expect that we will fight its wars even as it spits in our face by building more settlements in the West Bank.

#12 Comment By spite On July 8, 2013 @ 2:21 pm

T. Sledge
The problem is paying a bribe makes you just as corrupt.

#13 Comment By Reinhold On July 8, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

This is a sick joke; the American government has given foreign aid to many military dictatorships which came to power by coup. Suharto and Pinochet come to mind, though there is a litany of them.

#14 Comment By Michael N Moore On July 8, 2013 @ 4:10 pm

Good work as usual from Rand Paul. Let’s just watch the military industrial complex wriggle their way around this one.

The last time this happened Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was unable to delay aid to the, then unknown, Egyptian government: “A delay or a cut in $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt risked breaking existing contracts with the American arms manufacturer that could have shut down production lines in the middle of President Obama’s re-election campaign…” -NY Times of March 24, 2012

I was interested to see it reported when Senator Kerry was appointed to State that he was to divest his stock in his local company, Raytheon, one of the biggest military contractors in the World.

#15 Comment By c matt On July 8, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

What’s to stop the egyptian military, once they feel they have received enough aid, to turn on whatever paper commitments they made to the US? And if they didn’t, wouldn’t the simple threat of turning hasten us togive more aid?

Man, are we being played.

#16 Comment By JB On July 8, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

How about ending taxpayer aid to foreign governments and militaries entirely, regardless of whether the government in question was elected or not?

#17 Comment By T. Sledge On July 8, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

to spite:

You are absolutely correct. I think sometimes that our so-called “clients” in the Middle East are like little cute tarts who have beguiled an old foolish man (who should know better), into frittering away money he earned from a lifetime of hard work; he lavishes cash on her, which she promptly spends amusing herself and some young stud.

We are to Israel (and Egypt) what that pathetic character played by Emil Jannings in The Blue Angel was to the Marlene Dietrich character —- a once respectable being who squandered his dignity and his very sanity on a soul-less, selfish trollop.

#18 Comment By Myron Hudson On July 8, 2013 @ 5:56 pm

The USA has long been in the practice of supporting governments established by coup, including those which overthrew democratically-elected governments. When it suits us, we even support the overthrow.

I find it hard to believe that McCain has suddenly grown a conscience. Of course that’s what he would have to do in order to join Rand Paul, but I suspect his motivation is more self-serving and partisan than based on principle.

#19 Comment By James Canning On July 8, 2013 @ 6:14 pm

What Egypt needs more than anything else, perhaps, is a way to control the growth of the population of the country.
But this aspect of the equation gets no discussion, as a rule.

#20 Comment By Wes On July 8, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

Sean Gillhoolley, you wrote this: “Everytime I see a Support the Troops bumper magnet I get a little angrier, knowing that those people really mean support the war whatever war is going on that day, and rarely seem to care about all the used up soldiers that have been tossed aside once their usefulness is gone…as has always been the case with society and the military.”

Soldiers are NOT social workers, for your information. Their job is to fight, kill, and destroy the enemies of the United States, whether you like it or not. Now I do agree with you that our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have had way too many deployments. And this includes all of the National Guard soldiers and activated Reserves who have also been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The military should have allowed more un- or less experienced troops to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to take some of the slack off of the really combat-experienced troops. The government also probably should have increased the number of active-duty personnel in the Army and the Marine Corps post 9/11 more than it actually did.

And now, the government is going back to pre-9/11 troop numbers for the Army and Marine Corps. This means that the next time that the United States fights a relatively significant ground war, there will be great stress on our troops, or at least at first. And I’m not really sure how many Americans “support the war whatever war is going on that day,” meaning the politics of the war. Americans love our troops, but they tend to be apathetic at best about the wars that our troops fight and opposed to the wars at worst.

I’m also not really sure that I agree with you that our soldiers today are “tossed aside once their usefulness is gone.” It may have been that way during and after the Vietnam War, but the anti-war movement was much more powerful, energized, and unpredictable during that era than it has been post-9/11. Now there has been a big backlog in government approval of veterans’ disability benefits cases. This is horrible, but it’s more of a case of bureaucratic red-tape than people not caring about our troops. But I also believe that if Obama really considered the backlog in approval of veterans’ disability benefits a huge problem, then he would have either already fixed it or been well on his way to fixing it.

#21 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 8, 2013 @ 9:02 pm

” . . .of the U.S.’s aid to Egypt should be contingent on the Egyptian government overturning the convictions of those Egyptian, American, and other foreign pro-democracy and civil society activists who were arrested and tried. As part of this condition, the Egyptian government should also be obliged to allow other Egyptian and foreign pro-democracy and civil society activists to operate freely in Egypt, . . .

This is very funny. And the reason would be because we say so? Like it or not the military has been the stabilizing force in the country for more than fifty years. It was our pressure, foolishly, on the military that removed Mubarak. It is also our meddling that is helping to provoke the continued destabilation — No, I cannot prove this. It’s an educated guess based on our past practices in the region, Greece, the African Continent —

If prodemocratarians or others wich to protest in Egypt, they do so at their own risk should be our policy and our practice.

#22 Comment By REMant On July 8, 2013 @ 10:05 pm

The war-mongering Senate defeated Rand Paul’s attempt 79-19. And so much for the president’s assertion he supports democracy, whether it agrees with us or not.

#23 Comment By Mark Ryan On July 10, 2013 @ 5:21 pm

Rand Paul is not a conservative. Paul is a libertarian border-line anarchist. He wants to do away with the state. The state is only an adversary when it is in the wrong hands. But there seems to be a larger question here of what conservatism really means. I am a Christopher Lasch conservative.

Military aid should end but not economic aid. China is aiding third world nations and funding projects around the globe because they understand that aid is an investment with returning dividends. Such aid opens markets for China while securing natural resources that help fuel China’s economy.

#24 Comment By BigGovernment On July 11, 2013 @ 3:01 am

On a philosophical level, the government has no business bribing any entities in foreign countries, particularly in the financial economic climate we have at home. Like spite T.Sledge said, giving a bribe makes you just as corrupt as those taking it.

I cringe at the thought we borrow from China when we are doling out such large sums across the middle east.
The irony is that while some Conservatives get up in arms about government meddling at home, we tend to give a free pass to our government interfering in foreign countries.

#25 Comment By David T On July 14, 2013 @ 11:15 pm

“After the Senate overwhelmingly defeated his bill, Paul ran ads against swing-state Democratic senators who voted against it.

“While they tear down and burn the American flag in Egypt and shout ‘death to America’,” said the narrator in the spot that ran in West Virginia, “Joe Manchin votes to provide U.S. taxpayer aid to Egypt.”

Doesn’t look like the ad was very effective: Manchin defeated his GOP opponent 60.6-36.5 while Romney was easily carrying the state…