The Danger of Enabling Reckless Clients
Ross Douthat points out some of the absurdities of current Egypt policy:
With our military aid to Egypt, we are paying for stability — but it’s not at all clear that the Egyptian military’s recent strategy will actually deliver it. We are paying for influence — but not enough, apparently, to persuade the country’s new rulers to listen to us when the chips are down. We are paying to keep our other allies and clients in the region happy — but Egypt’s example is demonstrating to those allies and clients that they, too, can essentially dictate the terms under which we pay their bills. We are paying in order to project power in the region — but right now, we’re projecting the weakness of a creditor who needs his debtors more than they need him.
Possibly the most ridiculous thing in all of this is that the U.S. could afford to forsake what little influence it has in Egypt, but desperately refuses to do so even as its limited influence is shown to be irrelevant. Indulging the blunders and excesses of clients is a good way to subvert U.S. interests and undermine regional stability while damaging America’s reputation around the world. It’s true that client states have their own interests that they will pursue no matter what Washington says, and those can and will diverge from ours from time to time, but when that divergence is great enough the U.S. should have no qualms about withdrawing its funds and its support. When a client is engaged in behavior that seems both self-destructive and dangerous to us, it is irresponsible for the U.S. to continue the relationship as if nothing is amiss. That’s a standard that the U.S. ought to apply to all of its client relationships, but it certainly applies in the case of Egypt.