President Costanza Strikes Again
President Obama has recently decided to cut back on the roughly $1.3 billion in foreign aid we give to Egypt. The U.S. is not going to send to Cairo some F-16s; some AH-64 Apache helicopters; some M-1/A-1 tank kits; and some Harpoon missiles. Also, the U.S. is not going to transfer $260 million in cash to the Egyptian government. The U.S. is also not proceeding with a $300 million loan guarantee.
If this were five months ago, I would be supportive of this move.
In a column from February, I evaluated the logic of continuing to give foreign aid to Egypt and determined that the U.S. should not continue to fund the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime of Egypt. I reached that position based on two broad elements: 1) the characteristics and actions of the MB regime; and 2) the economic viability of the Egyptian state.
The MB is a violent, fascist, anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and anti-Christian group. During their year in power, the MB showed little inclination towards adopting democratic norms, or human rights, and often instigated or surreptitiously supported violence against their opponents and minorities. It backed Hamas, a terrorist organization. And its leadership and members routinely threatened and insulted Israelis/Jews in the crudest and most bloodthirsty ways.
So, based on the MB's bad character, I argued against continuing U.S. aid.
Additionally, I studied the fiscal situation. As David Goldman has argued, the crisis in Egypt was as a result of the increasing economic problems that nation was facing. Just to survive each year, Egypt requires an infusion of $20 billion in non-military aid. Although the economic crisis was largely due to long-term factors that the MB regime could do little about, the MB government exacerbated that crisis. The only nation that could keep Egypt afloat was Saudi Arabia, but because the Saudi royal family hated and feared the MB, they would not intervene. And, that meant that any money the U.S. sent -- unless we were prepared to ship in non-military aid of $20 billion a year -- would be unable to keep Egypt afloat; this also argued against continued U.S. aid.
However since February, the facts on the ground in Egypt have dramatically changed. On July 3, 2013, the MB regime was ousted by the Egyptian military, prodded into action by millions of protesting Egyptians who were greatly concerned by the worsening economic situation and the MB's totalitarianism. In response, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations immediately pledged $12 billion to the new Egyptian rulers. And when the U.S. first threatened to cut off our largely military aid (which it never threatened during the MB's rule), the Saudi's assured the Egyptian military they would replace it.
With the situational facts having changed so markedly, it's time to reexamine the question of aid.
The key variable here is the character of the new Egyptian regime, which is dominated by the Egyptian military. It is hard to argue that this new regime is or will be worse than that of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the leading Egyptian general, al-Sissi, is known to be a pious Muslim, he and his subordinates have installed secularists as Egypt's official leaders. The military crackdown on protestors seems to be focused on the MB. The military has also conducted a tough campaign against jihadists in the Sinai. The military-backed government is promoting a campaign to "standardize religious discourse" and promote what authorities describe as true "Egyptian Islam," which would remove the heavily pro-MB imams from their perches at the mosque pulpit. The military-led government has also vowed to protect Christian Copts, and help them rebuild their churches, which the MB continues to target. (Hopefully, we will soon see more than just vows.) The military-led regime also should be more peaceful towards its neighbors; for example, it is unlikely to incite Egyptian jihadist involvement in Syria or threaten Ethiopia over water rights. No doubt partly because of all these things, the majority of the Egyptian people seem to support the military-led regime.
It is important not to idealize the military-led government. They "are not democrats, and never have been." They have been violent in their crackdown. However, certainly some of the blame for the current violence, which has killed and wounded thousands, needs to be affixed to the MB as well, which is well-known to instigate violence. MB protest camps were the site of many Egyptians being tortured, mutilated, raped, and mass murdered in the name of Islam and/or Brotherhood rule.
The military-led Egyptian government is also much more economically viable. Saudi Arabia has already announced that it is willing to fund Egypt now, and even replace any U.S. aid that is cut by President Obama. This economic aid will keep Egypt afloat, and if things calm down substantially, tourism may come back, providing additional money.
Based on these new facts, and the reevaluation of the two variables, the prudent decision, I believe, is to keep the aid flowing to the new Egyptian regime.
But President Obama does not agree. Obama has decided that the Egyptian military-led regime must be punished for overthrowing the legitimate elected (actually illegitimate ) MB, and cracking down on MB protestors, who often play to the cameras for media sympathy. And so, the U.S. has restricted some aid to Egypt, even though the Saudis will replace it, even though the decision will antagonize most Egyptians, and even though it will, in the words of Max Boot, "reinforce the tendency of our allies to be a lot less willing to rely on us and to listen to us. They may well wind up taking actions that Washington argues against -- in the case of Israel, bombing the Iranian nuclear program; in the case of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which have already provided billions in aid to the Egyptian military despite a lack of American support, pursuing their own nuclear programs; in the case of Iraq, Turkey, and Qatar, cozying up to Iran..."
This was a foolish decision by the President. I am guessing that he has not yet implemented the Costanza Doctrine.
Adam Turner serves as general counsel to the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET). He is a former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee where he focused on national security law.