Despite the Egyptian military’s brutal crackdown on government protesters, which has resulted in more than 500 deaths, President Obama declined to suspend America’s annual $1.3 billion in military assistance to the country. In fact, in Thursday’s 800-word address from Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama did not say the words "aid" or "coup." Instead, he took the more modest step of cancelling next month’s joint U.S. military exercise with Egypt.
"The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government and security forces," he said. "While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back."
The statements divided those seeking a sharp U.S. break from Egypt’s military and those who hold the U.S.-Egypt relationship as sacrosanct. "While suspending joint military exercises as the President has done is an important step, our law is clear: aid to the Egyptian military should cease unless they restore democracy," said Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy in a statement.
Pushing back against the "cut the aid" camp, Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass supported the president’s decision. "Agree with US line re Egypt," he tweeted. "Cancel exercise, keep aid in place, but puts generals on notice that time running out absent restraint/reform."
The question now is, how much time can the U.S. afford to give Egyptian generals as the slaughter of antigovernment protesters continues? As it stands, the death toll in Egypt has climbed to more than 500 with the number of injured up to 3,700. Following the military’s crackdown on two sit-ins on Wednesday, Egypt’s widely-respected Vice President Mohammad ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, resigned in protest.
Now, some of President Obama’s toughest foreign policy critics in Congress are in an awkward position, given their recent votes on Egyptian aid. Sen. John McCain told The Wall Street Journal yesterday that Obama’s policies on Egypt were a "colossal failure" and urged the president to cut off the $1.3 billion in military aid the U.S. sends to Egypt. However, just two weeks ago, when Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood was well underway, though the street violence not so much, he voted against cutting off aid to the country.
"It would be a terrific mistake for the United States to send a message to Egypt: you’re on your own," McCain said on the Senate floor. "I urge my colleagues to vote to table the Paul amendment."
The amendment, which would’ve suspended aid to Egypt until the government holds free elections, was rejected in a landslide 86-13 vote.
Still, in his Thursday address, Obama did not suggest that U.S. aid to Egypt was set in stone. "Going forward, I’ve asked my national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim government and further steps that we may take as necessary with respect to the U.S.- Egyptian relationship," he said. "Let me say that the Egyptian people deserve better than what we’ve seen over the last several days. And to the Egyptian people, let me say the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop."
Hagel and China today; Mubarak to be released?; It was us the whole time! CIA admits to Iranian coup; Meet the Marine major taking on Corps leadership; Why there is so much fog over sarin in Syria; and a bit more.Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |