The U.S. and Egypt remained in a strange diplomatic situation August 15, 2013, after Egypt's military government killed nearly 600 of its opponents. The United States' top diplomats condemned the killing of 580 (the number was rising at this writing) members of the Muslim Brotherhood in a bloody crackdown to dispel groups loyal to deposed president Mohommed Morsi. U.S. President Barack Obama, however, stopped short of ending American aid to Egypt.
The Egyptian military pushed Morsi from power on July 3, 2013. Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected president after the Arab Spring revolution of 2011. While democratically elected, Morsi unilaterally changed parts of Egypt's constitution in late 2012. Morsi opponents claimed that he had become as dictatorial as his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.
While civilian, liberal, interim leaders -- President Adly Mansour and Vice President Mohamed El Baradei -- have fronted the government since Morsi's fall, it has been clear the military under General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been in charge. El Baradei resigned after the renewed violence.
Coup Or No Coup, Redux
American law prohibits the United States from sending foreign aid to governments that are the result of a coup. Thus, Obama's administration has avoided calling Morsi's ouster a coup, enabling it to keep the river of foreign aid to Egypt flowing.
Obama's rhetorical semantics, however, became harder to justify after the mid-August slaughter.
The U.S. sends some $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt each year; $1.3 billion of that is military aid. Among other things, that aid arrives in Egypt in the form of M1A1 Abrams tanks and F-16 fighter jets. It would be hard to figure how much American equipment, large or small, was involved in the most recent violence.
Obama did cancel U.S. cooperation with Egypt in military exercises, known as Bright Star, later in 2013. U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "We didn't feel, given the events of the last 36 hours, that [Bright Star] was an appropriate exercise that should continue." She added, however, that "I don't think anyone in the government thinks that simply the cancellation of Bright Star is going to change actions on the ground." Rather it was an attempt to encourage Egypt back to a "productive path."
America's money, however, is trumped by the $12 billion that Persian Gulf Arab monarchies have poured into Egypt since the July coup. The Gulf Arab states have no love for the politically charged Muslim Brotherhood and its growing ties to Turkey. If the sheikdoms want the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt diminished, thwarted, or simply gone, the U.S. may have little say in the matter.
Obama, Kerry Comments
Post-violence comments by Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry seemed tepid even as they strove for firm toughness. Increasingly, both men were encouraging support for the people of Egypt, if not for their government. They also held to a central theme of Obama's foreign policy: you may not always like what you get, but democracy is always the way to go.
Obama said, "The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt's interim government and security forces. We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest. We oppose the pursuit of martial law, which denies those rights to citizens under the principle that security trumps individual freedom, or that might makes right."
He said the Egyptian people "deserve better" than what they have experienced in the last few days.
Kerry concurred, saying "Violence is simply not a solution in Egypt or anywhere else. Violence will not create a roadmap for Egypt's future. Violence only impedes the transition to an inclusive civilian government, a government chosen in free and fair elections that governs democratically, consistent with the goals of the Egyptian revolution. And violence and continued political polarization will only further tear the Egyptian economy apart and prevent it from growing and providing the jobs and the future that the people of Egypt want so badly."
Egypt's economy has been central to Kerry's argument that the U.S. should not halt aid to the country. In July, Kerry argued against stopping aid to Egypt, fearing it would further hurt its halting economy. A Washington Post article August 15 suggested American jobs and political considerations drove military aid to Egypt more than Egyptian need. (Anyone remember Eisenhower's warning to beware the military-industrial complex?)
The Core Of The Matter
Since World War II, it seems that each generation or so the U.S. has to learn that it cannot force results anywhere it wants. That was true in Vietnam, it has been true in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Near the end of his comments, Obama cautioned Americans -- hawks, doves, liberals, moderates, Bush-era neo-cons, and whomever -- that such is also true in Egypt.
"Let me make one final point," the president said. "America cannot determine the future of Egypt. That's a task for the Egyptian people. We don't take sides with any particular party or political figure. I know it's tempting inside of Egypt to blame the United States or the West or some other outside actor for what's gone wrong. We've been blamed by supporters of Morsi. We've been blamed by the other side, as if we are supporters of Morsi. That kind of approach will do nothing to help Egyptians achieve the future that they deserve.
"We want Egypt to succeed," he continued. "We want a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Egypt. That's our interest. But to achieve that, the Egyptians are going to have to do the work."
And so, while the president should quit dithering and cut foreign aid to Egypt, he also gets the bigger picture. The U.S. can't do everything, nor should it."
The Guardian. Ian Black and Dan Roberts, "Egypt: Global Outcry Steps Up Pressure On US To Suspend Aid To Military," August 15, 2013. Accessed August 15, 2013.
U.S. Department of State. Press Briefing, August 15, 2013, and John Kerry remarks, August 14, 2013. Accessed August 16, 2013.
USA Today. Isobell Coleman, "Suspend U.S. Aid To Egypt: Column," August 15, 2013. Accessed August 15, 2013.
Washington Post. Brad Plummer, "The U.S. Sends Egypt More Military Aid Than It Can Possibly Use," August 15, 2013. Accessed August 15, 2013.
White House. President Obama Remarks, August 15, 2013. Accessed August 16, 2013.