Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This piece is reprinted with permission and can be found on Abrams' blog "Pressure Points" here.
Should U.S. military aid to Egypt now be suspended, as the law appears to require when there has been a military coup?
My answer is yes. First, it should be clear that there was a coup: The army overthrew an elected president, and did so without judicial or legislative justification. I discussed this at greater length last week in National Review. Second, we should follow our law and explain to the Egyptian military why we are doing so and what it means -- and does not mean.
As the Working Group on Egypt, of which I am a member, said today in a statement I signed,
"Suspending aid offers an incentive for the army to return to democratic governance as soon as possible, and a means to hold it accountable. Cajoling on democracy while keeping aid flowing did not work when the military ruled Egypt in the 18 months after Mubarak's fall, and it did not work to move President Morsi either. Abiding by the aid legislation will be unpopular with many Egyptians, and will cause tension in the bilateral relationship. But it need not rupture relations with Egypt's military or harm security cooperation, as long as the army fulfills its duty to shepherd a democratic transition. On the contrary, the administration should make clear to Egypt's generals and in its public statements the desire to maintain a close working relationship and to resume aid promptly once a democratically elected government has taken office."
Third, we should remember how little our aid actually helps the Egyptian military cope with the problems it faces today. The photo shown here is of F-16s flying over Tahrir Square. Those are among the 220 such planes that Egypt has acquired since 1980, and in fact Egypt operates more of them than any other country except the United States, Israel, and Turkey. In January it received four more, and another eight are scheduled for later this year -- at about $125 million each. Too much of the aid in past years, and this year, goes for this prestige item for the Egyptian military, with little use in addressing terrorism, internal disorder, lawlessness in Gaza, or any other of Egypt's pressing problems. Suspending deliveries of new F-16s for a few months, if it comes to that, is not a heavy price to pay for following our own laws.
From "Pressure Points" by Elliott Abrams. Reprinted with permission from the Council on Foreign Relations.