Sunday, August 18, 2013

Call a coup a coup

I agree with David Remnick. Sure, suspending aid to Egypt will screw a lot of things up. But the Egyptian military has not only seized power without an election, it has also slaughtered hundreds of protesters. If that isn't enough to justify a cut-off, is there anything that would be?

Put another way, the Foreign Assistance Act requires that aid be automatically cut off if there is a coup d'etat "in which the military plays a decisive role." The purpose of that law was to deter foreign militaries from overthrowing an elected government. By making the suspension of aid automatic, it is the foreign military's action that causes aid to stop flowing. American law puts the cut off trigger in the would-be coup plotter's own hand. That means the coup-plotter must take the expected pain from an aid cut-off in deciding whether to go ahead with a coup. That's where the law's deterrent effect lies.

But if the suspension does not depend upon coup leader's actions, but rather whether the American President decides to label a change in government a "coup", it changes that dynamic. The trigger is no longer in the coup-plotters hands, it's in the President's and there is no real reason to deter would-be coup plotters anymore. Rather than having to balance the benefits of political power with the damage from a suspension in aid that will happen automatically, the coup-plotter knows that he might be able to have his cake and eat it too. What if he can seize power and talk the U.S. into leaving that aid in place? Any coup-plotter is a risk taker, so who wouldn't take that deal?

It's now also clear that the Egyptian military was privately assured by both Israel and the UAE that it could slaughter people on its streets without losing its aid. So fuck al-Sisi, fuck Israel and fuck the UAE. Obama should come out now and call it a "coup." The Egyptians can try to retaliate and make the transit of American military vehicles through Egyptian territory more inconvenient. I'm sure the U.S. will find some way to deal with that. And because the aid package was a bribe to keep Egypt abiding by the Camp David Accords, it might lead to changes in the Egyptian-Israeli relationship if the aid package is suspended long term, and Israel will probably take a serious economic hit if Egypt stops supplying it with natural gas. But if we want the aid to pay for influence, the U.S. needs to use its influence or else it won't have any and then what exactly are we paying for?

Once again, we are talking about a package that is almost entirely military aid. ($1.3 billion in military aid vs. 250 million of non-military aid) The money is not primarily going to feed starving children. It's paying for the weapons to shoot those kids' parents. I'm enough of a realist to think that sometimes it makes sense for the U.S. to spend money to buy influence. But unless the U.S. actually follows its own laws and is willing to cut off aid when recipients do something this egregious, it hasn't got what it paid for.