Saturday, August 17, 2013

Egyptian-American Symbiosis

One of those points that I seem to harp on a lot here is the enormous influence that the U.S. has over the Egyptian military because it is funded by American aid. But the NY Times drew my attention to the flip side of this influence, Egypt's influence over the U.S.:

Most nations, including many close allies of the United States, require up to a week’s notice before American warplanes are allowed to cross their territory. Not Egypt, which offers near-automatic approval for military overflights, to resupply the war effort in Afghanistan or to carry out counterterrorism operations in the Middle East, Southwest Asia or the Horn of Africa. 

Losing that route could significantly increase flight times to the region.

American warships are also allowed to cut to the front of the line through the Suez Canal in times of crisis, even when oil tankers are stacked up like cars on an interstate highway at rush hour. Without Egypt’s cooperation, military missions could take days longer.

 The Egyptian military's aid package dates back to the late 1970s. Which means that the U.S. has had almost 35 years to push its weight around with the Egyptian government to get special concessions and privileges. But then those concessions became the background assumptions for the U.S. government when it planned other things. Planning for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan assumed expedited passage through the Suez Canal, et cetera. As those assumptions are relied upon for more and more activities of the U.S. government, the threat that they may stop becomes more and more disruptive to the U.S. Which means that the Egyptian government ends up with some bargaining power over the U.S. What starts as a one-sided power relationship between superpower and client state, becomes more of a symbiotic relationship as those Egyptian favors get incorporated deeper and deeper into American plans, making it more and more difficult for Americans to imagine going without them.

I had not thought of that aspect to the relationship. As a practical matter, the U.S. has a lot less influence than I have been crediting them with. The influence might be there on paper--cutting off funding would be devastating to the Egyptian military, and the Egyptian military knows it.  But because of all those other things, the U.S. is not going to exercise that power, and the Egyptian military probably knows that too. Which means the U.S. really doesn't have that much influence after all.