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Is US policy on Egypt shifting?

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Michele Dunne, who spent 17 years at the State Department focused on the Middle East and ended her government service as a staffer on President George W. Bush's National Security Council, took issue (kindly) with parts of a story I wrote this morning about the Obama administration's actions on Egypt not matching its words.

The following are comments Ms. Dunne, now a senior associate in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, emailed to me with some minor changes (completing abbreviated words, mostly).

  • Obama administration did not ramp up democracy rhetoric after he entered office.  Quite the opposite.  They dropped it completely, except for brief mention in his 2009 Cairo speech, and cut democracy assistance programs to Egypt in half.  All that only changed after Jan 2011. 
  • While I agree that the Obama administration was woefully slow and indecisive about suspending assistance after the coup, they eventually suspended all major weapons deliveries starting in late July.  This might not be enough, but it is the first time in 40 years any US administration has suspended military deliveries to Egypt for any reason.  I don’t see how you can fail to mention this.
  • Senator Leahy has now objected strongly to the delivery of $650 million in military assistance that the admin announced (last) week, and it is effectively re-suspended. Delivery of Apaches is likely to go forward, both because this is (counter-terrorism) assistance (lots of human rights problems with that too—see great LA Times article today—but that is an issue of which there is little awareness as yet) and because it is money from before FY2014, governed by different conditions.

You might also have made more of Congress’s role in all of this. Senior members of both houses who listen closely to the concerns of Israel, Saudi Arabia, or both have been a major factor pressing the administration to keep military assistance going. But as yesterday’s comments by Leahy, Graham, Ros-Lehtinen, Connolly, and others show, there is growing concern on both sides of the aisle about what the US relationship with Egypt is supporting. Not clear yet whether sentiment on the Hill will shift decisively; depends on what happens in Egypt.

The Los Angeles Times article in question begins "The Egyptian military recently used American-made Apache helicopter gunships to fire rockets into houses in the Sinai Peninsula, the latest in a series of lethal raids targeting a little-known Al Qaeda-inspired group that has bombed civilians." It continues: 

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The militant group took credit for a bus bombing in February that killed three South Korean tourists and an Egyptian driver in Sinai. In January, the militants downed a Russian-made military helicopter, killing several Egyptian soldiers, using a ground-to-air missile, an act that was captured on video.

But with reports indicating that Egyptian security forces may have killed hundreds of people in response, some U.S. officials warn that the Egyptian actions may alienate civilians and spur anti-American sentiment. State Department officials have privately expressed concern about whether Egypt is adhering to U.S. aid rules that prohibit using U.S. weapons against civilians.

The Egyptian security services are generally not delicate about collateral damage and civilians, and foreign armies generally treat US rules that military equipment not be used against civilians on a wink-wink basis. For more on the potential downside to America's terrorism-first, democracy-meh policies, have a look at this post from earlier today


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