Obama administration’s Egypt policy is missing in action

Jonathan Guyer writes: In early July, Apache helicopters roamed low above Cairo, an expression of force following the military’s overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi. Early this month, sixteen F16s flew in formation over the city, practicing for the commemoration of the October 1973 war. Since Morsi’s ouster, U.S. military hardware has been a stark feature of Cairo’s skyline. But American policy — the reason for that military aid to Egypt — remains ambiguous.

This week Washington announced a downgrading of aid to Cairo, which flows annually to the tune of $1.3 billion. The U.S. will withhold $260 million in cash funding and halt deliveries of military hardware, as part of a “recalibration” overseen by President Barack Obama. Despite the cuts, most security cooperation persists. In a conference call with journalists on October 9, a senior U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said that Washington would “continue assistance that advances our vital security objectives like countering terrorism, countering proliferation, and ensuring security in the Sinai. We will also continue support like military training and education, and will continue spare parts, replacement parts, and related services for the military equipment that we provide.” The freezing of aid was merely a symbolic gesture, and another example that the Obama administration’s Egypt policy is missing in action.

Washington has been unsure of how to address a post-Mubarak Egypt from the get-go. In January 2011, the Obama administration was slow in acknowledging the popular uprising underway in Tahrir Square. In January 2012, Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes told me, “We’re supporting the government as they take steps to implement the transition, and we want to see them follow that road map.” What’s amazing is that nearly two years later, statements from official quarters are equally bereft of substance. Moreover, the U.S. has gone through pains to avoid discussing whether Morsi’s ejection can be called a coup—a word with legal implications for Washington, as U.S. law forbids aid to countries whose elected governments are ousted by the military. My favorite example of such rhetorical acrobatics came from an unnamed U.S. official speaking to the New York Times in July: “We will not say it was a coup, we will not say it was not a coup, we will just not say.” Orwell would scoff at Washington’s reliance on the most “ugly and inaccurate” aspects of the English language. It’s no substitute for strategy. [Continue reading…]

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