We Will Hate Having to Say We Told You So
By Sarah Stern and Kyle Shideler
At the recent AIPAC Policy Conference, at a packed luncheon forum for higher givers, Chairwoman of the important House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R-FL), was interviewed by an AIPAC official. When she mentioned that she is in favor of cutting off the military aid to Egypt, the remark was met by enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation, to which the AIPAC official promptly changed the subject.
Why is this? It is because ever since the beginnings of the Arab Spring, which we see as more of an “Arab Hurricane”, EMET has been totally alone on Capitol Hill saying that it is time to halt the continuous pipeline of military aid to Egypt, or at least to put a temporary hold on it, until after their elections in September, to insure that our American taxpayers’ dollars do not end up providing missiles, tanks and bullets to a future Egyptian government that is run by the Muslim Brotherhood or some shill of that Islamist organization, who will tear up the Camp David Treaty with Israel.
Unfortunately, AIPAC has taken the absolutely antithetical tack. They have been on the Hill arguing that giving aid to Egypt buys us a “seat at the table.” They have argued that “the Egyptian military is the most western of institutions”, and “a highly professional army”, and that we are therefore buying ourselves goodwill.
But if they are “a highly professional army”, the Egyptian army should not make policy. They should be good soldiers. They are expected to follow orders. High level Egyptian commanders have repeatedly said that they do not want to keep Egypt under a “military occupation.”
So what good is a seat at the table if the partner on whom we spent billions of dollars a year will not or cannot speak up?
Aside from this, we have no idea just how sympathetic the army is to the Islamist agenda, or to what degree they have been infiltrated by Islamist elements. For that matter, even if they are not co-opted by Islamist parties, if they wish to survive in their tough neighborhood, they may choose to back “the strong horse,” the Muslim Brotherhood.
Unfortunately, events in Egypt continue very much as we had predicted.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the single most effective political organization in the country, continues to gain strength, as they repeatedly break pledges they have made, including reversing promises not to run a presidential candidate, and to not seek the imposition of Sharia law. The “secular” “moderate” Brotherhood as foolish so-called experts have insisted on labeling them, has also established an electoral coalition with Jama’a al-Islamiya, a terrorist organization which has killed Americans, and is identified as an Al Qaeda affiliate by Ayman Zawhiri.
Nor is it merely the Muslim Brotherhood which represents a risk to Middle East stability arising from the new Egypt. Former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and leading presidential candidate has called for the termination of the peace between Israel and Egypt, as have other Egyptian presidential hopefuls, all clamoring to be the first to announce that they will “rip up the Camp David Accords with Israel.”
That comes as no surprise with elections looming, since in recent polls, more than 50% of Egyptians also favor ending peace with Israel.
Since the “Arab Hurricane” began, EMET has been consistent in its call to heed the philosopher Santayana’s advice, and study the history of another revolution within the Islamic world, so as not to have to repeat its mistakes. Just as the United States continued to argue that Iran must continue to receive arms shipments in their 1979 Khomeini revolution, because the army was the most Western of institutions, so too are the cries that Egypt must now continue be armed, regardless of events on the ground.
Iran, we were then told, would not become an Islamist state under Khomeini because of the power of the U.S-modernized Iranian army. In the words of long-time journalist James Wieghart:
“… the likelihood of Khomeini taking and holding power for any prolonged period are just about nil. For one thing, the army, the most important organized force in the country, could not unite behind him and his concept of instituting a severe religious state, opposed to modernization and close ties to the United States.”
That stellar prediction was made in January of 1979. Likewise, U.S. officials and pundits have continued to insist that funding for the Egyptian army must continue, because it represents a force of modernity and stability. As Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified back in February:
“Foolhardy would it be for us to make hasty judgments about the benefits – tangible and intangible – that are about to be derived from forging strong military relationships overseas, such as the one we enjoy with Egypt,” said Admiral Mullen. “Changes to those relationships – in either aid or assistance – ought to be considered only with an abundance of caution and a thorough appreciation for the long view…”
Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates concurred, saying:
“If you ever wanted proof of the value of our military assistance to Egypt over the past 30 years, it has been in the behavior of the Egyptian Army over the past three weeks, and their professionalism in dealing with the kind of situation they had”
Of course as reports are now emerging that the Egyptian Army conducted “virginity checks” on female protestors, perhaps Secretary Gates is right. It is proof, but not for Gate’s conclusion. One anonymous Egyptian general told CNN:
The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine,” the general said. “These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs).”
He then offered the bizarre rationale that the virginity checks were done so that the women would not later claim they had been raped by Egyptian authorities. “We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place,” the general said. “None of them were (virgins).” He did not further explain this confounding logic.
Perhaps there was once reason to hope that the Egyptian military might indeed act as a stabilizing force. If so, “virginity checks” and assaults against Coptic monasteries ought to put an end to such impressions.
Ironically, even as U.S. military aid to Egypt is slated to continue, the Egyptians have begun rejecting aid of a kind which we have long argued is sorely needed. This would be money to help fund democratization and development efforts, so we would have at least a chance of exporting some semblance of democratic values before the planned September elections. EMET has long argued, (even before the Hamas elections in Gaza), that one election, a democracy does not make, but the erection of the institutions of a democracy: an independent judiciary, a free press and most importantly the ability to criticize the government without fear of your very life. Or at the minimum, a chance for a second election, and a thirds, and a fourth.
Unfortunately, Egypt’s interim foreign ministry rejected the $150 million dollars in aid for the purposes of democracy building, stating opposition to some of the NGOs designated in the plan, as well as objections to some of the pre-conditions.
Even so-called military aid, supposedly intended to make Egypt a modern, and more importantly, pro-western force, has not always been put to that purpose. Egyptian military has created an effective “economy within the economy” where, besides defending the country, the military also runs hospitals, and builds cars and jeeps for auto dealerships. These side industries provide an incentive and opportunity for corruption. And as history has shown time and again, a corrupt force, no matter its level of modern Western military equipment, never manages to resist a determined ideological opponent. To imagine that this time, in Egypt, the military will serve as a successful buttress against the Muslim Brotherhood, or other Islamist groups defies credibility.
In the past four decades, billions of dollars have not secured for United States the modern, westernized military partner they have sought, as the disturbing tales from Tahrir square have shown. Additional aid will serves no further purpose. All we accomplish now is to further arm a state with sophisticated weaponry, when we cannot be certain at whom those weapons will be pointed. Not in the next six months, let alone the next six years.
Our foreign military aid program has bought us no good will. It has become the foreign policy equivalent of the worst welfare programs. We simply rewarding bad behavior. At a time when the American budget is stretched, we are throwing away our tax payers’ dollars at people who mock us and our democratic values.
It is time to call for a halt to the continuous pipeline of military aid to Egypt. At the very least we must secure a temporary “hold” until after the scheduled elections in September. We hope, as usual, that we will be proven wrong. If not, at the way things are going, we might one day well find brave American GIs, and the courageous soldiers of the IDF, on the wrong side of our own “Made in the USA” weapons.
And Israel, of our one, stable democratic ally in the Middle East, will be tiny, vulnerable and alone, once again. She will be left to hold down the fort alone, sitting on a very long border with Egypt, exactly on the seam lines of the conflict of civilizations, between the world of radical Islamism and Western democracy.