Washington divided on Egypt

Democrats call offensive against Morsi supporters "inhumane, undemocratic," while Republicans say aid should be used for leverage.

US senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham in Cairo 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
US senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham in Cairo 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)
WASHINGTON – As Washington woke up to a new reality in Egypt last week, Republicans and Democrats fell out of traditional party lines on foreign policy and reflected growing confusion on how to handle yet another fundamental conflict of American interests in the Middle East.
Liberalist Democrats on are calling the Egyptian military’s offensive against its people both inhumane and undemocratic.
And some Republicans, hawkish on spreading liberalism themselves, agree and insist that our foreign aid must have a purpose, a leveraging power, that should be rescinded if that power no longer demonstrates an effect.
In between the two idyllic ends of the spectrum are the realists, represented in both parties, that are calling for the continuation of America’s relatively modest $1.4 billion in assistance to the Egyptian military.
The figure is dwarfed by aid packages from Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allied neighbors, that collectively will give Egypt over $10b. in assistance this year.
Those that argue US aid should continue do so out of a fear that its cancellation would disrupt a multitude of interests.
The move might compromise the spirit of the Camp David Accords, and a vacuum may open for competing countries to buy influence with their own aid packages. The US might also find itself de-facto supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which proved itself illiberal under Mohamed Morsi’s year-long presidency.
It would also diminish what remains of US influence with the country’s military leaders, who are already ignoring international efforts to halt the violence.
Last week, over 1,000 civilians were killed and thousands more injured when the military, after weeks of threats, used lethal force to clear Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators from their camps in cities across Egypt.
The operation occurred after a week of high-level negotiations between the Egyptian military and the United States, European Union and Arab League, during which the parties attempted to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Egypt’s military chose a “more dangerous path,” US President Barack Obama said of the ensuing violence.
“We’re headed for Algeria,” Senator Lindsay Graham said on Sunday on CBS News’ Face the Nation. “The Brotherhood will go underground, al-Qaida will come to their aid, and you are going to have an armed insurgency, not protesters, on your hands.”
“We are going to have a failed state in Egypt and we are going to have to suspend our aid because we can’t support the reaction of the military,” Graham added.
Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made only a veiled reference to the aid package in a prepared response to the violence.
“This violence only harms the Egyptian military, dampens the democratic spirit of the Egyptian people, and further complicates the support of our government as well as the international community that wants a thriving Egypt to take hold,” he said.
Menendez’s Republican colleague on the committee, Bob Corker, changed his position on Sunday against continuing aid.
“I think the actions of the last week no doubt are going to cause us to suspend aid, and I think it’s, at the same time, a time for us to recalibrate and look at what is our national interest,” Corker told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.
Yet Representative Peter King, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, said he was “reluctant to cut off aid” when considering the possible consequences to American interests in the Sinai and the Suez Canal, through which US ships get preferential right of passage.
“We have to be careful and not cut off our nose to spite our face,” Rep. Eliot Engel said on Sunday.