Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Monday, August 19, 2013
Has the White House " secretly " suspended US military aid to Egypt ? And , why would the White House attempt to put the suspension on some type of double secret probation - odd ? Or looking at the NY Times piece - has non military aid been stopped , but not military aid ? Is the " secret " decision to cut off Egypt's military and non economic aid the explanation for why the Saudis suddenly declared they would cover the tab for Egypt if the US and EU cut off the country ?
The U.S. government has decided privately to act as if the military takeover of Egypt was a coup, temporarily suspending most forms of military aid, despite deciding not to announce publicly a coup determination one way or the other, according to a leading U.S. senator.
In the latest example of its poorly understood Egypt policy, the Obama administration has decided to temporarily suspend the disbursement of most direct military aid, the delivery of weapons to the Egyptian military, and some forms of economic aid to the Egyptian government while it conducts a broad review of the relationship. The administration won’t publicly acknowledge all aspects of the aid suspension and maintains its rhetorical line that no official coup determination has been made, but behind the scenes, extensive measures to treat the military takeover of Egypt last month as a coup are being implemented on a temporary basis.
The office of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the head of the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, told The Daily Beast on Monday that military aid to Egypt has been temporarily cut off.
“[Senator Leahy’s] understanding is that aid to the Egyptian military has been halted, as required by law,” said David Carle, a spokesman for Leahy.
The administration’s public message is that $585 million of promised aid to the Egyptian military in fiscal 2013 is not officially on hold, as technically it is not due until Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, and no final decisions have been made.
“After sequestration withholding, approximately $585 million remains unobligated. So, that is the amount that is unobligated,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday. “But it would be inaccurate to say that a policy decision has been made with respect to the remaining assistance funding.”
But two administration officials told The Daily Beast that administration lawyers decided it was best to observe the law restricting military aid on a temporary basis, as if there had been a coup designation, while at the same time deciding that the law did not require a public announcement on whether a coup took place.
“The decision was we’re going to avoid saying it was a coup, but to stay on the safe side of the law, we are going to act as if the designation has been made for now,” said one administration official. “By not announcing the decision, it gives the administration the flexibility to reverse it.”
Several parts of the aid are now temporarily on hold, including the disbursement of the $585 million of $1.3 billion in fiscal 2013 foreign military financing still not delivered to the Egyptian military, the delivery of Apache helicopters that the Egyptian government has already paid for, and the depositing of economic support funds for programs that would directly benefit the Egyptian government, despite official administration denials, the administration officials said.
“What they are trying to do is appear not to be taking sides,” he said. “But the U.S. is in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ position.”
Some aspects of U.S.-Egyptian cooperation can still go forward under the new approach, including maintenance and repair of equipment the Egyptian military already has, the funding of some government-linked programs, and funding for civilian projects in Egypt run by American organizations, although many of those programs have already been shut down after the Egyptian government cracked down on foreign NGOs.
Psaki said Monday that no final policy decision has been made on any of the Egypt aid and that various parts of the complicated package are still under review. She did acknowledge that some economic support has been temporarily suspended, as The New York Times reported Sunday.
“Programs with the government designed to promote free and fair elections, health assistance, programs for the environment, democracy, rule of law, and good governance can also continue in cases even where a legal restriction might apply,” she said. “But to the extent where there are ESF programs that would benefit the government, which is obviously, a section, we are reviewing each of those programs on a case by case basis to identify whether we have authority to continue providing those funds or should seek to modify our activities to ensure that our actions are consistent with the law.”
“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” he said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also said Monday that all aspects of U.S. aid to Egypt were part of the ongoing review and that no final decisions had been made. He also sought to tamp down expectations that any suspension or revoking of U.S. aid to Egypt would immediately change the calculus of the Egyptian military.
“Our ability to influence the outcome in Egypt is limited,” he said. “It’s up to the Egyptian people. And they are a large, great, sovereign nation. And it will be their responsibility to sort this out.”
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers and staffers complained that the administration is trying to skirt congressional intent by refusing to say whether it believes there was a coup in Egypt while implementing its own preliminary punitive measures outside the confines of the legislation.
“This approach seems to be too cute by half, leaving the U.S. with little leverage in Egypt and appearing to condone gross violations of human rights in the process,” said one senior GOP Senate aide. “It is also unclear that Congress intended to give the Executive Branch this much leeway in implementing the coup provision in Section 7008 [of the law].”
For Egypt experts, the administration’s decision to temporarily suspend some aid but not make a public determination that a coup occurred represents not only its ongoing deliberations but also a desire to preserve options for handling the Egypt aid going forward, especially if it decides to restore the aid in the future.
The administration’s confused messaging on Egypt also has analysts scratching their heads and wondering whether temporary suspensions of aid can have any real effect.
“If this is the plan, then it seems like they are trying to maintain maximum flexibility,” said Brian Katulis, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “But I’m not certain this is the plan, and I don’t think at this stage that modest shifts in policy or even bigger ones would matter as much on the ground as much as they might have in the past. Egypt’s struggle has become so intense, polarized, and violent, and I worry that no matter what move the United States makes now, the competing power centers in Egypt might continue down the dangerous course they’ve headed.”
Some experts believe that a public announcement of the aid suspensions would raise the pressure on the Egyptian military to behave better, especially if done in conjunction with other concerned world powers.
“Cutting off the aid and announcing that puts the maximum pressure on the Egyptian government to correct its path,” said Tarek Radwan, associate director of the Atlantic Council’s Hariri Center. “Any kind of coordination with the European powers toward international delegitimization, that’s something that the Egyptian government would be highly uncomfortable with and would force them at least to do damage control.”
Overall, the administration is trying to maintain both flexibility and credibility in Egypt to play a constructive role going forward but is struggling on both fronts, Radwan said.
“What they are trying to do is appear not to be taking sides,” he said. “But the U.S. is in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ position.”
CHILMARK, Mass. — The Obama administration has taken preliminary steps to withhold financial aid to the Egyptian government, officials said on Sunday, though it is curtailing economic assistance, not the much larger military aid on which Egypt’s generals depend.
The State Department has put a hold on financing for economic programs that directly involve the Egyptian government, administration officials said, out of a concern that the military-led government might have violated Congressional rules prohibiting aid to countries where there has been a coup.
The administration has not declared whether the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi constituted a coup. But the State Department is abiding by a complex web of restrictions governing foreign aid, an official said. Those restrictions are tighter than the rules governing the military aid, which has not been suspended.
Whether to cut off the remaining $585 million in military aid available to Egypt this year was one of the questions that awaited President Obama as he returned to Washington from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard that was shadowed by the bloodshed in Egypt that has left hundreds of Islamist protesters dead.
For Egypt, the value of the military aid is perhaps less important than the advanced systems it can buy with American support. Already, the United States is considering a delay in the shipment of Apache attack helicopters and repair kits for tanks. That comes on top of decisions to delay the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets and to pull out of a major joint military exercise next month with the Egyptian Army.
But the administration has stopped short of suspending the aid, which has served as a foundation of the American relationship with Egypt for more than three decades and is viewed as critical to the region’s stability, not least as a pillar of the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Military aid to Egypt dwarfs civilian aid: of the $1.55 billion in total assistance the White House has requested for 2014, $1.3 billion is military and $250 million is economic. The civilian aid goes to such things as training programs and projects run by the United States Agency for International Development.
“We have stopped spending money in areas that would be prevented if it were determined to be a coup,” said an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. “We’ll put a pause on those programs, because we don’t want to flout the law.”
Among the programs affected, the official said, would be training programs in the United States for Egyptian government workers, teachers or hospital administrators. Depending on how events in Egypt unfold, and on how lawmakers react when they return from August recess, the economic aid could resume later, the official said.
There are fewer legal restrictions on the $585 million in military aid — the amount remaining from the original $1.3 billion appropriation. This has yet to be deposited in an account in the Federal Reserve in New York, where the Egyptian military could use it to buy weapons and spare parts and to pay for maintenance and training.
"As we’ve made clear, all of our assistance to Egypt is currently under review,” the State Department’s deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said. “At this point, no additional decisions have been made regarding assistance.”
In the past, administration officials have said they were skeptical that halting military aid would persuade the generals to put Egypt back on a path to democracy. They also worry that withdrawing the funds would leave the United States without any leverage.
Israel and several Arab counties have lobbied the United States not to cut off aid, arguing that the army is still the best hope to stop Egypt from slipping into chaos and that the need for stability should outweigh, for now, concerns about democracy and human rights.
But with the death toll from the week’s violence surpassing 1,000 and little prospect of an end to the standoff, officials said, the administration had begun a debate over what threshold it was willing to bear before it fundamentally rethought its relationship with the military.
During his week on Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. Obama tried not to allow the Egypt crisis to intrude on his vacation routine of golf, dinner with friends, and beach and bike outings with his family. But on Thursday, the president held a conference call with members of the National Security Council to discuss options for dealing with the standoff.
Back in Washington, pressure on Mr. Obama to do more about Egypt is mounting, but lawmakers remain divided on whether to cut off aid, with a handful of outspoken Republican hawks calling for it, while other Republicans and most Democrats still have qualms. Given the reluctance of many lawmakers to suspend military aid for security reasons, canceling economic aid may be an easier way for them to register their displeasure with the Egyptian government.
Senator John McCain of Arizona, who recently traveled to Cairo and took part in a failed diplomatic effort to defuse the standoff, said in a television interview that the administration lost credibility when it did not cut off aid, even after the generals clearly engineered a coup in removing Mr. Morsi.
“We could be cutting off the aid,” Mr. McCain said on the CNN program “State of the Union” “The spare parts and maintenance of this military equipment we’ve given the Egyptians is important to their capabilities.”
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who accompanied Mr. McCain to Egypt, said the United States should send a powerful message to the Egyptian military leader, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi.
“Somebody needs to look el-Sisi in the eye and say, ‘You’re going to destroy Egypt, you’re going to doom your country to a beggar state, you’re going to create an insurgency for generations to come; turn around, General, before it’s too late,’ ” Mr. Graham said on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.”
But the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, said the United States should “recalibrate” its aid to make its unhappiness clear but not endanger security needs like priority passage through the Suez Canal in a crisis. “I don’t want to cut off our relations,” Mr. Corker said on ABC News’s “This Week.”
Several Democrats echoed Mr. Corker’s sense that overarching American security interests made any aid cutoff problematic.
“I think we’ll find that aid that we may withhold is compensated by aid that the Gulf states may provide,” Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said on “Fox News Sunday.”
In one small but telling way, the relationship between the United States and Egypt has already changed. An administration official said that when the Pentagon finally delivers the four delayed F-16 planes, it will charge the Egyptian Air Force a fee for storing them.
Last Friday, King Abdullah fired the first shot in Saudi Arabia's brotherly embrace of the Egyptian military regime when he voiced his support for the (non?) coup. Moments ago he decided to put his nation's crude oil money where his mouth is following an announcement by the Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal that Saudi Arabia would step in to fill the financial gap from any Western sanctions on Egypt, if any of course, since the US still has to admit the country now torn by civil war ever had a coup nearly two months ago, and where as one deposed president is about to spend a lot more time in jail, another is on his way out.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Monday pledged to fill any financial gaps left by Western countries withdrawing aid from Egypt over its crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters that has left hundreds dead since last week.
"To those who had declared they are stopping aid to Egypt or are waving such a threat, the Arab and Muslim nations are wealthy with their people and resources and will not shy away from offering a helping hand to Egypt," he told state news agency SPA.
Translation: Saudi Arabia is very nervous that the Egyptian Countercoup Summer may spread, as it did with the Arab Spring of 2011, to Saudi Arabia when it took personal bribes from the government to keep people happy, but nottriggerhappy. Recall from February 2011:
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia announced financial support measures, worth an estimated SR135bn ($36bn), in a bid to avert the kind of popular unrest that has toppled leaders across the region and is now closing in on Libya’s Muammer Gaddafi. The measures include a 15 per cent salary rise for public employees to offset inflation, reprieves for imprisoned debtors, and financial aid for students and the unemployed.
Hopefully the Saudi King's "bribe the people" (either Saudi or Egyptian people that is) emergency rainy day fund is full, as it will very soon be tapped again.