COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Congress reconvenes in September, aid to Egypt will be a hot-button issue.
The Obama administration has asserted with a straight face that the July 3 removal from power in Cairo of elected President Mohamed Morsi — and his detention — is not a military coup. That assertion evades congressional restrictions on aid to countries that thwart democracy.
But regardless of word-splitting over "coups," U.S. military aid to Egypt, totaling over a billion dollars annually, should be ended. That aid originated three decades ago to reward Egypt for signing the Camp David agreements of 1979. It was not that Egypt merited aid on the usual criteria.
By signing Camp David, Egypt removed itself from what had been a united Arab-country front in support of a just accommodation for the Palestinians vis-a-vis Israel. The U.S. aid was given as part of the Camp David deal to encourage Egypt to live up to this sellout.
The result has been disastrous for the cause of peace in the Middle East. The Palestine-Israel conflict has only worsened. The Arab countries have been neutralized as a pressure force.
Israel, too, was rewarded financially for Camp David — for giving up Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and for promising autonomy to the Palestinians in the Palestine territory occupied by Israel in 1967.
Israel promptly reneged on the latter, but the money kept flowing, now more than $3 billion in military aid annually. There is little justification today for continuation of U.S. military aid either to Egypt or to Israel.
For Egypt, U.S. taxpayers have provided more jet fighters and tanks than it can ever use. Many sit gathering dust in Egypt.
This equipment is produced by U.S. firms, who are paid handsomely by the U.S. Treasury and who then deliver it to Egypt. The firms operate a highly sophisticated lobby in Congress to keep the money flowing to them. They are the real beneficiaries of our military aid to Egypt. Their continuing pressure on Congress will make it difficult for congressional advocates of a cutoff.
Nonetheless, action was attempted in the U.S. Senate, spearheaded by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to stop military aid to Egypt. Only a handful of his colleagues supported him in a Senate vote on July 31. However, the effort has put together a congressional coalition of conservatives skeptical of foreign aid in general, and liberals concerned about democracy.
That coalition faces not only the U.S. military contractors but pressure from Israel.
Since July 3, the Israeli government has lobbied U.S. officials not to cut off aid to Egypt. For Israel, the aid to Egypt helps keep Egypt neutralized and thus allows Israel to continue taking over more Palestine territory for its civilian settlements. That construction, of course, renders the Palestine-Israel conflict ever more intractable. However, Israel's hand in American policy is sufficiently decisive that Congress is unlikely to take action that Israel opposes.
Israel's lobby in Congress, personified in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), rivals that of the military contractors in its hold on our legislators. And here they are working in tandem.
Following July 3, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that democracy considerations called for cutting off aid to Egypt. But then AIPAC wrote to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to oppose a cutoff. When Sen. Paul's cutoff proposal reached the Senate floor, both McCain and Graham voted against it. Both cited the AIPAC view as a reason to continue the aid. Graham even quoted from AIPAC's letter to his Senate colleagues. Neither McCain nor Graham explained what happened to their concern for democracy.
Congress should stop catering to military contractors and to Israel. It should end military aid to Egypt — and while it is at it, to Israel as well.
John B. Quigley is a professor of law at Ohio State University.