In an interview yesterday with Telemundo, President Obama responded to a question about whether he considers Egypt an ally. He explained, “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy. They’re a new government that is trying to find its way.”
This was . . . surprising, as Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy explains:
That comment had Egypt watchers scratching their heads, especially since technically, Egypt was designated as a Major Non-NATO Ally in 1989 when Congress first passed the law creating that status, which gives them special privileges in cooperating with the United States, especially in the security and technology areanas [sic].
Give the guy a break, though — he’s pretty new to foreign policy. Today an administration official clarified to FP, saying:
I think folks are reading way too much into this “Ally” is a legal term of art. We don’t have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.
At least once, President Obama referred to Egypt under Mubarak as a “stalwart ally,” and the U.S. has sent and continues to send $1 or 2 billion a year to Egypt in economic and security assistance. After the Morsi government’s much-delayed response to the attacks on our embassy in Cairo, of course, many have called for the U.S. to reconsider these commitments. But so long as the Obama administration remains committed to mutual aid with Egypt (and with the Morsi government, they are, recently announcing a tentative $1 billion loan-forgiveness package), the president refusing to call the new government our ally is something of a “shoot first, aim later” statement.
UPDATE: Nancy Pelosi isn’t sure either:
“I don’t know about the word ally. We’ll see,” Pelosi said during her weekly briefing.