The Senate voted 86–13 today to reject a measure proposed by Senator Rand Paul to halt the U.S. government’s aid to the Egyptian military and redirect that money to building and fixing bridges in the United States. Paul’s proposal, an amendment to the transportation-funding bill currently before the Senate, was the first attempt by Congress to adjust the U.S.’s aid to the Egyptian government after the military essentially removed the elected Muslim Brotherhood government in early July — an event the State Department has not determined to be a military seizure of power, in which case an annually approved congressional policy requires an immediate halt in almost all foreign aid to the country.
Senator Paul argues that the funding is currently being disbursed “illegally”; while the spirit of the anti-coup statute has clearly been violated, there is actually a solid argument to be made that the funding provision, which dates back to the 1980s, is an intrusion into the proper constitutional powers of the executive branch to conduct foreign policy.
The Obama administration has taken its time in making such a determination (a delay recommended by NR’s editors, incidentally), so the aid has kept flowing, though the Pentagon has, for now, halted the delivery of new F-16 fighter jets to the country. The debate over whether to keep funding and cooperating with the Egyptian military (as the U.S. has done since the Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel) will likely heat up again when Congress debates a new government-funding bill this fall. Until then, it seems, the Obama administration would do well to use the valuable support it gives the military to push them in the direction of sensible economic policies and the development of a constitution that protects minority rights and free expression, instead of forcing them onto an arbitrary schedule for elections (after which aid, by congressional policy, can resume). The quasi-military government’s behavior has not exactly been perfect so far. They halfway incited huge demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood last Friday and violently repressed a number of Islamist demonstrations; at the same time, however, the Brotherhood is clearly spoiling for a fight and has sparked plenty of violence on its own. Time will tell. (Andy McCarthy laid out his thoughts on the process in the August 5 issue of NR.)
Paul’s proposal attracted no Democratic votes, and few Republican ones — but he did get a yea from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose coming 2014 election battle has pushed him to reinforce his conservative bona fides and strengthen his relationship with Rand Paul’s tea-party apparatus in Kentucky. (And on a related note, despite the clear political appeal of diverting funds from buying Egypt armored bridgelayers to the patriotic act of putting up ponts at home, America’s bridge infrastructure is actually doing just fine – it’s in better shape than it was 25 years ago.)