Four different Senate Republicans have four different ideas on how to alter U.S. aid to Egypt, in a struggle that is also becoming about the future of Republican leadership on foreign policy.
The Senate is working now on the next Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government from April until October -- and aid to Egypt is the main foreign policy issue likely to be attached to the funding measure. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), John McCain (R-AZ), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) all have introduced amendments to the CR dealing with Egypt aid, but they all have competing ideas on how to condition it in light of Egypt's changing security challenges and the fragile path to democracy under the government led by Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy.
Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has also introduced an amendment on Egypt aid, making it five total amendments that are now the subject of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations.
"We have five different amendments that have been offered on Egypt," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on the Senate floor Thursday, lamenting that the Senate was confronted with tackling the Egypt aid issue in a rush on a temporary funding bill. Reid doesn't really want to do Egypt policy on this bill at all.
"This is a CR for six months. We have a functioning Foreign Relations Committee. That's where this should take place," he said. "We all have concerns about Egypt. Our funding in Egypt, maintaining stability in the region, supporting Israel. We have, as I've indicated, five senators who have filed five separate, distinct amendments. And literally staffs with senators have worked all day coming up with an amendment that Democrats and Republicans could agree on. It hasn't been done. Doesn't mean it can't be done, but it hasn't been done. I would again remind senators that this is a Continuing Resolution. The long-term solution to the situation in the Middle East is not a short-term CR. Whatever we do on this bill would expire in six months anyway."
But despite Reid's reluctance, senators are likely to coalesce around one or two Egypt aid amendments that could get a vote on the Senate floor next week. The first senator to introduce an Egypt amendment was Rubio, who spoke about it in an interview this week with The Cable.
"This is not about cancelling foreign aid to Egypt per se. This is about restructuring it in a way that lines up with the interests of the taxpayers of the United States of America," Rubio said. "Their real security needs are largely internal and we want to recalibrate our military aid to Egypt to meet their actual needs. Egypt doesn't need tanks, it doesn't need jet fighters, it's not going to be invaded by neighbors in the near future."
For Rubio, the Egypt amendment is his opening salvo in what promises to be a year of increasing involvement in an array of foreign policy issues. He promised he would have similar amendments in the future on aid to other countries as well.
"Foreign aid is important because it increases our influence and in particular our ability to influence things around the world to advance our interests. But foreign aid is not charity.... That means that every single dime we give in foreign aid should be conditioned," he said.
Rubio is also concerned about the Morsy government's commitment to the Camp David accords, their unwillingness or inability to maintain security in the Sinai Peninsula, and their treatment of opposition parties and non-governmental organizations.
"We've heard some of the comments of the president of Egypt and some of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. It's downright offensive, and that's their ideology and we've seen some of that come through in their public policy," he said.
Rubio's original amendment would have blocked disbursements of economic support funds (ESF) and new foreign military financing for Egypt until the administration could certify that the Morsy government was enacting economic and political reforms, not restricting religious and human rights, not undermining free and fair elections, improving its treatment of foreign NGOs, fully implementing the peace treaty with Israel, taking all available actions to end smuggling into Gaza and combat terrorism in the Sinai.
The Rubio amendment required the administration to certify that the government of Egypt had apportioned specific amounts of aid to counterterrorism and the Sinai but gave the administration the authority to waive the new aid restrictions every six months.
The McCain amendment takes a different, less confrontational approach. It only would impact foreign military financing, not economic support funds, and clearly states that any change in Egypt military aid should only affect new contracts, not existing contracts for items already in the manufacturing pipeline.
The McCain amendment requires the administration to report back to Congress about how the Egyptian military is spending the money and how it might be spent better in the security interests of both Egypt and the United States. But there's no cut off of aid and no waiver authority. Last year, Egyptians got angry when Congress imposed new restrictions on military aid to Cairo, only to see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waive them anyway.
After McCain filed his amendment, Rubio made some changes to his amendment to bring it closer in line with McCain's. Rubio's new amendment now conditions ESF funds in a way that's closer to what's already in present law. Backroom negotiations between the two offices are ongoing.
The Leahy amendment is seen as the Democrats' attempt to take what they liked of the Republican amendments and try to reach a compromise text. It most closely follows McCain's approach by requiring the administration to report on the military aid spending but also requires the administration to report on political reform, human rights, and NGO treatment in Egypt.
Paul's amendment would cut off all assistance to Egypt until Morsy says in English and Arabic that he intends to uphold the Camp David accords. Inhofe's amendment would conditionally suspend the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. Inhofe has also co-sponsored the Paul amendment.
"For months, I have been calling for President Obama and his administration to hold president Morsy accountable for failing to promote promised democracy in Egypt and for the instability in the region," Inhofe said on the Senate floor this week. "Under President Morsy and his radical Muslim Brotherhood, the United States' historically good relationship with Egypt is at a standstill."
Foreign policy turned out to be a prominent part of Thursday night's GOP primary debate. The questions covered a range of countries -- and the accuracy of the candidates' responses was similarly all over the map.
Almost all the candidates committed unforced errors when talking about foreign policy and national security. Tim Pawlenty made the first mistake, when he referred to Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a "general." Mullen is an admiral in the U.S. Navy. Pawlenty also said that Gen. David Petraeus told him that it would take "two years from last summer to have an orderly and successful wind down of our mission in Afghanistan, at least in terms of our troop withdrawal, and President Obama has accelerated that."
"Two years from last summer" would mean that Petraeus was calling for significant troop withdrawals by the summer of 2012. That's exactly the timeline that Obama has set for the withdrawal of the 30,000 surge troops. Pawlenty is correct that Obama wants to withdraw U.S. forces faster than what Petraeus recommended, but his explanation of Petraeus's timeline was off.
Mitt Romney tried to clear up the confusion over his comments on Afghanistan in the last debate, when he said, "It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can -- as soon as our generals think it's okay.... One lesson we‘ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation's war of independence." Some Republicans interpreted that statement as Romney calling for a quick exit.
Last night, Romney said he always supported a slower exit than what Obama has announced, but he incorrectly stated that U.S. military leaders "recommended to President Obama that we should not start drawing our troops down until after the fighting season in 2012." But nowhere in congressional testimony have Mullen and Petraeus ever said the drawdown should begin after the 2012 summer fighting season, nor have they said that in any other public forum.
Adding to the inaccuracy, Jon Huntsman called for more engagement with the Chinese government. "We need a strategic dialogue at the highest levels between the United States and China," he said. "That's not happening."
As Obama's former ambassador to China, Huntsman surely must know that there have already been two rounds of the "U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue," which was initiated in 2009, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and included over 200 U.S. officials and a similar number of Chinese government representatives.
In fact, Huntsman even participated in the dialogue in Beijing in May 2010 and wrote a blog post about it, where he said that Clinton and Geithner "both told me they viewed the dialogue as a broad success. I couldn't agree more."
That's not to mention that Obama and President Hu Jintao have met personally 9 times, Clinton meets with her counterpart Yang Jiechi on a regular basis, and Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Beijing next week to see Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping.
Newt Gingrich was called on in the debate to clear up what many saw as his changing position on Libya: he called for a no-fly zone on March 7, just before the Libya war began, and then said after the operation began, "I would not have intervened."
Gingrich accused the debate moderator, Fox News's Bret Baier, of using a "gotcha" question for asking him to clarify his position and then said that he called for the no fly-zone on March 7 because Obama "that day had announced gloriously to the world as the president of the United States that Qaddafi had to go." But, in fact, Obama first called for Qaddafi's departure on March 3, four days earlier.
Gingrich then said Obama reversed his position on Libya, claiming that the president shifted away from his call for Qaddafi to leave power in favor of a humanitarian intervention. In reality, Obama has always maintained that Qaddafi must go, although he is clear that the mandate of the military intervention in Libya does not include the mission to oust Qaddafi,
On Syria, Pawlenty mischaracterized Obama and Clinton's statements on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "Until recently, [Obama] and Hillary Clinton suggested that Bashar Assad was a reformer. He's not a reformer, he's a killer." In fact, Obama has never referred to Assad as a reformer. Clinton said in March that she had heard from "lawmakers" who had visited Damascus that the Syrian president was a reformer.
A good portion of the foreign policy section of last night's debate featured a battle over Iran policy between Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and others. But that debate was riddled with factual errors and mischaracterizations.
Paul, who has taken the mantle of the Tea Party isolationist wing of the GOP, said that the CIA had confirmed they have no evidence that Iran was working on a nuclear weapon. Although a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran had halted its drive to produce a nuclear weapons, in March 2010, a CIA report to Congress concluded that "Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so." In June of that year, CIA chief Leon Panetta said that the Iranians "are developing their nuclear capability and that raises concerns," and "[w]e think they have enough low-enriched uranium right now for two weapons."
Santorum contended that Iran "has killed more American men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan than the Iraqis and the Afghanistanis [sic] have." Yes, Iran has supplied al Qaeda in Iraq with weapons and supported militant groups such as the Mahdi Army, resulting in the deaths of many U.S. troops, but the link to Afghanistan is extremely tenuous. Put simply, there are no statistics that support Santorum's claim.
Whether foreign policy becomes a key part of the GOP primary debate remains to be seen. But so far, the accuracy and command of details on foreign policy issues leaves a lot to be desired.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.