The Cable

Obama Keeps Cash to Egypt Flowing, Despite The Military Crackdown

Despite the Egyptian military's brutal crackdown on government protesters, which has resulted in more than 500 deaths, President Obama declined to suspend America's annual $1.3 billion in military assistance to the country. In fact, in Thursday's 800-word address from Martha's Vineyard, President Obama did not say the words "aid" or "coup." Instead, he took the more modest step of cancelling next month's joint U.S. military exercise with Egypt.

"The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt's interim government and security forces," he said. "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."

The statements divided those seeking a sharp U.S. break from Egypt's military and those who hold the U.S.-Egypt relationship as sacrosanct. "While suspending joint military exercises as the President has done is an important step, our law is clear: aid to the Egyptian military should cease unless they restore democracy," said Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy in a statement.

Pushing back against the "cut the aid" camp, Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass supported the president's decision. "Agree with US line re Egypt," he tweeted. "Cancel exercise, keep aid in place, but puts generals on notice that time running out absent restraint/reform."

The question now is, how much time can the U.S. afford to give Egyptian generals as the slaughter of antigovernment protesters continues? As it stands, the death toll in Egypt has climbed to more than 500 with the number of injured up to 3,700. Following the military's crackdown on two sit-ins on Wednesday, Egypt's widely-respected Vice President Mohammad ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, resigned in protest.

Now, some of President Obama's toughest foreign policy critics in Congress are in an awkward position, given their recent votes on Egyptian aid. Sen. John McCain told The Wall Street Journal yesterday that Obama's policies on Egypt were a "colossal failure" and urged the president to cut off the $1.3 billion in military aid the U.S. sends to Egypt. However, just two weeks ago, when Egypt's crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood was well underway, though the street violence not so much, he voted against cutting off aid to the country.

"It would be a terrific mistake for the United States to send a message to Egypt: you're on your own," McCain said on the Senate floor. "I urge my colleagues to vote to table the Paul amendment."

The amendment, which would've suspended aid to Egypt until the government holds free elections, was rejected in a landslide 86-13 vote.

Still, in his Thursday address, Obama did not suggest that U.S. aid to Egypt was set in stone. "Going forward, I've asked my national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim government and further steps that we may take as necessary with respect to the U.S.- Egyptian relationship," he said. "Let me say that the Egyptian people deserve better than what we've seen over the last several days. And to the Egyptian people, let me say the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop."

The Cable

Kerry Turns Against the Egyptian Military He Once Hailed

It wasn't long ago that Secretary of State John Kerry was crediting Egypt's generals for their democratic intentions and their role in preventing a full-blown civil war. But that was before Wednesday's bloody crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. Now Kerry is lashing out at the military he was publicly, if cautiously, extolling just weeks before, calling attacks against demonstrators a "serious blow to reconciliation and the Egyptian people's hopes for a transition towards democracy and inclusion." 

Speaking on behalf of President Obama, who is on vacation in Martha's Vineyard, Kerry called Wednesday's events "deplorable," saying they "run counter to Egyptians aspirations for peace, inclusion and genuine democracy."  Across the country, at least 278 people were killed as Egyptian authorities cracked down on two anti-government sit-ins in Cairo.

Prior to today, few U.S. officials have been more supportive of the Egyptian military than Kerry, who has contextualized its decision to overthrow President Mohamed Morsy in a number of supportive statements. 

"In effect, they were restoring democracy," Kerry said this month during a visit to Pakistan. "The military did not take over, to the best of our judgment-so far, so far-to run the country. There's a civilian government." Today, Egypt's government lost some of that civilian quality with the resignation of Vice President Mohammad ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who left office in protest of the violent crackdown.

In July, Kerry suggested that the military's swift actions may have prevented a civil war. "You had an extraordinary situation in Egypt of life and death, of the potential of civil war and enormous violence," he said.

In recent days, Kerry walked back his remarks about "restoring democracy" to some extent, however, today's address at the State Department marked a watershed moment in his posture toward the on-again off-again ally. The question now is whether the U.S. will back up its disapproval with more punitive action.

Last month, the Pentagon moved in that direction with the postponement of a shipment of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. The U.S. has so far refused to cut off the $1.3 billion in annual military aid, despite the wishes of a small minority in Congress.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. is now "seriously considering" cancelling plans to hold a military exercise with Egypt planned in about a month, but there's no final word on that yet.

Back at Martha's Vineyard, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. "strongly opposed" the military's declared state of emergency, which includes a curfew . "We have repeatedly called on the Egyptian military and security forces to show restraint, and for the government to respect the universal rights of its citizens, just as we've urged protesters to demonstrate peacefully," he said.

Still, it's clear that U.S. officials are not yet ready to pull the plug on U.S.-Egypt relations. "I am convinced that that path is, in fact, still open and it is possible, though it has been made much, much harder, much more complicated, by the events of today," said Kerry.