The Cable

Rand Slams Congress for Funding Egypt's Generals: 'How Does Your Conscience Feel Now?'

Sen. Rand Paul is hammering his fellow senators for keeping billions in financial aid flowing to Egypt's military -- even as Cairo's security forces massacre anti-government activists. 

"This is something that those who voted in Congress are going to have to live with," Paul told The Cable on Thursday. "The question is: How does their conscience feel now as they see photographs of tanks rolling over Egyptian civilians?"

As the official Egyptian death toll climbs to 638, the legislation the Kentucky libertarian is referring to was an amendment to suspend aid to Egypt until the country holds free and fair elections. Two weeks ago, Republicans and Democrats rejected it by an overwhelming 86-13 vote -- and top lawmakers in both parties protested it loudly. 

"This amendment may be good politics, but it is bad policy," Sen. Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said at the time. 

"It would be a terrific mistake for the United States to send a message to Egypt: you're on your own," Republican Senator John McCain added back then. "I urge my colleagues to vote to table the Paul amendment."

The vote has already come back to haunt some lawmakers, such as McCain, who is now advocating a cancellation of aid to Egypt and criticizing White House policies as a "colossal failure."

"Congress is way out of touch on this issue," said Paul. "These people who believe in projecting American power, really believe in projecting American weakness. They don't want us to respond to words with actions or obey our own laws."

Earlier today, President Obama announced the cancellation of a joint U.S. military exercise with Egypt, but did not cut off the $1.3 billion in military aid the U.S. provides to the country. "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," Obama said.

Paul called the decision a cop out. "Too little too late," he said. "If he wants to send a message to the military, tell them they're not getting anymore planes. Tell them they're not getting any more tanks."

Defenders of U.S. military aid to Egypt, such as Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, say the U.S. can't afford to lose its influence in Egypt, the largest country in the Arab World and a neighbor to U.S. ally Israel. Others have warned that Paul's desires to disengage with the world will make the U.S. more vulnerable, a charge Paul disputes.

"This mindset that if you don't give people money and weapons, then you're not engaged is bizarre," he said. "I want to engage with the world, I just don't want to be engaged in battle."

"For those who think more weapons is engaging us with the Egyptian people, ask an Egyptian," he continued.  "When you're protesting in the streets and you're run over by an American tank, you're not going to be appreciative of American engagement."

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."