Updated: August 13, 2013 6:27AM
The situation in Egypt is ugly. The army overthrew an elected, albeit increasingly authoritarian, president in what can only be described as a military coup. Still, the most important leaders in Washington recognize that the United States has a vital national interest in Egypt and should continue to provide military and economic aid. Finding a way to do this shouldn’t be heavy lifting.
The administration thus far refuses to recognize the reality of the coup. It has gone to great lengths to avoid calling the military usurpation of power and overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi a coup. The reason is that to recognize that fact would require President Barack Obama to follow clear U.S. law against providing assistance to a military coup and to halt U.S. aid to Egypt. As Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) notes, “This is an incredibly difficult decision, but we have ... to remain true to our values.” That being the rule of law.
The administration’s refusal to follow the dictates of the Foreign Assistance Act is the latest example of its troubling and even alarming tendency to refuse to enforce laws or follow court rulings that for one reason or another it has a problem with. For example, only last week the White House postponed until 2015 implementation of the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act because of the complexity of its regulations and the burden it imposes on business, and because of the political trouble Obamacare would make for Democrats in the 2014 elections. The administration also is blatantly thumbing its nose at two appeals court rulings declaring Obama unconstitutionally packed the National Labor Relations Board with union-friendly members without the advice and consent of the Senate.
Good reason exists to continue aid to Cairo. Egypt is the largest Arab country — chaos there would reverberate throughout a region already in turmoil with uprisings and the Syrian civil war; the Suez Canal is a vital economic lifeline; Egypt has for decades maintained a peace treaty with Israel, and the coup had the beneficial result of disrupting the creation of an Islamist state opposed by a huge plurality if not a majority of Egyptians.
The Egyptian aid question should be fairly easy to cope with. The military promises a new constitution and new parliamentary elections within half a year and new presidential balloting shortly after that. The administration thus could assure Egypt that any cutoff of the $1.3 billion in aid it provides Cairo annually would be only a short interruption. Better yet, Obama could overcome his aversion to working with Congress and come up with a temporary agreement to continue aid to bridge the gap until a newly elected government is in power.
House Speaker John Boehner says encouraging things. He said the Egyptian “military, on behalf of the citizens, did what they had to do in terms of replacing an elected president.” This reflects an acceptance of the reality that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were working to achieve their own version of a coup to make Egypt a state controlled by Islamists. Boehner all but invited “consultations with the administration on how we would move ahead.”
The situation is fraught with peril and uncertainty. The army continues to arrest Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Violence has claimed dozens of lives and threatens to spread. A declaration of continued U.S. aid could give Obama leverage to encourage the military to make sure all facets of Egyptian society are included in the new democratic process, increasing hopes of averting more bloodshed. That could give America a victory in a region where it’s not seen many recently.