Two lawmakers who serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Sunday that the United States should reconsider its aid to Egypt in the wake of bloody clashes between that country’s interim government and supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi…

“With the recent violent crackdown I do not see how we can continue aid,” said [Sen. Kelly] Ayotte, who opposed a legislative measure in July to suspend the aid package to Egypt’s military. “I believe it must be suspended because unfortunately I think that the military’s gotten the impression – particularly with the president not asking for aid to be suspended when he spoke this week – that whatever they do we will continue our aid.”…

“The acts of the last few days by the Egyptian military are completely unconscionable and I do believe we have to change our aid,” said [Sen. Jack] Reed. “I think also we have to have included in the legislation a national security waiver because we have to give the president not only the responsibility to deal with the government of Egypt but also flexibility.”

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Democratic leaders have generally supported the president’s approach. But on Sunday Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said he would cut off aid to Egypt. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress and is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

“I would cut off aid but engage in intense diplomacy in Egypt and in the region to try to say, look, we will restore aid when you stop the bloodshed in the street and set up a path towards democracy that you were on before,” Ellison said. “In my mind, there’s no way to say that this was not a coup. It is. We should say so. And then follow our own law, which says we cannot fund the coup leaders.”

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Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Emirati foreign minister, went to Washington last month and urged the Americans not to cut off aid. The emirates, along with Saudi Arabia, had swiftly supported the military takeover with a pledge of billions of dollars, undermining Western threats to cut off critical loans or aid.

The Israelis, whose military had close ties to General Sisi from his former post as head of military intelligence, were supporting the takeover as well. Western diplomats say that General Sisi and his circle appeared to be in heavy communication with Israeli colleagues, and the diplomats believed the Israelis were also undercutting the Western message by reassuring the Egyptians not to worry about American threats to cut off aid.

Israeli officials deny having reassured Egypt about the aid, but acknowledge having lobbied Washington to protect it…

“The million-dollar question now,” said one American military officer, “is where is the threshold of violence for cutting ties?”

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Untangling the aid relationship with Cairo would not be simple and could be costly for the United States as well as Egypt. A special financing arrangement Cairo uses could leave U.S. taxpayers holding the bill for billions of dollars in equipment Egypt already has ordered on credit, and companies like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics that build military hardware for Egypt would be affected by aid restrictions.

Also on Sunday, several lawmakers made the point that the security of neighboring Israel and the Suez canal were compelling reasons in favor of continued aid. Since 1979, when Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, it has been the second largest recipient, after Israel, of U.S. bilateral foreign aid, the Congressional Research Service says.

At issue, too, is the U.S. relationship with key Gulf Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, which have promised the military-backed government some $12 billion in financial support.

Saudi Arabia, which fears the spread of Muslim Brotherhood ideology to the Gulf monarchies, pledged $5 billion alone in aid to Egypt after the Islamist Mursi was ousted.

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Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on “This Week” that the U.S. should not suspend aid to Egypt despite the Egyptian military’s crackdown on protesters supporting deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

“Obviously, we cannot let what’s been happening just happen, but I think we have to be careful and not cut off our nose to spite our face,” Engel said on “This Week.”

Engel said while he is “very unhappy” with the military’s crackdown, he said the U.S. should continue to try to influence Egypt’s military leaders to “get them to pull back.”

“It’s very disconcerting that the generals in the military have not listened to us, but I think we need to keep it up. I think we need to talk to them. We need to try to influence them,” Engel said. “I don’t believe they want to blow up the relationship.”

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Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., said curtailing aid could reduce U.S. influence over Egypt’s interim government, which controls access to strategic resources, including the Suez Canal.

“We certainly shouldn’t cut off all aid,” said King, who chairs the House panel on counterterrorism and intelligence.

King said there are no good choices in Egypt. Ousted President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was democratically elected. But, King said, the group has not demonstrated a commitment to democracy.

“The fact is there’s no good guys there,” King said. “But of the two, I think there is more opportunity to protect American interests if we work with the military and continue our relationship with the military.”

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It is hard to imagine that Obama will cut off aid to Egypt. The military coup in Pakistan during the Bush administration did not stop the transfer of American aid. This is not what the Egyptian army is concerned about as it is fighting for its survival. The aid allows the Americans to talk to the Egyptian generals, and Washington must keep in mind that Russia is waiting right around the corner, to fill any void that may be created.

This is why Obama is operating slowly. Following Morsi’s ouster, the Pentagon froze the transfer of four out of six F-16s it was supposed to supply to Egypt. Both sides can withstand this. Obama also announced the cancellation of a joint military drill in Sinai. Egypt can withstand this as well, mainly due to the fact that its soldiers are busy suppressing the riots in Egypt’s cities and fighting terrorists in Sinai.

America may soon declare that it is freezing the transfer of Apache helicopters in order to buy a little more time.

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[L]egitimate grievances duly noted, the Brotherhood is still not the Nazi party. It may be a foul religious right movement, but it did not abolish democracy or drive the opposition underground. And to rely on the military to remove it is naive in the extreme. The Egyptian army has suppressed dissent since 1952. To add robbery to murder, it has built a military-industrial complex that keeps Egyptians poor by preventing new businesses competing with the elite monopolies it controls…

However hard it is to say, European Union governments and the US have to live by their principles and call a coup a coup. Aid and normal diplomatic relations must depend on the release of political prisoners, the restoration of civil liberties and a return to democracy – even if that means a return of Morsi to power until the next election. Western liberals ought to stir themselves as well. I have written before of their failure to listen to liberals in the Arab world – or even acknowledge their existence. But the traffic should go both ways.

It is not disrespectful or condescending to tell them that the notion of a good society built on the back of a government dominated by the military is always improbable. In the case of the Egyptian military it is not improbable, just impossible.

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Many of the 20th century’s crises were touched off or worsened by these kinds of great-power/client-state dynamics — between Russia and Serbia in 1914; between Stalin and Kim Il Sung in 1950 and Khrushchev and Castro in 1962; and between the U.S. and various South Vietnamese governments across our long Indochina debacle.

The problem is still with us today. The brush-fire war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, for instance, probably wouldn’t have happened if America’s patronage hadn’t made our Georgian allies overestimate their ability to engage in brinkmanship with Vladimir Putin. (Happily, John McCain’s half-cocked declaration that “we are all Georgians” was the closest we came to starting World War III on Tbilisi’s behalf.) And the 2003 Iraq invasion was shaped, in part, by perverse patron-client dynamics as well: it was both a continuation of Gulf War I, which was fought on behalf of our gulf-state clients, and an attempt to effectively replace those (highly problematic) allies with what various Bush-administration optimists hoped would be a new and very grateful client in the heart of the Middle East…

Right now, the Obama administration is trapped by its client state the way that great-power patrons often are. Because our aid to Egypt is our most obvious leverage over its military, and because we can really only pull that lever once, Washington is afraid to follow through and do it.

But leverage can be lost through inaction as well. If we can’t cut the Egyptian military off amid this blood bath, we’re basically proving that we never, ever will.

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While McCain voted late last month to maintain aid to Egypt, the longtime senator has since had a change of heart and is now joining others, including Republican Sen. Rand Paul, in calling for the Obama administration to suspend aid…

“With Apache helicopters flying overhead (in Egypt), nothing is more symbolic of the United States of America siding with the generals,” he told CNN’s chief political correspondent Candy Crowley…

Asked Sunday if he still believes a suspension would indirectly damage the Jewish state, McCain said there would be a “risk.”

“But I also would point out that the Mubarak regime and this regime is stoking anti-Americanism to a large degree, and anti-Israel rhetoric is very high,” he said. “I believe that Israel can defend itself, although it may be of some cost to them, but look at the cost of American credibility.”

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Via the Corner:

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