Senate kills Rand Paul's bill to prohibit sales of F-16s to Egypt

Meant to blog this last night but got sidetracked by the day-long Hagel clusterfark. The vote on Paul’s bill wasn’t close: 79-19, with more Republicans voting against it (26) than for it (19). Why? For the same reason McCain looked the other way at Morsi’s Jew-baiting and backed continued aid to Egypt. Namely, leverage:

[T]he pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) actually opposed Paul’s amendment. An AIPAC official explained to The Daily Caller News Foundation that the committee feared that the measure, if passed, would diminish U.S. influence in Egypt.

A few extra F-16s aren’t going to change the balance of air power between the IAF and Egypt’s air force but they do help — in theory — keep relations warm-ish between the U.S. and Egypt’s military. Jim Inhofe, who wanted the F-16 sales suspended but not canceled, as Paul’s amendment would have done, explained to the Daily Caller why he voted no on Paul’s bill:

“We need to continue to support the Egyptian military, which [Egyptian President Mohammed] Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have currently distanced themselves from,” Inhofe said. “Egypt’s military is our friend — Morsi is our enemy.”

The country’s new defense minister, a Morsi appointee but one who was trained in the U.S., warned last week that if the Brotherhood and the opposition didn’t reconcile soon, Egypt would face collapse. Is that a hint of a coup? Inhofe wants to make sure we have the military’s goodwill in case it is, or of course in case Morsi orders the military to do something nutty like attack Israel. (Whether the new defense minister, Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, is himself a Brotherhood stooge or more interested in preserving the military’s prerogatives is an open question.)

There may be other reasons for wanting Egypt to continue using American equipment. I got this e-mail from a reader last week, after an earlier post about the F-16 sales. I’m not qualified to judge how accurate it is but it’s interesting enough that I thought I’d post it for reader feedback:

It is in our interest to continue supplying F-16s and tanks to Egypt, despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood, enemies of the US, run the government.

I am a former USAF navigator/weapon systems officer in F-4E Phantom fighters and former employee at the old General Dynamics F-16 factory in Fort Worth, TX.

Fighter jets need continual parts and technical support from the factory to fly. As long as Egypt uses US-made fighter jets, we have a leash on their use. If Egypt turns hostile, we can cut off support and their fighter fleet will be largely unflyable within a year.

When Khomeini took over Iran, they were flying US-made F-4s and F-14s. Through black market parts and cannibalization of other jets, they were able to keep only a few of them flying. So, the bottom line is that using advanced US military technology enforces a dependence upon us which we may withdraw at any time. If they convert their fleet to MiGs, we lose our leash on Egypt’s air force.

As long as we supply Egypt with hardware, we also maintain a liaison with their military, which is the true power center of the country. Many have noted that Egypt’s revolution did not turn bloody because the Egyptian military refused to violently intervene, which was credited to the decades of training that Egyptian field grade officers received in the US. That is where Egyptian officers were exposed to how the military of a democratic country acts. It paid off.

While governments come and go, the military of even volatile countries usually stays in place. It is in our interest to maintain a relationship with the Egyptian military, even though it seems counterintuitive to supply weapons to a hostile Islamist regime. We have to think beyond the Morsi government to prepare to influence a secular successor.

The downside of supplying weapons to the Egyptians is that they will probably pass examples of them along to the Russians and Chinese. However, we give them second class avionics, not the best stuff which gives our air force the advantage. And the F-16 is no longer cutting edge technology. We’re retiring them by the hundreds to the boneyard in the Arizona desert for storage.

Fair points all. I’m skeptical that it’d be terribly difficult for Egypt to replace most parts for the F-16 on the black market, but I’m speaking from ignorance here. Correct me if I’m wrong, please.

One other note about the Senate vote: Take a close look at who voted with Paul to oppose tabling his bill. Any names jump out? The most conspicuous hawks in the Senate — McCain, Graham, and new third amigo Kelly Ayotte — all voted to kill Paul’s bill, but one notable hawkish up-and-comer voted to keep it alive. Hmmmmm.