It's time: 51% want U.S. to cut off military aid to Egypt

Twenty-six percent say we should continue shoveling money at Sisi and company in hopes of influencing events there but 51 percent want to pull the plug. And if you read last night’s QOTD, you know that that’s no idle wish. The Senate GOP, from uberhawks like McCain to libertarians like Rand Paul, is unified in wanting to pull the plug. Democrats are trickier, obviously, because O’s wishes will influence their willingness to cut Egypt off, but the State Department’s already looking to scale back economic aid. That’s a warning to the army, I take it, that if there are new massacres like last week’s, military aid is next.

For the most part, there are only modest demographic and partisan differences in opinions about the situation in Egypt. However, Republicans (63%) are more likely than Democrats (47%) or independents (46%) to say that Obama has not been tough enough on the Egyptian military in responding to the violence.

But comparable percentages of Republicans (56%), Democrats (49%) and independents (53%) favor cutting off U.S. military aid to the Egyptian government. About half of Republicans (52%) and Democrats (46%) say the military could provide better leadership for Egypt, as do 42% of independents.

Overall, 45 percent say the military would provide better leadership for Egypt versus just 11 percent who say the Muslim Brotherhood would. It’s not that the public is anti-coup, in other words, so much as anti-crackdown. Whether those two positions are reconcilable is a separate question.

Two big caveats, though, about cutting off aid. One: It’s not clear how much of the public supports yanking it permanently versus simply as an inducement to get the military to go easy on protesters. Pew’s question asked if aid should be suspended “in order to pressure the Egyptian government.” Presumably there’s some segment of voters who, like McCain, are willing to cancel aid temporarily to send a message with reinstatement to come later if the bloodletting slows down. Two: On the flip side, some of the support for cutting aid likely has nothing to do with the specifics of what’s happening in Egypt. When Pew polled the public back in February on items in the federal budget that deserve the axe in the name of reducing the deficit, the one and only item out of 17 polled for which a plurality of the public supported cuts was foreign aid. Just 22 percent are following news out of Egypt “very closely” according to Pew, so the support for yanking aid in the new poll may simply be an opportunistic response to the subject generally. If you’re looking for reasons to cut them off in the first place and then they do something atrocious, well, there you go.

I agree with Jeffrey Goldberg: The two big reasons theoretically to keep money flowing to Egypt is to buy leverage for the White House and to keep the army from attacking Israel. But neither of those things matter anymore. Egypt’s new enemy is Islamism, not Zionism, and given how they’ve defied our demands not to roll over protesters, we don’t have real leverage anymore anyway. Beyond that, the Gulf States give Egypt vastly more money than we do; if they want Cairo to go to war with Israel, they can outbid us. But that brings us back to Goldberg’s first point — the Saudis are more interested in killing Islamists, both Sunni and Shiite, than they are Israelis. They’re arguably a better hedge on a new Six Days War than we are. In which case, why throw away another $2 billion we don’t have? Exit quotation via InstaGlenn: “[I]t’s pretty clear that the places where Islamists are least popular — Iran, and now Egypt — are the places where they’ve wielded real power. Hence the strategy: Allow sectarian civil war to rage through the region until it burns itself out.”