The Washington Post editorial board certainly thinks so. Declaring that “there is no ambiguity about what happened in Egypt on Wednesday,” the editors want American funding cut off until “a genuinely democratic transition” occurs. They also rip the White House for its ineffectual foreign policy on Egypt over the last two years (h/t reader Peter Rice):
The armed forces forcibly removed and arrested President Mohamad Morsi, who won 51 percent of the vote in a free and fair election little more than a year ago. A constitution ratified by a two-thirds majority in another popular vote last December was suspended; dozens of leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested and a number of media outlets shut down. A little-known judge appointed as president and granted the power to rule by decree will be entirely dependent on the armed forces for his authority.
Having not spoken up against the excesses of Mr. Morsi’s government, the Obama administration has, with equal fecklessness, failed to forthrightly oppose the military intervention. But there should be no question that under a law passed by Congress, U.S. aid to Egypt — including the $1.3 billion annual grant to the military — must be suspended.
Some in the administration and Congress will try to avoid this step, because of the armed forces’ history as a U.S. ally and guarantor of peace with Israel. But the suspension of aid is the necessary first step in a U.S. policy that advances the aim Mr. Obama laid out in a Wednesday night statement: “to ensure the lasting restoration of Egypt’s democracy.”
CNN reports that the White House has other priorities at the moment, which are to ensure that the military will protect Americans in Egypt — and to stress that we don’t want to take sides:
CBS, on the other hand, reports that the White House is considering whether to cut off aid after the coup:
Aid to Egypt may potentially be used as leverage to pressure Egypt’s interim government, backed by the nation’s powerful military, to maintain security and bring fresh elections to restore democracy to the country, Obama administration officials tell CBS News.
The White House is now engaging in a high stakes, high-wire balancing act, CBS News’ Jan Crawford reported on “CBS This Morning.”
“On the one hand, they don’t want to be seen as endorsing what appears to be a military coup, but on the other hand, they don’t want to be seen as supporting this ousted Muslim Brotherhood-backed leader who had lost popular support,” explained Crawford.
The bottom line now, Crawford said, is security in Egypt and a quick timeline set for the elections — and that was on President Obama’s agenda on Wednesday.
Using aid as leverage isn’t exactly a novel concept, and in this case it’s practically the only leverage we have in Egypt now after embracing the disastrous Morsi regime. However, it’s more than a little odd to argue that we should suspend aid over a popular military coup after having provided it for more than 30 years under military rule, first with Anwar Sadat and then with Hosni Mubarak. Obviously, our aid to the Egyptian military then and now wasn’t in support of enlightened liberal-democratic rule; it was to use the Egyptian military as a way to keep the peace with Israel, and secondarily to keep the Suez Canal open to Western traffic.
What happens if we suspend aid? The reason that Egypt’s democratic government became unsustainable was because the Muslim Brotherhood turned out to be entirely incompetent and not just a little corrupt. Mostly, though, it’s because of an economic crisis made much worse by both failings of the Muslim Brotherhood. The only way to fix that problem is to create enough space so that other, more competent and less radical political factions have enough time and space to effectively organize. That’s what should have happened the first time around, rather than the relatively quick elections that made the Brotherhood the only effectively organized political group in Egypt. Snap elections would create a similar problem now, perhaps especially so if we cut Egypt off from the aid it receives from the US to keep the peace with Israel.
The situation in Egypt is a mess, made worse by our earlier pressure and interference. Maybe we should learn a lesson from that, and remember why we’re providing the aid in the first place.
Besides, some people in Egypt take offense at the notion that the action taken this week is a coup at all: