Only Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) would be stubborn enough to build an entire bill around an amendment that already failed 79 to 19; and I thought we could take him seriously on making Congress more efficient. (Of course, that amendment was attached to an unrelated bill, despite his earlier call for one-topic bills. . . . OK, let’s not take him seriously at all.) Thankfully, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who generally doesn’t have a good reputation around here, improved upon Paul’s idea. Both of their bills have been introduced, but one may actually pass.
Paul’s bill would prohibit the sales of tanks, F-16s and “other advanced weapons” to Egypt. Inhofe’s bill would not prohibit those sales entirely, but
would suspend them unless President Obama certifies that Egypt is committed to pursuing peaceful relations with Israel, providing security to U.S. embassies and consulates and respecting minority parties’ rights.
As Inhofe pointed out, arms sales to Egypt are worth $2.2 billion to the defense industry, and provide the U.S. with leverage over Egypt. The frequency with which we must use “leverage” when discussing relations with Arab Spring nations rivals the entire Battlefield Earth screenplay, and for that I apologize, as I’m sure it’s rather annoying. But it’s completely true. Aid for things like food, medicine and infrastructure aren’t nearly as appealing to new regimes, especially ones in which the military plays such a powerful role.
Inhofe frames maintaining arms sales, albeit conditionally, as a way to maintain a good relationship with the Egyptian military. He put it quite bluntly: “Egypt’s military is our friend – [President Mohamed] Morsi is our enemy.” That’s going a little too far. But is he an enemy of the kind of stability, democracy and pluralism Egyptians sought after deposing former President Hosni Mubarak? So far, yes; during his brief presidency, Morsi has attempted to exert too much control to embrace any of those values.
Furthermore, Inhofe’s insistence on checking on Morsi’s approach to Israel may turn out to be unnecessary. His explanations for his comments on Jews have been about as coherent as a Chuck Hagel confirmation hearing; however, his history with Israel itself has actually been closer to U.S. interests than Muslim Brotherhood interests. That’s what Inhofe should have put into his bill: certifying that the Muslim Brotherhood and its agenda will have no role in Morsi’s administration, as he promised.
If Morsi and the Egyptian military continue to be at odds, his version of a post-Mubarak Egypt will come closer to status as a failed state. Supplying the latter with arms will ensure a U.S. hand in picking up the pieces. But Inhofe should consider the military’s domestic responsibilities as well, namely identifying and supporting a truly democratic and pro-Western leader.