by Jim Lobe
As some readers may recall, I wrote a long essay shortly after last July’s military coup d’etat against Egypt’s democratically elected Morsi government on differing attitudes within the neoconservative movement toward the coup and democracy itself. Given the complete lack of consensus among leading neocons as to how the U.S. should react to the coup — indeed, the fact that most neocons favored the coup and urged Washington to maintain its military assistance to the coupists — I concluded, contrary to conventional wisdom and the way that neocons have often sought to depict themselves, that “democracy promotion can’t possibly be considered a core principle of neoconservatism.” I followed that up a month later with a short post noting how the two “princelings” of the neoconservative movement and co-founders of both the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and its successor organization, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), Bob Kagan and Bill Kristol, had themselves split on the issue, with Kristol (citing Israel’s position) expressing doubt about the wisdom of cutting military aid, and Kagan demanding that it be cut.
Kristol hasn’t had much to say about Egypt recently, but Kagan came out in yesterday’s Washington Post with a stunning denunciation (also featured on FPI’s website) not only of continuing U.S. military aid for Egypt, but also of lobbying by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Congress for continuing that assistance AND of Israel’s support for the regime. The op-ed, entitled “A Partnership That Damages the U.S.”, is particularly critical of Israel’s attitude toward both Egypt and democracy in the region, something that the ironically named (and Likudist) Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) may wish to consider. Here are the relevant paragraphs:
Many members of Congress also believe that by backing the Egyptian military they are helping Israel, which, through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has actively lobbied Congress for full restoration of military aid. Even though the Morsi government did not pull out of the Camp David Accords or take actions hostile to Israel, the mere presence of a Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt frightened the Israeli government.
To Israel, which has never supported democracy anywhere in the Middle East except Israel, the presence of a brutal military dictatorship bent on the extermination of Islamism is not only tolerable but desirable. Perhaps from the standpoint of a besieged state like Israel, this may be understandable. A friendly observer might point out that in the end Israel may get the worst of both worlds: a new Egyptian jihadist movement brought into existence by the military’s crackdown and a military government in Cairo that, playing to public opinion, winds up turning against Israel anyway.
Israel has to be the judge of its own best interests. But so does the United States. In Egypt, U.S. interests and Israel’s perceptions of its own interests sharply diverge. If one believes that any hope for moderation in the Arab world requires finding moderate voices not only among secularists but also among Islamists, America’s current strategy in Egypt is producing the opposite result. If one believes, as President Obama once claimed to, that it is important to seek better understanding between the United States and the Muslim world and to avoid or at least temper any clash of civilizations, then again this policy is producing the opposite result. [Emphasis added.]
It’s really a remarkable column that deserves to be read in full because of its very trenchant critique of Obama’s policy as well. If only it represented a preponderance of neoconservative opinion, which it unfortunately doesn’t.
Kagan is writing in the context of a whole lot of bad human-rights news coming out of Egypt in recent weeks in spite of which the Obama administration approved the delivery of 10 Apache helicopters, the transfer of which was held up by a partial suspension of military aid to the regime last fall. Since then, Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chairs the key Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign aid appropriations, has called for halting all military aid, including those items, like the helicopters, that are supposedly earmarked for “counter-terrorism.” As noted by Kagan, AIPAC is lobbying on behalf of the Netanyahu government against such a cut-off.
Indeed, for AIPAC’s (and Israel’s) talking points, you need look no further than a policy analysis entitled, “Resuming Military Aid to Egypt: A Strategic Imperative”, published this week by Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a think tank spun off by AIPAC in the 1980s but still very much in the lobby group’s orbit. While Trager predictably deplores the abuses that have taken place, he argues, dubiously, that somehow the military is not accountable for them because of the “severely fractured …competing power centers” that supposedly characterize the Egyptian state at the moment. He goes on:
…[W]ithholding aid could still jeopardize Washington’s ability to ensure Egypt’s longer-term cooperation. For one thing, Russia is trying to expand its influence in the Middle East by selling weapons to Cairo, and various Persian Gulf states — which have sent billions in aid to keep the current Egyptian government afloat — are strongly supporting Moscow’s efforts. Moreover, after years of refusing to do so, the Egyptian military has been actively fighting Sinai-based jihadists since September, so withholding aid now would send a very confusing message about Washington’s strategic priorities. The United States also stands to lose other strategic benefits if the aid is withheld, including overflight rights and preferred access to the Suez Canal.