(CNSNews.com) – As Egypt continues to grapple with the violent aftermath of the ousting of its president, the debate over how the United States should respond is blurring traditional party political and ideological lines, especially regarding the future of U.S. aid.
U.S. law prohibits funding for “the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup d’etat or decree,” or by “a coup d’etat or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.”
The Obama administration is in no hurry to determine whether the removal of President Mohammed Morsi constituted a coup and would therefore mandate a suspension of aid worth some $1.5 billion a year, most of it earmarked for the military. “We do not believe it is in our interest to make a precipitous decision or determination now,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
While the administration mulls its options, others are wading in. Wherever they stand on the question of aid, most share the view that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood administration failed dismally.
Among those calling Monday for a suspension of the aid were Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who said the U.S. should withhold the money until Egypt’s new government “schedule[s] elections that put in place a process to come up with a new constitution,” and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who made it clear it was a stance he took reluctantly.
“I understand that the military’s removal of Morsi from office was undertaken with broad public support in the name of democracy and could ultimately lead Egypt to a more inclusive and representative civilian government,” McCain said in a statement.
“However, it is difficult for me to conclude that what happened was anything other than a coup in which the military played a decisive role,” he said. “I do not want to suspend our critical assistance to Egypt, but I believe that is the right thing to do at this time.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations, said earlier that “Egypt’s military leaders say they have no intent or desire to govern, and I hope they make good on their promise. In the meantime, our law is clear: U.S. aid is cut off when a democratically elected government is deposed by military coup or decree.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has long wanted to cut aid to Egypt – a position opposed by McCain, among others – and in two Twitter messages Monday he indicated that that remains his view.
“In Egypt, governments come and go. The only thing certain is that American taxpayers will continue to be stuck with the $1.5 billion bill,” Paul tweeted. Later he added, “In Egypt, democratic authoritarianism is replaced with military junta. American neocons say send them more of your money.”
But some senior Republicans are not criticizing the Egyptian military’s action in ousting Morsi.
“I think their military on behalf of the citizens did what they had to do in terms of replacing the elected president,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday.
Earlier, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also voiced support for the military, saying it had “long been a key partner of the United States and a stabilizing force in the region, and is perhaps the only trusted national institution in Egypt today.”
And House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said on Sunday that there was “a great case to be made … that we should continue to support the military, the one stabilizing force in Egypt.”
Outside Congress policy analysts also differ on the issue.
American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Rubin wrote in an op-ed Sunday that this was not the time to punish Egypt.
“If democracy is the goal, then the United States should celebrate Egypt’s coup,” he said. Rubin argued that the ousting of Morsi had not ended democracy in Egypt, “for it had yet to take root.”
Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel now with the liberal Brookings Institution, wrote in Foreign Policy last week that “cutting off the aid now would be highly counterproductive, turning the United States into the adversary of the very actors we now depend upon to return Egypt to a democratic path.”
In contrast the non-partisan “Working Group on Egypt” – whose members come from organizations ranging from Brookings to the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies – pressed for using the aid to exert leverage and provide an incentive for action.
“Cajoling on democracy while keeping aid flowing did not work when the military ruled Egypt in the 18 months after Mubarak’s fall, and it did not work to move President Morsi either,” it noted in a statement Monday.
The policy experts said suspending aid “is the best way to make clear immediately to Egypt’s military that an expedient return to a legitimate, elected civilian government – avoiding the repression, widespread rights abuses, and political exclusion that characterized the 18 months of military rule after Mubarak’s fall – is Egypt’s only hope.”
“Performing semantic or bureaucratic tricks to avoid applying the law would harm U. S. credibility to promote peaceful democratic change not only in Egypt but around the world, and would give a green light to other U.S.-backed militaries contemplating such interventions,” they said.
The administration has labeled other military takeovers as coups and cut aid in response – in Honduras in 2009 and Mali in 2012, for example – but State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki argued Monday that “each circumstance is different.”
“You can’t compare what’s happening in Egypt with what’s happened in every other country, and that’s how we’re handling this situation,” she told a briefing.
Psaki said there was “a wide-ranging, high-level interagency process” underway to determine “the next steps on our policy for Egypt.”
She said that besides the requirements in U.S. law, “there are a number of factors that impact our policy moving forward,” citing the fact that millions of Egyptians had “expressed legitimate grievances” against the ousted government.