As the tragic situation in Egypt continues to deteriorate, President Obama has delayed the delivery of F-16 fighter jets and canceled scheduled joint military maneuvers, and members of Congress are now having second thoughts about sending military aid.
These are welcome developments, not only because situations on the ground in Egypt require adjusting our policy, but also because common sense seems to have made some progress in Washington, at least on this issue.
When I introduced an amendment last month that would have stopped aid to Egypt during this time of unrest, it was for two primary reasons: First, U.S. law states that when a coup takes place, American aid must be suspended. By any conventional definition, what has happened in Egypt qualifies as a coup. We either have laws, or we do not.
Second, a nation in the midst of a violent civil war should not be killing one another with American-supplied weapons. The F-16s we once gave to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were used against the protesters who would eventually overthrow his regime. Those protesters were part of the forces that would eventually elect President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Now that regime is gone, but the American weapons remain.
Who will use them now — friend or foe? What can we expect the average Egyptian citizen to think of the United States at this point?
Why would we send more weapons?
Why give $1.5 billion in aid, when there are no clear good or bad guys and when there is no clear American national interest? As many in both parties are now relenting, intervening in Egypt right at this particular juncture would likely cause more problems than it would solve. The situation is too murky, and the end results are far too unclear.
However, hasn’t this long been the case? Does the situation have to become so incredibly violent before politicians will re-examine our policies or deviate from Washington groupthink?
When my amendment to stop Egyptian aid failed three weeks ago, some in the press characterized this as a rebuke. A more accurate understanding would be that Congress is out of step with the people. More than 80 percent of Americans — and Egyptians — oppose more military aid.
During the past few days, news sources have shown pictures of unarmed protesters trying to ward off tanks (American tanks operated by the Egyptian military). In one image, an unarmed man is gunned down as he tries to stop a tank.
Sending more American tanks is not engagement. Sending more fighter jets feeds no one and incurs more enmity than appreciation. Sending more weapons to despots and dictators is the opposite of engagement. It breeds discontent and dislike of America among the Egyptian people.
If there is foreign-policy extremism in Washington today, it is not hesitancy to act, but rather a hyper-interventionism in which leaders in both parties seem hell-bent on always acting first and thinking second. They insist that we must send Egypt billions in aid because, well, it’s what we’ve always done.
The only consistent aspect of their interventionism is that it doesn’t seem to matter who receives the aid as long as American taxpayers are forced to pay for it. The same senators who now support arming the generals used the same arguments to arm the Muslim Brotherhood.
On July 31, 86 senators voted against my amendment to stop Egyptian aid, while only 12 Republicans joined me. Now many Republicans and even President Obama are coming around to my way of thinking. The question remains whether talk of ending aid is mere pomp and circumstance or whether my new “allies” will actually vote to end aid.
Washington has no monopoly on knowledge. In our foreign policy, as in so many other policies, politicians are almost always behind the curve. Those who still insist on sending Egypt aid, no matter what — though shrinking in number — are actually projecting American weakness in the name of projecting American strength and influence.
When we send foreign aid without strings or conditions, we are saying to governments around the world that no matter how despotically, violently or immorally they behave, they can always count on American dollars unconditionally.
I am glad that so many in Washington are now waking up to the fact that sending Egypt military aid at a time like this is a recipe for disaster. We cannot prevent mistakes in the future if we refuse to learn from our past. America’s foreign-policy past offers example after example of giving billions to tyrannical dictators at great cost to the people of the countries we are allegedly helping while yielding little benefit to the United States.
Egypt is simply the latest example. Things shouldn’t have to always get worse before they get better.
The current situation in Egypt is a teachable moment for Washington. Lawmakers had better start learning.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Homeland Security committees.