How did we end up arguing over whether to terminate U.S. aid to Egypt because the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularly elected candidate was thrown out of office by the military? Perhaps we have a hard time admitting we were too invested in failure. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Egyptian military leaders and the country’s now-deposed president last April:
I wanted to stop in Egypt to reaffirm American commitment to Egypt’s emerging democracy [and] encourage the democratic and economic reforms that are under way,” the secretary told reporters during a briefing here today.¹
When we support both sides it is easier to pick a winner, but what’s in it for us?
Should U.S. aid be a weapon or a bribe?
Whether the issue is extending unemployment benefits or dealing with student loan interest, every cent spent on behalf of Americans precipitates a partisan firefight on Capitol Hill. Spending on foreign assistance is different. We won’t stop offering U.S. aid but can’t decide whether to use it as a bribe or a weapon. If we admitted to ourselves what we expect in return for our money, the decision on whether to commit would be a whole lot easier.
The president’s red line in Syria earned him a black eye (see: Syrian Muslims Can Kill Each Other Without U.S. Help). Now he finds himself having to at least give lip service to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after we applauded Egypt’s first democratic election:
… we believe that ultimately the future of Egypt can only be determined by the Egyptian people. Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsy and suspend the Egyptian constitution.²
If our government believes that the people make the decisions in the Muslim nations receiving U.S. aid, then officials are wasting our money. When we committed $8.65 billion to stabilization operations and security sector reform in 2013,3 what were taxpayers really spending on and why can’t we summon the courage to cut off assistance to nations like Pakistan cold turkey?
Will America’s billions buy peace and security?
Finding bin Laden in Pakistan should have taught us a lesson about the duplicity we can expect in exchange for U.S. aid. On the other hand, we are guilty of a little duplicity ourselves. The U.S. targets aid for peace and security4 but we aren’t buying it for the nations that spawn terrorism while spending our tax dollars. We are buying it for ourselves, which at least makes some sense. It’s our money, so we should try to get something out of investments that will likely not benefit the Americans who fund foreign assistance while seeing their own needs go wanting.
Obama administration U.S. aid requests for 2014 included $1.56 billion for Egypt, $2.19 billion for Afghanistan, and $1.16 billion for Pakistan. Even Mali was included at $180.3 million.5 The good news is that Pakistan took a hit on its handouts. The bad news is we are still paying for thinly disguised nation-building that will not buy us the peace and security we seek.
USAID’s 2013 Annual Letter talks about ending extreme poverty,6 an honorable goal if we had money to burn and nothing else to spend it on. For the time being, the question Washington needs to answer is whether we are making a difference, or whether American taxpayers are being duped by Allah. That Pakistani report on bin Laden we are hearing about should help point us to the answer.