In light of the recent attacks on the United States consulate in Libya and the U.S. embassy in Egypt, some lawmakers are calling for a halt to U.S. aid to these countries. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ken.) has been pushing for for an end to aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan for months as a way of controlling the rapidly growing federal deficit. Since the attacks on American diplomatic facilities, he has asked Congress to send a message to these countries that “you do not get foreign aid unless you are an unwavering ally of the United States.” This approach to aid is irresponsible and possibly dangerous for the interests of the United States in the region.
The United States supplies foreign aid to Libya and Egypt to encourage the growth of freedom and democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. In Egypt, this poses a unique problem for the U.S. since the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood has a history of anti-American sentiment. Libya, in contrast, is warmer in its relations with the United States but has a new government that is struggling to stabilize after the revolution. Unfortunately, the U.S. must understand that support for democracy does not always lead to perfect relations with a country’s government or warm feelings from its citizens.
The attacks in Benghazi and Cairo were carried out by small groups of extremist civilians -- not by their governments. Just as the American government is not responsible for an offensive YouTube video or an extremist Florida pastor, the Libyan government is not responsible for the terrible attack on the consulate and the Egyptian government is not responsible for the mob that breached the walls of the embassy. To hold a government accountable for every act by its citizens would be unfair and could harm the U.S., especially if the American government were held to the same standard. We must refrain from placing the blame for these awful attacks on anyone but the people responsible -- the individuals who went to the diplomatic facilities and deliberately attacked them.
It is true that although the attacks on the consulate and embassy were the acts of civilians, the Egyptian and Libyan governments were responsible to protect the facilities and respond quickly and decisively. These breaches of security are a matter of investigation and a plan to prevent attacks like these must be put in place. Libya’s response to the attacks on the consulate was clear and swift. Immediately, the government bolstered the meager security that they had in place and spoke out against the attacks. Unfortunately, this was not the response from Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, who waited almost an entire day before speaking out and waited for two days to break up the mob outside the U.S. embassy. He should understand that his tepid response endangers his relationship with the country that made his presidency possible.
These governments should have had better security and responded quicker to the attacks, but far from being a reason the U.S. should withdraw aid, this is a reason to continue to send the aid to help stabilize these countries and show the world that the U.S. stands for freedom and democracy even in the face of violence. In an interview on Fox News, Republican Senator John McCain said that “if it provokes us to withdraw our support for these people, to leave them on their own without our assistance and guidance, then the bad guys win. Then the Islamists and the terrorists win, because then they will have driven us off the playing field.” It is imperative that the U.S. stand its ground and continue to support freedom and democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.