President Obama's remarks this morning on the brutal violence in Egypt have once again demonstrated how the administration continues to tiptoe around withholding the annual $1.3 billion aid given to the Egyptian military. The administration's concern towards interjecting in the Egyptian process toward democracy is fair, even right, but the U.S. cannot be sending monetary aid to a government that is killing civilians.
However, the Egyptian military is not alone. Pro-Morsi supporters are violent as well, firing machine guns on civilians and causing widespread death. Furthermore, the U.S. has specific interest in the region caused by its ties to Israel and the Suez Canal. Complex as the situation may be, the Obama administration has a responsibility to halt the aid in order add substance to their ineffectual "condemnation" of the violence.
To understand why the Obama administration is misguided, it is critical to distinguish the difference between direct intervention and withholding foreign aid. Egypt's revolution, their process toward democracy, is one of their own choosing and must be of their own action. The U.S. must remain in a neutral position, while supporting the institution of democracy implemented by the people of Egypt. President Obama spoke today affirming, that the "We [the U.S] don't take sides with any particular party of political figure." But it seems hard to believe we are not supporting one side when our aid is going directly to the military.
For the first time, in response to yesterday's violence, the president has taken action to express America's displeasure with recent events by cancelling the upcoming biannual joint military exercises of the Egyptian and American military. The result will be inconsequential and is a weak response to the carnage. President Obama has asked his "national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim governments and further steps we may take as necessary with respect the U.S.-Egyptian relationship." And that step should be halting the current aid.
Withholding foreign aid is not intervening in the crisis. It is a method that displays your displeasure with the violence exhibited by both sides of the struggle.
A factor that has contributed to the Obama administration's weak response is the need for access to the Suez Canal, which is controlled by Egypt. A great deal of U.S.-Egyptian cooperation has been based upon Egypt's willingness to allow the U.S. to readily use the Suez Canal for the deployment of its carrier groups to the Persian Gulf. Decreased relations could cause the U.S. to loose this vital access. Additionally, the Canal facilitates the transportation of up to 3 million barrels of oil per day, totaling 7% of the world's entire "seaborne-traded oil."
The situation is made even more delicate by the U.S.'s interest in assuring that the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, witnessed by President Carter, is maintained during this time. During the 2011 Egyptian revolution, there were fears that the treaty could fall apart with the institution of a new government. In 2012, Egyptian tanks moved into the demilitarized zone, causing international concern and drawing staunch criticism from the Israeli government. Only two days ago, the Israeli military shot down a rocket launched by an Al-Qaeda affiliate from Egypt.
Peace hangs in the balance within the region, and the administration is taking all of the variables into account. Today's remarks did mark a subtle shift in President Obama's outlook on the situation.
"We want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets," said Obama.
This subtle shift needs to have happened more rapidly and must be further emphasized. The $1.3 billion in aid given by the U.S. accounts for 80% of the Egyptian's weapon purchases. By continuing our support of the military, we are only perpetuating more violence. Our country cannot continue to give military aid to a foreign nation when it is in disarray and civilians are being murdered on both sides. Words are powerful only to a certain degree. It is action that shows the U.S.'s most adamant condemnation of the violence.