Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October/November 2013, Pages 28-29

What They Said

Whatever AIPAC Wants: Senators Debate Suspending U.S. Military Aid to Egypt

By Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Rand Paul and Robert Menendez

As reported in August on the websites Mondoweiss and The Daily Beast’s “Open Zion,” Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) initially supported cutting aid to Egypt following the military ouster of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi. But once they got their marching orders from AIPAC, they obediently changed their tune, as evidenced in this July 31 Senate debate:

 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM. The administration has put on hold the four F-16s that were due to be delivered to Egypt, trying to find out what is going to happen next. That makes sense to me. But why are we selling weapons to Egypt? It is because if we do not, someone else will.…

Is it a coup? It certainly looks like one. It certainly sounds like one. But at the end of the day, if we are moving toward democracy and the military steps back and democratically elected leaders take over, I think that is the goal for all of us.…

[W]hat happens in Egypt really does matter to us. If the largest country in the Arab world, the heart of the Arab world, Egypt, becomes a failed state, I promise you it will affect our national security interests for decades to come. It would be a nightmare for Israel, and it would take the whole region down a path that would be at best chaotic.…

[P]art of this amendment takes money that would be going to the Egyptian military and puts it on projects in the United States. I think one is a bridge in Kentucky. I have no doubt that there is a need for bridges in Kentucky and South Carolina.…

But to the people of Kentucky and to the people of South Carolina, if we stop the 1 percent of our budget—it is $50 billion. That is no small sum. But if we cancelled it all out and just left $3 billion for Israel—it seems everybody likes that idea. If we had $3 billion to spend on affecting the world, is that smart?…

If we wish to stop this march in the Middle East of radical Islam getting stronger and stronger and stronger, let’s try to hang on to our relationship with Egypt.…

I have a letter from our AIPAC. I asked them to comment on this. They state:

Dear Senators Menendez and [Bob] Corker:

We are writing to express our concerns over the Paul amendment to the Transportation/HUD Appropriations bill that would eliminate military assistance and sales to Egypt. We do not support cutting off all assistance to Egypt at this time, as we believe it could increase the instability in Egypt and undermine important U.S. interests and negatively impact our Israeli ally.

As you know, Egypt is the largest Arab state in the Middle East and has played a vital role in advancing key U.S. interests in that region. Citing just two examples, the government of Egypt has maintained the peace with Israel and is taking important steps to address the instability in the Sinai. Events in Egypt are rapidly evolving, and we believe that for now the United States should avoid taking any precipitous actions against Egypt such as cutting off all assistance. We look forward to continuing to work with you on these critical issues. …

SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ). Madam President…First, I caution against a rush to judgment on this issue.…

I would also like to point out [that] this…debate and this amendment…is part of that overall debate as to what the role of the United States should be in the world. Should we take our money from Egypt and give it to build a bridge in Kentucky? Should we take our foreign aid and cut it to the point to where we no longer have influence in these countries throughout the world and spend it on much needed projects that are the result of a very ailing and still serious recession in which we still remain?…

By the way, my friends, I don’t think it is an accident that AIPAC, our friends there who represent the interests of the State of Israel, have opposed this amendment. If there is further upheaval in the Sinai, and if there is a collapse of the rule of law in Egypt, I don’t think there is any doubt that the threat to Israel is dramatically increased.

I made it clear, and so has my friend from South Carolina, that it was a coup. It was a coup and our law calls for that. But…I think it is important for us to send a message to Egypt that we are not abandoning them, but what we are doing is trying to caution them to try to modify their behavior.…

I urge my colleagues—and I urge my friend from Kentucky, with respect—to realize this amendment would send the wrong message at the wrong time.…

I urge my colleagues, no matter how they feel about assistance to Egypt, that we are committed…to a long debate about this issue.…today is not the day to take a step that could have repercussions over time that will damage the vital national security interests of the United States.

I urge my colleagues to vote to table the Paul amendment.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY). This is exactly, precisely the time it should come up because on the infrastructure bill that we are looking at, this gives Americans the chance to show great contrast. Do you want to do nation building overseas or do you want to do nation building at home? Do you want to spend billions of dollars in Egypt or would you rather build some roads at home?…

Let’s be very clear about what the amendment does. It halts military aid until they have an election. It is just obeying the law.…

The law says military aid ends when there is a coup. The president says you can’t make him say there is a coup.…

We have to understand this is about a temporary halting of buying weapons. People say: Well, if we don’t give them planes, we don’t pay them to buy our planes, they will think we don’t like them. They will go to war with Israel and everything will be so much worse.

They have hundreds of F-16s. They have thousands of tanks. I am precisely worried about them using them against Israel when there is chaos and blood running in the streets, when there are millions of people protesting.…

What happens if these weapons are used against Israel? The canard of bringing the letter—it always happens. Someone brings in a letter [from AIPAC].…To bring it up and say the people who are against this don’t care about Israel is just a canard.

I think this precisely—continuing to arm an unstable government in Egypt—could well be to Israel’s harm. This is precisely why I bring this amendment forward.…

They want the money to continue. It doesn’t go to the Egyptian people. It doesn’t buy good will. It buys ill will. Do you know what the money is spent on? Tanks. Tanks roll over people in protest.…

We are going to be giving money to the military that is disappearing people. No one has heard from President Morsi. Most people think he was actually elected in a fair election. I don’t agree with radical Islam. I don’t think he would be a good president for any country. I wouldn’t give him any money. But we are going to give money to people who make people disappear?…

There is a finite amount of money. Detroit lays in ruins, Chicago is full of violence, and there are bridges everywhere. Don’t let them paint this that I have some special thing in Kentucky. There are no earmarks. There is no special money going to Kentucky. This is going into the Transportation bill for the whole country.…

The other side will falsely say: Oh, you want isolationism. You want to disengage from the world. Hogwash. I want to be involved. I am for being involved with Egypt. I am for trade. I am for international and global interaction and diplomacy and all those things. But do you think you are making the world a better place by sending a few more F-16s and tanks and tear gas to Egypt? Do you think that is somehow making the world a safer place? No.…

Who Gets the Money?

Seventy percent of the Egyptian people have said they do not want our money. It doesn’t go to them. The people, by the millions, are rioting in Cairo.…They are not rioting for American aid. They are rioting for us to quit giving aid to the despots who rule them.…zzzzzzwe withheld some aid, we would have leverage. But if you give them everything they want all the time, any time, do you think they are going to do something differently? They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different response. We have given the aid for 30-some-odd years.…

So there is a disagreement on this. But the one thing there is not a disagreement on is that it is against the law.…the rule of law says military aid ends when you have a coup. It doesn’t say you can wait around until it is convenient for you and maybe you can parcel out the aid in different ways. It doesn’t say that. It says military aid ends until there is an election. It is very clear about this.

So the argument is about whether you believe in the rule of law. If you do, there is no question you have to vote for this amendment because this amendment simply restates the law. I am not even creating the law. I am just restating the law that says aid ends and it resumes when there is an election.…

This is an important debate. It is not about doing things to harm Israel; it is about doing things that, actually, I think would be beneficial to Israel. It is not about ending all aid; it is about obeying the law.…

Some say it is only 1 percent. Foreign aid is only 1 percent. Guess what. If you cut 1 percent of the budget each year, the budget balances within about 5 years.…

So I urge a ``yes’’ vote on the amendment.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ). Mr. President.…[T]his is a question of whether we will continue to pursue our own national interest and national security in Egypt, in the Middle East.…

This is about making sure we have a stable Middle East. It is not a canard to suggest that Israel’s security is at stake, because when you have hundreds of tunnels in the Sinai being used by extremists to send weapons into Gaza to attack Israel, it is about their security.…

SEN. McCAIN. Again, isn’t the question whether the senator from Kentucky knows what is better for Israel or Israel knows what is better for Israel? The fact is, AIPAC and the Israelis are adamantly opposed to this amendment; isn’t that correct?

SEN. MENENDEZ. It is true they are opposed, and I would assume Israel, a sovereign state, knows what its security interests are better than anybody else.…

SEN. PAUL. Mr. President…With regard to Israel, there is no unified statement from the nation of Israel saying they are for this. I have had both private and public discussions with the leaders of Israel, and to tell you the truth, without naming individuals, I can tell you they are not too excited about sending more arms to Egypt. So for someone to come to the floor and say they speak for the nation of Israel, they speak for all people who love Israel in our country, is false.

There are probably 20 different groups in our country that support the nation of Israel and support them as our ally. I speak to them all the time. I visit with them daily and weekly in our office. So what I can tell you is if you talk to the people, to the grassroots and not to the so-called leadership, you will find a much different story. Because I would promise you—let me speak to the entire crowd at an AIPAC meeting and we will see whether they like sending more weapons to the Muslim Brotherhood or more weapons to Egypt. I think you will find a resounding no.

This amendment is ultimately about the law, and I hope my colleagues will remember that if they vote against this amendment they are flouting the law, they are voting to disobey the law, they are voting against the rule of law, and they are actually voting against a law they have all voted for.…

The Senate subsequently voted 86-13 to table Senator Paul’s amendment. 


 

This is an edited transcript of the July 31, 2013 Senate debate on Sen. Rand Paul’s amendment to S.1243, the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill.

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