Opinion-US Needs Creativity in No-Win Egypt

The current situation in Egypt is a classic lose-lose for the US. There really are no “good guys” of any note or power. The current military government has killed hundreds in the streets. But the protestors are reportedly shooting back. Millions opposed the previous regime, but the military then threw the old leaders out in a coup.

And in the midst of it all, the US is trying to decide if they should still fund the now bloody Egyptian security forces. It’s time the US start thinking outside the black-white box.

The New York Times recently laid out all the Egyptian military does for the US. In short, the US needs Egypt to maintain their military power in the Middle East in the fight against terror and so on. Egypt provides the US with special air and sea access to the region. Losing that would hurt the US.

What’s more, ending aid would also risk leading to the Egyptians ending their peace treaty with Israel – a key stabilizer in a region key to global oil trade. The aid to Egypt was, and in some ways is, a bribe to convince Egypt to keep the peace.

But on the other hand, the US risks being linked to ongoing brutality if the aid continues. After all, it’s not like the money is feeding the poor. It’s funding the very army that’s leading the fight against protestors.

Furthermore, ongoing Egyptian conflict could lead to a civil war that would impact the oil trade. Someone has to back down from the violence. And the army will find it harder to keep fighting if the US cuts off aid.

But… The Egyptian protestors are reportedly violent – an opinion column from Ron Ben-Yishai on Ynet cited claims that the opposition had snipers. And the main protest group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is a former terrorist organization – if “former” is even still true now. Cutting off US aid could lead to these guys taking back power with even more hate on their minds.

So what does the US do?

The Obama Administration is trying to make statements by canceling a training exercise and delaying the delivery of fighter jets. This is shallow and misguided at best.

Cutting off all aid would be a disaster. But why not stage it? Tell the army privately they have a week to end the mass violence, or else a quarter of the aid will be cut off. If that doesn’t change their minds, raise the ante a week or two later.

In the meantime, halt any supply of weapons being used to kill in the streets – bullets, guns, armored personnel carriers, etc. Ironically, the fighter jets Obama is taking away are less a concern. Obama’s “toughness” is changing nothing.

Now I’m not saying to cut off the Egyptian army just yet. Instead of as many weapons offer intelligence assistance to identify the leaders of opposition violence and bring about their arrest. Offer aid and support that can be used to fight terrorists in the Sinai (like those fighter jets…)

And keep talking to everyone – try to bring the sides away from the abyss.

Cutting off all aid is not nearly as powerful as threatening to cut it. Once it’s gone, the receiving nation has no more incentive to work with the US any longer – at least not for a while. We saw this with the Palestinians, who rebuffed Obama time and again over Israel.

But by keeping the Egyptian army hanging, knowing they have good deal that is slowly being eaten away, the US keeps their influence and applies pressure at the same time.

Egypt is clearly lose-lose right now. Both sides in the fight are bad and there are no automatic-wins for the US. So it’s time create a winning solution, over time, but as quickly as possible.

The US is stuck between a rock and a hard place. But there’s still a chisel in their hand.

(Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, August 19, 2013)

What do you think?