Monday, March 7, 2011

On Military Aid to Egypt

I'm trying to understand the takeaway from the big New York Times Sunday front-pager about corrupt use of American aid money by the Egyptian military. The story is about how American money found its way into various for-profit ventures that had the effect of enriching individuals within the military, rather than...but that's where the story, at least to me, ran into trouble.

What's missing from the story is the context of all those billions of dollars of military aid. What did the US want in return? Certainly not a stronger Egyptian military! It's hard to see any advantage to American foreign policy if Egypt took that money and efficiently built a military juggernaut.

The real reason for US aid to Egypt, of course, was as part of the deal surrounding the peace agreements with Israel. To be blunt: the US was bribing the powers-that-be in Egypt (that is, the military) to sign and observe a peace treaty.

Assuming that basic deal made sense for the United States, it's not entirely clear to me that it matters very much to the US where the money goes. What matters, most of all, is that Egypt stays bought. Granted, tons of money being funneled into a nation may do all sorts of odd things to its institutions...but that's probably going to be true regardless of how efficiently (or cleanly) the money is spent.

Or maybe not; perhaps funding personal benefits for those at the top is more problematic (for Egyptians? for US policy?) than the "intended" use of the money would be. But the context here is really important, I think. Personally, however, I think I'd rather have all that money wasted on a fleet of private luxury jets than spent on fighters and bombers.

(Note: the link to the Times story wasn't working, for me at least; I'll update if needed)


  1. That article had everything except a quote from Captain Renault, "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"

    The real story is that the vast majority of the money went to U.S. cronies of the Defense Department.

  2. Egypt got more than its share of US military hardware from the deal -- including the second largest fleet of Abrams tanks in the world. And if they again become an enemy of Israel... well, the fact that they are now armed to the teeth is just what we call an "unintended consequence" of foreign aid.

    There's probably better ways to pay off military dictatorships.

  3. I can think of one roundabout way this may end up contributing to US interests:

    Suppose that midrank and junior Egyptian military officers actually have some pride, and at least aspirations to military professionalism. Their annoyance at seeing money spent on perks for their seniors rather than capability for the military may have contributed to their unwillingness to go all-in for the Mubarak regime.

    Which may end up having saved the US from an awkward situation. (Though of course this outcome is by no means guaranteed.)


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