What failed in Pakistan won’t work in Egypt

August 2, 2013


As the Egyptian army continued its violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood this week, White House officials said that the United States can’t cut off its $1.3 billion a year in aid to Egypt. To do so would cause Washington to lose “influence” with the country’s generals. Vital American security interests are at stake, they argued, and keeping the torrent of American aid flowing gives Washington leverage.

If that argument sounds familiar, it is. For the last decade, the United States has used the same logic in Pakistan. Washington has given $11 billion in military aid to the Pakistani army in the name of maintaining American “influence” in Islamabad. From new equipment to reimbursements for Pakistani military operations, the money flowed year after year, despite complaints from American officials that the Pakistanis were misusing funds and inflating bills.

Can the United States do better in Egypt? Pakistan and Egypt are vastly different, but as the Obama administration fervently embraces its Pakistan approach in Egypt, it’s worth examining the results of its dollars-for-generals strategy.

A decade on, little has changed in Pakistan. The country’s military continues to shelter the Afghan Taliban, hundreds of American and Afghan soldiers have died in cross-border attacks from Taliban safe havens  in Pakistan, and the Pakistani army remains by far the most powerful institution in the country.

Yes, the government of outgoing Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari performed poorly and mismanaged the country’s economy. And it’s wrong to assume — or argue — that an effective, efficient civilian government would emerge if Pakistan’s army would give up its decades-old domination of the country.

But what did the United States get for its $11 billion? One goal of providing U.S. military aid was to get the Pakistani military to crack down on the thousands of Afghan Taliban who have lived, trained and planned operations from inside Pakistan since 2001. But so far that has not happened. Republicans and Democrats poured money into the coffers of the Pakistani military but it did not change the Pakistani military’s long-running view that Afghan Taliban and other militants are useful proxies against Pakistan’s arch-rival India.

American officials say the $11 billion did allow Washington to get what it most wanted: drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas that weakened al Qaeda and may have thwarted terrorist attacks in the United States. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons also remain under government control. The drone strikes fuel bitter anti-Americanism in Pakistan, but the cold political calculus for any American president, officials argue, is preventing terrorist attacks on the homeland.

So far, the Obama administration appears intent on following the same aid-for-leverage approach in Egypt. The White House delayed the delivery of four new F-16 fighters to Egypt this week. But the fact that the Egyptian military has already killed 140 protesters — twice as many as Iran did in its 2009 crushing of the Green Movement — apparently gives administration officials little pause.

In a visit to Pakistan this week, Secretary of State John Kerry gave the administration’s most full-throated defense of the Egyptian military yet. “In effect, they were restoring democracy,” Kerry said in a Pakistani television interview. “The military did not take over, to the best of our judgment — so far, so far — to run the country. There’s a civilian government.”

Most importantly, the White House announced that the Obama administration would flout an American law requiring the U.S. government to cut off American aid to any government the carries out a coup. How? By ignoring it.

“The law does not require us to make a formal determination as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination,” a White House official told the New York Times. “We will not say it was a coup, we will not say it was not a coup, we will just not say.”

In other words, America will look the other way to maintain “influence” with the Egyptian military. One of the lessons from the last decade in Pakistan is that money might buy American officials a seat at the table. But Pakistani generals — or Egyptian generals — will not necessarily listen.

And they will definitely blame their problems on us. For the last decade in Pakistan, military officials have used pro-military media outlets to spread a message that an all-powerful United States is behind the country’s ills. Some of the same patterns are emerging in Egypt. Pro-military Egyptian media blame the United States for the country’s problems.

Dalia Mogahed, an expert on Egypt and the former executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, believes the United States should take a more aggressive stance in Egypt. Providing $1.3 billion per year with few questions asked is not a recipe for change.

“We need clear conditions on aid that we actually follow through with,” Mogahed said in an email. “We’re dealing with military massacres of protestors. Our values and our interests dictate that we condition aid on the immediate halt of excessive force and holding accountable those responsible for it.”

One administration official, who asked not to be named, argued that there was no alternative to Egypt’s generals. If the Sinai, for example, becomes a safe haven for militants, they would pose a direct threat to Israel and the United States. The official said he was skeptical that civilian governments could emerge that could stabilize Egypt and secure the Sinai.

That is the same argument American officials have been making in Pakistan for years. The core question is simple: can democracy emerge in the region?

Putting conditions on our aid that require the Egyptian military to carry out elections will help answer that question. Hurling billions at generals will not. Pakistan has taught us that much.

PHOTO: Anti-Mursi protesters cheer and hold up a poster depicting U.S. president Barack Obama with a beard at Tahrir square, where protesters gathered for a mass protest to support the army, in Cairo, July 26, 2013. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh


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What’s your definition of “success”? If it’s “generating chaos to raise defense spending”, the strategy has been working like a dream. We spent trillions creating and removing Bin Laden, similar investment targets can be found everywhere…

Posted by Whatsgoingon | Report as abusive

For decades the “sophisticated” approach was to use dollars to leverage despots. Now, that we have have seen that this has not only failed, but often produced situations where Americans are now more despised and ridiculed, shouldn’t we think of some more enlightened approaches?

Then, most of this “foreign aid” went into the coffers of American arms manufacturers, so there was a “success” of sorts.

If we made a list and ranked all the factors that kill and injure Americans each year with the intent of determining where best to invest our taxpayer dollars to reduce these deaths and injuries, then terrorism wouldn’t even be in the top ten. If the intent is to save and enhance lives, not the pocketbooks of the super rich, we would be making vastly different decisions.

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

You know what we can do better in Egypt. Stay out of their business and country. Think of it like two different houses. It will never go well if the people in house A try to tell people in house B, how to live. That “aid” money could sure do some good in American. Like to pay off our citizens student debt for example. If we got rid of the Military Industrial Complex, there would be no need for us to start any more wars. “If the Sinai, for example, becomes a safe haven for militants, they would pose a direct threat to Israel and the United States.” If Israel is wiped off the plant, America and the world would be just fine. This is not the UNITED STATES OF ISRAEL. Even though Israel’s people do in fact control America.

“The official said he was skeptical that civilian governments could emerge that could stabilize Egypt and secure the Sinai.” This is not true as long as Israel is controlled by such hate, supported by the American Hate Greed Machine. It is just a matter of time before Israel is taken. It really is to bad that the leaders of the Jewish individuals behaved toward the world in such a arrogant and war mongering fashion. Now they are just generally hated by everyone. They themselves manifested this opinion through their actions. They will reap what they have sown. Lets not let America go down with Israel. It is time to stop the War Mongering.

Let our government stop taking US worker money and “Hurling billions” at the war machine generals. Lets hurl billions into the peace machine of education, and opportunity. Or better yet, stop taking the billions out of American pockets to begin with. Let Americans live their own lives in peace without the government turning the US Citizens into money making machines to be harvested like fruit for money.

Posted by 2Borknot2B | Report as abusive

“The drone strikes fuel bitter anti-Americanism in Pakistan…”. No, self-hate and envy fuel the anti-Americanism of those without the conviction, confidence in the future and bravery of Malala.

The Pakistani “street” is ever a mindless mob forever fueled and directed by the madrassas that masquerade as education in this backward illusion of a nation-state. The single cohesive factory in the entire population is fear of their neighbor India.

Egypt has traditionally been the political center of the Arab world. The history and heritage of these peoples is domination by “strong men”.

All Egyptians should find common cause to assure that Egypt’s next “strong man” will NOT be another ignorant Islamist willing or able to lead Egypt itself into martyrdom. Beyond that, there is little of importance going on of interest to the outside world.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

The US Government is despised by the people in both Pakistan and Egypt. The US even failed to get the puppet it wanted in the last Pakistani elections. If the people in Egypt go to the polls again and they will, they are not likely to elect the candidate that the US wants.

Posted by LOB | Report as abusive

Had the US never given money to the Pakistani or Egyptian generals, then not giving them money now would not be a problem. But these countries are now dependent on aid, they need it to feed their people.

If the US cuts it off, it will be immediately disastrous for their image and for their influence.

If the keep on paying it will be long term disastrous for their image and for their influence.

Tough choice.

The real reason the US props up the Egyptian military is alluded to in this article, but not really said straight out. It is Israel. Add that to the direct aid Israel gets and you have to wonder why they aren’t living like Kings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Posted by Urban_Guerilla | Report as abusive


“The US Government is despised by the people in both Pakistan and Egypt.” Likely so. Considering how many of them are only alive because of our monetary generosity and food aid, they are not people of integrity or honor.

Mark Twain said something to the effect of: “If you take in a starving dog, feed him and make his life better, he will not bite you. And that is the difference between man and dog.”

Were it up to me I would LET THEM STARVE!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Both of these nations being, beneath all the pretense
of democracy, theocracies (currently ruled by sharia)
lack logical rational civilian structures to whom the
western democracies can relate. Theocracy negates the
power of democracy (what meaning can popular referenda
have if that decision can be vetoed by some overlord –
real or imagined?) In a theocracy what would in a true democracy be referred to the people’s representatives
must be referred to the deity’s agents – to clerics.
Or to a pragmatically ordered branch of bureaucracy.
A branch with substantial leverage. The military.A
military is, above all, both pragmatic and orderly –
as such is, therefore, the easiest, safest bureaucracy
to relate to. They’re the secular musculoskeletal frame
and the sanity of such nations. Egypt’s people realize
this and have therefore opted to trust their military
over Morsi. The Pakistani military is in a far dicier
position since their hardline Islamists have seasoned guerilla forces active throughout the country. When a
high-profile jihadi icon can be hidden minutes from a
main military base for years on end – in luxury with
his entire retinue – it obviates the precariousness of
the military’s situation. Such precariousness rules out
any normal expectations of logistical predictability.

The military are Pakistan and Egypt at their sanest.

Posted by thenetisus | Report as abusive

There’s a big difference, the US’s war in Afghanistan has cost Pakistan $68 in the economic damage it has done, $11 billion in blood money (US aid) for drone attacks is just throwing scraps to a poor country. Worse still the aid obviously has only ever gone to the military in both cases not to feed the poor, building schools and hospitals etc.

Add to this the fact the US’s massive military machine’s inability (or was this deliberate?) to do something very basic, i.e. man the Afghan border, has resulted in pushing the bulk of the Afghan problem, not forgetting the 3 million refugees from the Russians invasion, into Pakistan where US drone attacks result in bomb blast by Afghans and their friends in a Pakistani city. The latter is actually fiendishly clever, because the US then just expects the Pakistanis to have manned to border and blames them instead for their own failings. The mantra ‘must do more, or we’ll cut your money’ is the ultimate slap in the face.

Egypt is a clear cut case of hypocritically bribing a military that happily gunning down unarmed protesters to keep Israel safe.

The US should keeps its money and spend it on it’s own poor, rather than fight pointless wars and fund military dictators.

Posted by FurbianSenior | Report as abusive


Most would interpret yous suggestion that the U.S. spend money saved “on it’s poor” as handing out fish rather than teaching to fish. You’re likely old enough to appreciate the benefits of clarity and the dangers of lazy thinking and sloppy writing.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

The seeds of conflict, envy and rivalry were sowed before Islam, between the two clans of Quresh, Banu Hashim and Banu Ummaya. The Conflict remains even after Islam to the present day. The envy leads to create, two biggest sects of Islam, Shia and Sunni and now the dysfunctional states and societies in Middle East and some parts of South Asia.
http://www.maaref-foundation.com/english  /library/pro_ahl/imam02_hasan/the_life_ of_imam_hasan/03.htm

Posted by MazherMehboob | Report as abusive