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.