Egypt, now in political revolution, is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, getting more than a billion dollars annually.
As this data from USAID’s excellent new Foreign Assistance Dashboard shows, nearly all of it has gone for “peace and security” — which is, of course, a euphemism for military spending.
Supporting Egypt’s outgoing (soon, yes) dictatorial president Hosni Mubarak has been the primary motive for that aid, partly because of Egypt’s relatively friendly stance as an Arab nation toward us and toward Israel.
Two problems jump out from today’s news:
1) The downside of supporting dictators.
This arrangement — aiding a dictatorship — has put the U.S. government once again awkwardly in the middle of a fight between an oppressor and the oppressed people.
As FDR once supposedly said when someone complained to him about our support of a certain Central American dictator: “He may be a son-of-a-bitch but at least he’s our son-of-bitch.” Mubarak was our SOB in Egypt, and so here we are again.
Some pundits are, of course, saying we should stop funding dictatorships.
The Egyptian military, interestingly, has not supported Mubarak so far and has thrown its US-funded weight and weaponry behind the protesters. So, maybe we can eventually claim credit for funding this revolution.
2) Military aid vs. development aid.
However this shakes out as a matter of geopolitics, I wonder if anyone in the Obama Administration is factoring in what’s happened in Egypt as part of the effort to re-invent foreign aid.
My question is:
Are we going to keep using foreign aid primarily for political leverage?
Alternatively, we could use some other mechanism for political support, and focus “foreign aid” on providing assistance to the neediest people.
In other words, when we send military support to our allies, whether or not they’re dictators, maybe we should call it something else. Here’s something I wrote earlier on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taking the risk of confusing aid with foreign policy.