Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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About That Coup: Nevermind

by Elliott Abrams
July 26, 2013


There are many good reasons to maintain U.S. aid to Egypt under current circumstances, but American law presents a problem: under the Foreign Assistance Act, “none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup or decree.”

That is very clearly what happened in Egypt: Mohammed Morsi was “duly elected,” and he was deposed by a military coup. He was not impeached, nor did he resign, and the law does not say “unless we think he has done a really bad job” nor “except where the guy has become very widely unpopular.”

I am no fan of the statute because it lacks flexibility. There are cases, such as Mali, where we might wish to aid a government that came to power in a coup because it was fighting Al Qaeda. So what the Obama administration should have done was clear: ask Congress for an immediate national security waiver, or some other amendment giving greater flexibility.

Instead it has decided simply to ignore the law. A “senior official” told the New York Times that:

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. We will not say it was a coup, we will not say it was not a coup, we will just not say.

Now, the Foreign Assistance Act also states that “no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”

It also says that no assistance may be provided when a country “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, and the security of person, unless such assistance will directly benefit the needy people in such country.”

And “No assistance may be provided to any government failing to take appropriate and adequate measures, within their means, to protect children from exploitation, abuse or forced conscription into military or paramilitary services.”

But no administration, after this, really needs to enforce such provisions. Some senior official can just say “the law does not require us to make a formal determination.” There are many human rights statutes, and one has to assume that they are all rather a dead letter after this.

Think of it this way: now, after this Obama action–or better put, this Obama refusal to act or to enforce our law–American officials can no longer tell foreign officials that gross abuses of human rights will automatically lead to suspension of aid. Nor, if aid is suspended, can they tell foreign governments that U.S. law required this. Everyone will know that enforcing such laws is a matter of whim. This will reduce our ability to prevent or stop human rights abuses, and harm our relations with foreign officials.

Worse yet, what exactly do we say now about their need to become nations where laws, not just the views of “senior officials,” guide the nation?

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Wayne

    When I think the insanity has gone so far, it will go no further, another crisis happens, and the crazy progressive insanity continues.

    Like lemurs headed for the ocean, they just follow their mighty leader for another crazy day.


  • Posted by Rhonda

    Very solid points regarding Obama ignoring the law.! However, this is not a clear cut or black and white situation occurring in Egypt, and something frustrating to me is how many in the US and other government officials ignore the relevant details. Egypt was still without a fully functioning government to carry out an impeachment. by a conventional method, and there are many National Security issues surrounding Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. I’m sure General Sisi is not stupid enough to make the moves he made without solid evidence, and he certainly doesn’t report to Obama or the US government. If they want to cut the aid, then Russia is waiting with open arms for the weapons contracts, and I am sure he will be making a visit to Cairo in the near future. Putin is no fool! Obama thought he was flexing his muscles by taking a personal decision to delay the delivery of 4 jets, and look what happened:

    The UAE sent a message to Washington that they will step in and provide Egypt with all their military aid, Russia offered to send 35 MIG’s with full options, and China pledged to send Egypt absolutely everything they need, It sounds like Egypt has better and more flexible options on the table. General Sisi is no fool either. .

  • Posted by Lon W

    Am not proficient at the nuances of international law, but whether I like weird religious dogma to be either part of a government or not part of the government of a foreign country is moot. Mursi was elected in an internationally monitored presidential contest. Mursi was removed from office by unelected representatives of a branch of the Egyptian government.
    To me, all the people in a country should have a voice in the governance of their country. What I read in the American press was the MB trying to force others into their “party line.” What is in the press at the moment, to me, is this un-elected branch of the Egyptian government trying to marginalize a large portion of their people by not allowing them to participate in the process of law. Therefore, both parties being discussed in this blog are at fault.
    Where does my country garner claims to enforce its policy on a foreign country? The foreign military aid is just payola to keep the Egyptians pacified when looking across their northern border. Afterall, what does Egypt need with our most advanced fighter jets… self- assurance against the likes of Yemen and failed Somalia? Do I see some rumblings from Ethiopia? What the Egyptians could use is “bread” and some formal assistance with infrastructure design and implementation of improved resource distribution… not missles.

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