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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Egypt, Obama, Coups, and Law

by Elliott Abrams
October 19, 2013


When the Egyptian army overthrew Egypt’s elected president on July 13, it was crystal clear that American law required a suspension of aid. This is what the Foreign Assistance Act says:

SEC. 7008. None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to titles III through VI of this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’e´tat or decree or, after the date of enactment of this Act, a coup d’e´tat or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.

The Obama administration ignored the law, saying it was studying, and studying, and studying whether what happened in Egypt was “really” a coup. What it should have done was obvious: state publicly that section 7008 ties its hands in emergency situations, as we had seen in Mali. There, a government that came to power in a coup needed and deserved our help in combating Al Qaeda–but we were unable to give it due to section 7008. The administration should have followed the law, and called upon Congress to legislate waiver authority immediately–as Congress had done in 2001 with respect to Pakistan. Instead, the White House and State Department mumbled and evaded.

Nor was this the first time: as former State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger pointed out, the administration’s meanderings here are “not unlike the White House  conclusion in 2011 that the U.S. was not engaged in ‘hostilities’ in Libya, which would have triggered the War Powers Resolution.” In Libya, U.S. action involved about a dozen ships, a Marine Expeditionary Unit, and about 100 aircraft, and all personnel involved received “imminent danger pay.” But to the White House, this did not suggest “hostilities.”

Where does this kind of gamesmanship lead? Nowhere: friends in Congress inform me that the administration is now deciding, after almost four months, that legislative relief is needed to continue aid to Egypt. But they are apparently still playing games down in the White House, saying they need not actually make a coup determination to admit that section 7008 applies–and has always applied. A tangled web, to be sure, and one spun due to the insistence on not telling the truth about events in Egypt.

My point here is not that the July coup was good or bad, or that aid to Egypt should be suspended or continued. Far more important is the administration’s refusal to enforce a very clear statute, something indefensible in itself. And by so doing, it has undermined human rights laws that have been on the books for years. Practically speaking, when next this administration or (more realistically) its successor seeks to avoid a coup somewhere by arguing that an aid cut-off must inevitably follow, what they will hear back is “Naaah, why must you cut aid? Obama didn’t–remember Egypt?” And there goes a large part of our persuasive power.


Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by lon w

    Excellent. The future decisions made by Presidents will be murky because coasting downstream and trying to back-peddle is not an efficient way to arrive at a goal. So to speak.

  • Posted by Jarrow

    By Jarrow
    The U.S. and Russia Are Triangulating Israel Not to Bomb Iran:
    For One, Because – Obama to Senators – Nuclear Iran Would ”Not Be an Existential Threat to Israel”

    The Obama-Putin-Assad triad is a scam. The US and the old SSR are triangulating Israel not to bomb Iran.

    Elliott Abrams wrote, “But Israelis will also be more concerned now about a Russian-led diplomatic offensive, some kind of clever offer that does little to disarm Iran but whose wide international acclaim makes an Israeli strike nearly impossible.” [Emphasis added] (www.weeklystandard.com, Sept. 23, 2013, 19(03). During GW Bush’s first term, Abrams, was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the National Security Council for Near East and North African Affairs. At the start of the second term, Abrams was Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy, charged with implementing the Bush doctrine of promoting advancing democracy abroad. Abrams is currently a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council for Foreign Relations and other posts.)

    There are substantial reasons to believe that the current diplo dance is not being “Russian-led,” however. Rather; it is being choreographed between Presidents Obama and Putin and that the events are a deception playing out to assure that Iran’s nuclear facilities are not bombed by the U.S. – or Israel – and that Obama finally obtains the “Reset” with Russia while obtaining his “Reset” with Iran – and vice versa. Obama has never concealed his “preference” for a “negotiated agreement” with Iran. In fact, he has had no Plan B. It isn’t that “A nuclear Iran is not an option,” as the President has repeatedly claimed. It was that Obama was going to “negotiate” with Iran no matter how greatly the public face of the results will be a distortion of the reality. The actual process is that there is no difference between wishful thinking and outright deceit. Other Progressive milestones will be achieved while Israel’s deterrence factor will be dealt a devastating blow and worse. The damage to U.S. interests will be irreversible as this is the post-America world where the “war weary” super power is put on a precipitous decline.

    There was no Kerry gaffe that gave Putin the sudden inspiration to offer to help out with Syria. That’s the “Kerry Sighs; Putin’s Sly” hoax. Oddly enough, a day or two after Kerry’s strange outburst about Syria-surrendering-the-chemical-weapons-but-they-won’t-do-that and Putin jumping up “I’ll Help!”, someone in the press questioned the White House about the credibility of the events. Too jerky yet smooth at the same time. So oddly did Kerry speak and so quickly did Putin offer — and Obama accept! And just as oddly, Obama briefly mentions that he had discussed such matters with Putin at the G20 in St. Petersburg. Are we being had by the Obama administration about events around the Mediterranean? Again? Find another explanation for The Tuesday Night Speech — as it should be forever after infamously known. Why else would he weave such a tangled yarn of yarns except that he has a predetermined destination as Obama and Putin are “coming out” as new-found BFFs. So I can’t wait for the Society Page announcement accompanied by another paid op-ed from Putin how they are just political bed fellows. After all, Russia has a law against promoting anything gayish. (Poor Chris Christie. Obama has left him for another bromance.)

    Yes, the script was badly written and much of it has been nervously adlibbed, but they know where they want to end up. The new bromance explains another feature of the Obama Counter Doctrine: This administration has never had much of relationship with any of our traditional allies. It has never been able to “reach out” enough, though, to our enemies, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. (See, for instance:
    http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2012/RAND_MG1247.pdf . This administration-sponsored monograph from the Rand Corporation is a breathtaking example of his preference for the Brotherhood over any other, and more suitable, suitor, “The Muslim Brotherhood, Its Youth, and Implications for U.S. Engagement.)

    To begin with, it is not believable that Assad used CWs, especially as large an attack as the last one, without prior knowledge and consent of both Russia and Iran’s Khameini. Assad is the quintessential suppliant client state. At some point, they knew that Obama would be compelled to speak out and that would be the cue for Putin to enter from stage (Fascist thug) right. A Kuwaiti newspaper (See, Michael Ledeen, Sept 2, 2013, http://pjmedia.com/michaelledeen/2013/09/02somethings-missing-here/) claims Obama needed to buy time. What better way than to punt to the ultimate Political Black Hole: Congress. A twofer: Gain time; pose as Mr. Democratic Process. Maybe a threefer? Appear to agonize over “war” – a strike variously downplayed until it is characterized as barely a slap on the wrist is hardly an effective military strike much less a war.
    The Peace-in-Our-Time result of this kabuki theater will be to cut off U.S. weapons supply of any serious sort to the anti-Assad “rebels” — which may be just as well considering the cannibalism, beheadings, and group murders of Christians already taking place. So sad Syria will continue to be saddled with Assad. But the denouement will be much more far reaching.

    After ”succeeding” with Syria — and Rouhani was just in Moscow to get a copy of his play script — the Yankee-Ruskie Super Diplomats will obtain (another) “agreement” — this one from the “moderate” Rouhani, who is not even in charge of Tehran. In Islam, the current process is called “takkiyah” – deception, particularly of infidels. The great takkiyah will be the “agreement” we reach with Iran via the good auspices of the refurbished Putin. This agreement in Islam is called a “hudnah,” a temporary truce until the auspicious moment arrives when it may be broken, when Iran can pull back the curtain and reveal its array of deliverable nuclear weapons. (Iran is now dual-tracking its nuclear ambitions with a nuclear reactor and a heavy water plant to produce plutonium, U239, in addition to the long-spinning centrifuges steadfastly enriching Uranium 235 to bomb grade.)

    Why would Russia live with an Iran with a hair trigger close to assembly line nuclear bomb production? Various reasons come to mind: 1) Iran borders Russia, yet Putin does not want U.S. bombs falling on his “near abroad.” 2) Putin seethes with resentment over the fall of the USSR. A nuclear Iran would neuter much of U.S. presence in the Mideast while Russia’s prestige and influence will rise, having been the supplier of nuclear reactor technology to Iran, and the country that made it possible for Obama to make the disastrous “deal” he will. 3) A nuclear Iran will put upward pressure on the price of oil, and Russia’s main source of income remains its petroleum exports. 4) As counter intuitive as it seems to cultured Westerners, Russia has always had a contrarian dark side.

    (There is an impenetrable puzzlement whether al-Qaeda/Jabhat al-Nusra truly intend the complete ouster of Assad: 1) Assad facilitated passage of large numbers of aQ fighters into Iraq to kill Americans. Why would they suddenly turn on Assad? 2) While Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, was a secular Baathist, Bashar turned to the fanatics: Iran’s ayatollahs; Lebanon’s Hizbollah; Gaza’s Hamas (headquartering Hamas and Hizbollah in Damascus); and killer Qaeda squads he segued into Iraq. aQ and Iran have had a cooperation of convenience: To seek the destruction of Assad would invite American – if not Turkish and even European – intervention. 3) Leading opponents of Assad have been assassinated by aQ. 4) A dispositive confrontation with the Alawites would instigate greater involvement of Hizbollah and Iranian Guard Corps, and despite the Great Powers’ current prom dance, employment of CWs. 5) Most likely, then, the Jihad for Sharia boys will carve out some 40% of Syria’s Sunni midriff for their dystopian theocracy. [Bridget Johnson of Pajamasmedia.com., September 12, 2013. See,
    http://pjmedia.colm/blog/game-changer [The mystery of Assad’s relationship with al-Qaeda is being pursued by signs-of-the-al-Aqaeda-Assad-alliance/).

    BHO and Kerry and Putin plan to stop Israel. Delay Iran – if they must! Rehabilitate Russia by restoring to the rump USSR its major role in the Mideast. Fifty years of American Mideast statecraft down the drain.
    Putin and Kerry will collect their Nobel Peace Prizes…. Part of Kerry’s acceptance speech will be in French — bien sur! American diplomacy has finally embraced sophistication! I don’t know if Oslo gives repeats of their phony prize, but expect Damascus-Teheran to work out as well as that other Oslo – Israel and the Palis.
    The current faux diplomacy over Syria is bad enough and will leave American power and influence diminished. Israel in increased jeopardy. Assad given a “SAFE!” with many if not most of his CWs intact and at some point some measure of them in the hands of jihadis and Hizbollah. Russia regains a Mideast footprint the size of Sasquatch, their UN Security Council veto extended to much of the Mideast when they had been reduced to a skulking supplier to Syria and Iran and their naval base in Tartus, Syria. Hizbollah saved from losing most of its sponsorship. The stability of Jordan left in greater doubt. Turkey/Erdogan saved from virtual irrelevance. Al-Qaeda and al-Nusra get a chunk of Syria while there is a struggle by moderates not to be enslaved if not annihilated. Will Turkey and/or the U.S. help the non-radicals? Most likely, moderates will be abandoned as were the Chaldeans (Iraqi Catholics), but too numerous to resettle as many Chaldeans were. The Kurds continue to be ignored. And Iran remains a glowering, frightening menace. The Iran sanctions come off. Bien sur!

    What should we do instead? Train and arm the Syrian Kurds to keep out aQ and aN — and the Turks. Undertake the creation of the long overdue Kurdish state. U.S. would occupy the critical middle ground in this high stakes geostrategic game. We would have a major moderate Muslim ally in addition to our long-standing Fortress Israel. It would be a huge blow against extremism. It would reduce Turkey’s never-ending position in the catbird seat calling the shots, fouling the air, and abusing its NATO membership to complicate U.S. relations with Israel, Egypt and Jordan. If Turkey ends up losing its eastern territories, it would actually help focus domestic Turkish politics on its own struggle with fundamentalism and undermine the fundamentalists’ ability to use the Kurdish issue for their own ends.

    If we’re lucky, a post-Assad Alawite state will do to Russia what Egypt’s Sadat did to the USSR: Turn from the Russians to the Americans. Russia would lose its only Mediterranean anchor, the Syrian port in Tartus. In the bargain, Hizbollah will have lost its most critical logistics support center.

    Empowering the Kurds would also facilitate our most important unfinished (never attempted) business in the Mideast: Ridding the region of the Ayatollahs reign of terror and export of extremism. Birth of a Kurdish state could inspire another attempt at counter revolution in Iran, bearing in mind that Iran has its own restive Kurdish population that could be the match that relights the fuse. This time, the U.S. must not abandon Iran’s democrats as the Obama administration did in July, 2009.
    But it won’t happen. Instead of truly revolutionizing the Mideast by establishing a Kurdish state, facilitating the overthrow of Iran’s ayatollahs and dealing both Shia and Sunni fundamentalism crippling blows, Obama and the Democrats remain obsessed with The Ultimate Reset Button: Russia is back prevailing in what the British called the Great Game – containing Russia — and America loses; rather, is “rebalanced” as a “non-hegemon.” And wasn’t that the problem to begin with? We won the Cold War and the bad guys lost? Finally, the anti-anti-Communists have their opportunity to redress this mistake of history.

    In early, President Obama met with a number of senators, including South Dakota’s Senator Thune, in the White House. The President said he didn’t think a nuclear Iran would be an existential threat to Israel, but rather, be “a profound threat.” This is called a distinction without a difference in terms of literal meaning, defying even parsing by an indifferent law lecturer posing as a presidential law professor. In terms of policy and geostrategy, it reveals a semantic quibble is being used to start a serious argument over how Israel should be expected to defend itself – or not – and whether the U.S. can, in the end, live with a nuclear Iran. The question of “containment” supersedes the existential dilemma of “living with.” Modest Proposal: Presidential Finding Requested – and make it public. Question: Will Obama’s recasting of an “existential threat” to one mere “profound threat” ever become publicly known much less discussed? The point is how the comment is intended to negate by rhetorical flourish the existential nature of the threat of the Iranian nuclear program to Israel if not even the fading American super power.

    Lest the President seem feckless, much less perfidious, from the dais of the UN General Assembly last September 2012, he did intone that a nuclear Iran would be an existential threat to Israel, the same dais from where a year earlier he six times denounced the “Mohammed film” that in Benghazi provoked riots that got so out of hand our ambassador to Libya and three others were killed. This was the ambassador – and others — who felt sufficiently existentially threatened – they sent emails to the State Department begging them not to reduce their security.

    Obama’s Pledge to AIPAC in 2008: If I become President, I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear bombs. I sat there knowing that Barrack Hussein Obama was never going to bomb the nuclear facilities of the Islamic Republic of Iran. After all, “The United States military doesn’t do pin pricks.”

    So it seems that while containment of a nuclear-armed Iran “is not an option,” apparently, “containment” of an Iran with intact nuclear bomb and ballistic missile assembly lines is. “Trust but verify” has become ‘Trust we can verify.” After all, “In Negotiated Verification We Trust.” It’s worthy of a Nobel Prize – for Literature.

    Post Script: Before I forget, what should Israel do, knowing that Rouhani is a wolverine in vicuna robes and that a nuclear Iran is an existential threat to Israel – and America and even Europe? Forget the Obama-Putin triangle thing. The U.S. Congress and the American people will actually be greatly relieved.

    After all, the Israeli Air Force doesn’t do pin pricks! B’seder!

    Bien sur – “But of course!” (Fr.)
    B’seder – “It’s o.k! (Heb.)

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