The Obama administration should shelve the idea of suspending all or part of the $1.55 billion in aid requested for Egypt in fiscal 2014.
Increasingly frustrated in its efforts to have Egypt's military halt its violent crackdown on demonstrators, the White House is considering cutting off $250 million in economic aid -- but not the $1.3 billion earmarked for military aid. It seems unfazed by the hypocrisy of this proposed plan.
The economic aid comes to about $3 a head among Egypt's 83 million people. The money, administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development, goes for such programs as training hospital administrators, teachers and local government officials, The New York Times reports. It is hard to see how pulling the plug on such useful-sounding programs would garner anything but ill will.
The military aid commitment, more than 30 years old, is bound up with Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. If Egypt abrogates that treaty, as the Muslim Brotherhood wants, the U.S. would have clear justification for ending that aid.
But even if military aid has not given the United States desired leverage with Egypt's generals, there are reasons for keeping it in place.
Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states want the program to continue, in part as a counterweight to Iran's attempts to exercise greater sway in the region.
Second, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged $8 billion in grants and loans to Egypt's government now that the Brotherhood-backed president, Mohammed Morsi, has been ousted.
Further, military aid buys the United States useful benefits, including the right to go to the head of the line of ships waiting to transit the Suez Canal, and the freedom to fly over Egypt without onerous pre-clearances and paperwork.
Most of the military aid is spent in the United States on U.S. weapons systems -- aircraft, armored vehicles, communications equipment, upgrades -- which helps the sequester-pinched American defense industry struggle along until Congress gets its act together.
Finally, the Russians and Chinese would be delighted to take our place as Egypt's chief weapons supplier. The Russians have steadily been edged out as a major player in the Middle East; an end to U.S. military aid would open the door for them to get back in.
What little the Obama administration has done so far -- canceling a scheduled joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercise, slow-walking the scheduled delivery of four F-16s and a number of attack helicopters -- is only a symbolic display of our displeasure.
Egypt's generals already know we're displeased. They also know there's little we can do about it until they get themselves in a real jam, which, with the Sinai slipping further and further out of Cairo's control, may come sooner rather than later. In a perfect world, cutting off aid would not only be the sensible but the moral choice. Unfortunately, it's not a perfect world, nor is it particularly moral or sensible.
Dale McFeatters is a senior writer for the Scripps Howard News Service.