Refusal to send the Apaches, part of an $820 million, 12-aircraft order dating from 2009, would fall far short of the suspension of all U.S. military aid to Egypt — including the crucial spare parts to maintain the American-made equipment — that some have demanded.
There is little indication that stopping the helicopter shipment would have any more effect on the Egyptian military’s conduct than last month’s suspension of U.S. F-16 fighter jet deliveries, or President Obama’s cancellation of a joint military exercise in the wake of the past week’s brutal crackdown on anti-coup protesters that left more than 600 dead. Egypt has about three dozen Apaches from previous aid packages.
For now, the Obama administration is playing a balancing game, trying to send tactically sharp messages while preserving influence in an increasingly polarized society, protecting other national security interests in the region and positioning the United States for a long-term strategic relationship.
Obama said Thursday that he has ordered his national security team to “assess the implications of actions taken” by Egypt’s current rulers and of “further steps that we may take as necessary.”
Cancellation of the helicopter shipments would be the first response to that order. Payments on other aid-financed military supplies for Egypt — largely owed to U.S. defense contractors — will soon be due. If the Egyptian military does not figure out a way to stop the violence and move expeditiously along a path to restore civilian government, more cuts may follow.
Many lawmakers back Obama’s cautious approach. So do Israel and powerful Persian Gulf nations that oppose ousted president Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and are willing to bail out Egypt’s drowning economy.
But even before Wednesday’s rampage by security forces in Cairo, the U.S. administration’s incremental response to the military’s July 3 overthrow and arrest of the democratically elected Morsi had left Obama vulnerable to accusations of weakness and moral vacillation. Some said he was ensuring the long-term instability he has said he is trying to stem in Egypt.
“The failure of the Obama administration to use our influence to shape events in this critical part of the world has only diminished our credibility, limited our influence, and constrained our policy options,” Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement Friday. The two are part of a growing bipartisan chorus demanding an end to nearly $1.6 billion in annual U.S. assistance to Egypt, $1.3 billion of it used to finance purchases of American military equipment.