US Senate Supports Aid to Military Dictatorships; UK Officials Lament Britain’s Dwindling Appetite for Military Aggression

December 19th, 2013 - by admin

John Hudson / Foreign Policy & Jason Ditz / & Andrew Osborn / Reuters – 2013-12-19 18:11:55

Senate Panel Approves Bill Keeping
Aid Flowing To Military Governments

John Hudson / Foreign Policy

(DECEMBER 18, 2013) — In a move that could reshape the way the United States deals with post-coup governments, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill that would make it easier to provide aid to countries ruled by military regimes. With an eye toward this summer’s turmoil in Egypt, the bill also requires the executive branch to determine when a democratically elected government has been removed by force.

On Wednesday, the Egypt Assistance Reform Act sailed through the committee in a 16-1 vote. Its key backers, Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn), said the bill allows the US government to maintain ties with strategically important countries like Egypt while imposing strict restrictions on any financial or military aid to their governments.

“This legislation reaffirms the enduring US commitment to our partnership with the Egyptian government by authorizing continued assistance and endorsing the importance of ongoing cooperation,” said Menendez, chairman of the committee.

But opponents criticized it for lifting restrictions on US aid to unelected military juntas. The committee “voted to weaken existing law and give the president more authority to send billions in aid to countries who violently overthrow their governments and engage in violence against their own citizens,” Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) told The Cable in a statement.

If it makes it into law, the bill would theoretically prevent the awkward situation the Obama administration found itself in this summer when it refused to call the Egyptian military’s overthrow of its democratically elected government a coup.

The administration avoided making that determination because of Section 7008 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Law, which prohibits aid to post-coup countries. The White House feared that cutting off all aid to Egypt would further diminish US influence in the country, so instead of calling a coup a coup, the administration remained silent.

Menendez’s legislation, which he drafted in consultation with the White House, would force the administration to make a coup determination after a democratically-elected government was deposed by force, but still give the White House flexibility to decide if, and how, to maintain aid.

“To receive that assistance, the Egyptian government must meet certain security and economic assistance benchmarks like adherence to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, cooperating on counter terrorism, and taking steps to consolidate their democratic transition,” read a Menendez office handout.

Paul, a longtime critic of US aid to Cairo, said the legislation gives the Egyptian military a free pass during its rule over the country. “Instead of holding the Egyptians accountable, this bill will make it easier for the US to send tanks and F-16 fighter jets to a country that suffers endemic violence against political opponents and religious minorities,” Paul said in the statement.

Egypt experts speaking with The Cable provided mixed perspectives.

The Brookings Institution’s Shadi Hamid accused Congress of outsourcing its oversight responsibilities to the executive branch. “Congress is abdicating its jurisdiction over the issue,” he said. “This bill gives the administration the latitude to do what it wants.”

The Washington Institute’s Eric Trager, however, said the bill gives the administration the flexibility it needs to conduct sound foreign policy. “The legislation reflects a growing realization that the US has limited leverage over Egypt’s domestic politics given the ongoing existential struggle between the military-backed government and the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. Trager emphasized that the legislation would give the administration flexibility to deal with unsavory, but strategically important countries.

Hamid worried that in a tug-of-war between Congress and the White House, the bill ensures that Congress will lose every time. “I suppose the silver lining is that the administration would have to provide a detailed justification of its decision to continue aid,” he said. “But if Congress doesn’t like that justification, the administration can do what it wants.”

The bill is unlikely to make it to the Senate floor before the upper chamber breaks for Christmas recess at the end of the week, so Menendez will likely seek its inclusion in spending bills passing through Congress in January.

You can read the full bill here.

Army Chief Complains: Britons Losing ‘Instinct’ for Aggressive War
Jason Ditz /

(December 18, 2013) — When the public starts demanding reasonable justifications for aggressive wars, those wars have a funny way of not happening.

That’s a big problem, according to British military chief Gen. Nicholas Houghton, who complained at length in a speech about the British public’s loss of appetite for aggressive warfare, saying Britons’ instinct for military interventionism is the one thing that keeps them “in a class-apart.”

“As a nation we have become a touch skeptical about the ability to use force in a beneficial way,” Houghton said, adding that he was envious of the French government’s recent belligerence in Africa.

France invaded Mali in January, declaring their intention to maintain a “permanent” military force in the nation, but as the war stagnated France ditched that conflict last month, insisting the remaining problems in the country are up to Malians to figure out. Still, that didn’t make them gun-shy about invading Central African Republic earlier this month.

Probing the lies that brought them into the calamitous Iraq war and hoping that after 12+ years they’ll soon finally get out of Afghanistan, Britain’s wars have been much longer and more costly than the recent French interventionism, and not everyone is as eager as Gen. Houghton to keep rolling the dice on the off-chance one of their future wars turns out better.

UK’s Top Soldier Laments Britons’ Waning Appetite for Wars
Andrew Osborn / Reuters

LONDON (December 18, 2013) — The head of Britain’s armed forces said on Wednesday his country had become sceptical about projecting military force around the world after two back-to-back wars, urging Britons not to lose what he called their “courageous instinct”.

Speaking just over three months after the British parliament voted against military action in Syria, General Nicholas Houghton’s comments reflect anxiety in the armed forces about what they view as a growing political and public reluctance to use them to intervene in global hot spots.

Military chiefs are concerned military inaction could threaten Britain’s global reach and undermine their own ability to protect and increase an already reduced defence budget at a time of fiscal austerity.

“The UK’s armed forces have never, in the 40 years I have known, been held in such popular high regard,” Houghton told the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in a speech in London.

“But the purposes to which they have most recently been put has seldom been more deeply questioned. As a nation we have become a touch sceptical about the ability to use force in a beneficial way.”

British troops helped topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq and have spent 12 years fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, a country they are due to leave by the end of next year.

Yet polls show the British public is sceptical about what those interventions achieved and Prime Minister David Cameron’s shock failure to win parliament’s approval for a limited military strike on Syria prompted a bout of hand wringing about the former imperial power’s role in the world.

Houghton said one of his biggest challenges was to try to “re-validate” the use of military force in the minds of government and the wider public, saying he had watched French forces intervene in Africa recently with admiration.

“The final part of the paradigm has the potential to become the most damaging of all,” he said.

“It is the creeping aversion to risk in the employment of our armed forces. We must be careful as a society and as a professional military not to lose our courageous instinct since it is one of the things which keeps us in a class-apart.”

With a military budget of $61 billion, Britain was the world’s fourth largest spender after the United States, China and Russia in 2012, but the Conservative-led government has cut expenditure and jobs to try to tackle a large budget deficit.

Houghton said the government would have to recalibrate its defence strategy at some point because if it remained unchanged the country would receive “exquisite equipment”, but not have enough people to man that equipment or train on it.

Britain’s Royal Navy was “perilously close” to having such staffing problems, he said.

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