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October 12, 2012
Middle East Challenges
When Congress returns from its extended recess after next month’s elections, it will be faced with several important matters, most of which will likely go nowhere during the lame-duck session. But two issues that should be above partisan bickering should get a proper hearing: further sanctions against Iran and the future of U.S. aid to Egypt.
Recent developments in Tehran, including the collapse of its currency and the ensuing protests, suggest that the international sanctions are finally making a difference to that nation’s economy. But as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made clear once again in his recent U.N. speech, they haven’t yet worked to convince Iran’s leaders to abandon their nuclear ambitions.
Now, two lawmakers, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.), have indicated they plan to push for additional sanctions that would further cripple Iran’s central bank. Congress should work with the administration to impose any and all sanctions that could help avert military action and defuse the worldwide threat a nuclear Iran would surely impose.
Congress must also take up the thorny question of foreign aid to Egypt. The chairwoman of the congressional subcommittee administering foreign aid recently blocked the Obama administration’s plan to infuse Egypt with $450 million in emergency aid. “This proposal comes to Congress at a point when the U.S.-Egypt relationship has never been under more scrutiny, and rightly so,” U.S. Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) wisely said of the proposed funds.
The state of U.S.-Egyptian relations has been a big question mark since the election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi. After anti-American violence outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo the same day that four American diplomats were murdered in Libya, President Barack Obama said of Egypt: “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy. They’re a new government that is trying to find its way.”
How the United States helps Egypt find its way will be critical. The proposed emergency assistance comes atop $1.3 billion in annual funding for Egypt’s military — aid that was instituted at the time of, and is contingent on adherence to, the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Morsi must understand that U.S. aid cannot be taken for granted and is not unconditional. At the same time, cutting off all aid could be counterproductive and remove any leverage that the United States has and needs in that volatile part of the world.
Congress and the administration should use the carrot-and-stick approach, offering support while simultaneously making it clear that the “neither-friend-nor-foe” status cannot stand.