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By Micah Halpern

Wednesday January 9, 2008


The truth is that when it comes to Arab countries, the United States gets very little bang for its foreign policy buck.

The United States is great at giving, the Arab world is great at taking, the problem is collecting. When the United States decides to give money away, call it aid, assistance, grant or emergency relief, two assumptions are made. The first assumption is that those dollars will buy the United States good will and support, the second is that some of the money will go towards the purchase of US goods and services.

Many countries, especially Middle East Arab countries, take the money and run without so much as a diplomatic courtesy nod let alone an obligatory purchase of products. The assumption of the countries receiving the multi-million dollar packages from the most powerful country in the Western world is that they are recipients because they deserve to be recipients, not because the United States is helping them, doing them a favor, answering their specific needs.

The United States gives graciously and then the United States goes begging to make good on their deal.

The money comes from Congress. The United States Congress debates the merits of the case and then decides if and how much to give. Real life is not like the movies, but after watching Tom Hanks wheedle and cajole in "Charlie Wilson's War" you get a basic idea of how the deals are done. In the movie, however, the Congressman received a big thank you. In the reality of the Middle East, however, most of those countries that have received dollar gifts from Congress care not a whit about US policy or objectives. They will extend their hands in acceptance of US dollars and then turn their backs and actively flaunt their disdain for the US and everything Western.

The best example of this flagrant disregard for foreign policy etiquette by an Arab country is Egypt. Egypt receives over $2 billion US yearly from Congress. Egypt is the second largest recipient of US foreign aid, the first is Israel. And Egypt is rarely in sync with their donor on matters of international importance.

This year, as usual, Egypt received their aid. And now, right now, rather than thanking the United States with even a small show of support, the United States is - figuratively speaking, being smacked in the face by Mubarak and his gang. Egypt is thinking through the process of renewing diplomatic relations with Iran. And it looks as if their thoughts are soon to turn into actions.

Well, not if Congress can help it. At long last, Congress - in the person of the republican senator from Pennsylvania is forcing Egypt to play by the foreign policy rules of the United States. Senator Arlen Specter has turned off the faucet that flows from the coffers of the US Congress into the Egyptian treasury.

Shortly before the start of the new year Egypt was publicly embarrassed by Israel. Israel had video footage of Egyptian security teams helping Hamas smuggle weapons into Gaza. The immediate Egyptian reaction was that the situation was doctored, that the tape was doctored, but Israel took the tape to the White House and to Capitol Hill and the United States was convinced of the truth of the story. Congress was shocked.

Egypt reacted by trying to intimidate Israel. But the ire of Congress was raised. Congress promised to cut off $100 million in aid to Egypt unless their conditions were met. Egypt must start working on ways to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza. And then Arlen Specter told Egypt plain and simple and straight forward that if Egypt did not change their behavior they will lose their US funding. And that is exactly what Congress did, they turned off the faucet to Egypt.

But the United States believes in foreign policy, the United States is in the business of helping countries in need and so, in a twist worthy of the movie industry, a Jewish congressman from New York named Steve Israel (I could not make that up) negotiated an agreement with Egypt solving the problem and making everyone happy.

According to the agreement Egypt will use $23 million of their US aid to buy US machinery that can help them find the tunnels used by the arms smugglers. Egypt will also receive assistance from the US Army Corps of Engineers and from US civilian staff to help stop the smugglers. The high tech machinery that Egypt will purchase includes robots, scanners and computers.

Two high powered politicians with a heightened sense of justice and a belief in foreign policy quid pro quo have brought Egypt to their diplomatic knees. The beneficiaries are US business and the US economy, and of course US foreign policy.

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4 June 2017 12:14 PM in Columns

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