$1 Billion a Year in Military Aid to Egypt for 40 Years: Just Keep Giving?

BY Elizabeth Shell and P.J. Tobia  September 14, 2012 at 1:04 PM EST

Yemeni protesters
Yemeni protesters gather around fire during a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa over a film mocking Islam. Yemeni forces managed to drive out angry protesters who stormed the embassy with police firing warning shots. Photo by Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images.

“Is it time to reconsider foreign aid to countries where many of the people don’t want us around?” That was the question posed to President Obama by Telemundo anchor José Díaz-Balart Tuesday after the U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt were attacked.

With a U.S. ambassador killed by an angry mob of anti-U.S. protesters and our embassies under siege, it seems a question worth asking.

Friday morning, Americans woke to continued anti-American protests. Though the reasons for the violence defy a single explanation, initial outrage was sparked by an amateur (and amateurish) video posted on YouTube that mocks the Prophet Muhammed. That led to a massive protest in Cairo that kicked off a week of demonstrations across the Arab world.

It’s interesting that Egypt should be the flashpoint for this anti-American rhetoric this time around. As illustrated in an interactive chart a few weeks ago, Egypt has received more than $57 billion in U.S. military aid since 1946, making it the third-largest recipient of military aid in the past 66 years — after Israel ($123 billion) and Vietnam ($74.8 billion). Since the Camp David Accords in 1979, the United States has sent Cairo more than $1 billion annually in military aid, much of it because Egypt was seen as a lynchpin to peace in the Middle East.

Yet as The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Trudy Rubin said on Thursday’s NewsHour, this latest violence may have relegated Egypt to “frenemy” status.

“I don’t think that we’d consider (Egypt) an ally,” President Obama told Díaz-Balart. “But we don’t consider them an enemy. They’re a new government that’s trying to find their way.”

Given Egyptian antagonism toward America, when we’ve been trying to buy friendship or at the very least understanding, is it time to pull the plug on military aid? What about to other countries that don’t like us? President Obama seems to think not.

“The United States doesn’t have an option of withdrawing from the world,” he told Telemundo. “It’s important for us to stay engaged.”

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But how engaged? “Less engaged” was the answer NewsHour readers gave when we posed the question in conjunction with the interactive chart. Eighty-six percent of you who answered said aid should be decreased; barely 4 percent said it should be increased. A bit more than 10 percent said it should be kept more or less the same.

We also asked you which countries you thought should receive the most of our military aid. While a full fifth of you who responded declared “none,” 16 percent said Israel, while Mexico and South Korea were tied for second place, with about 7 percent each.

Here are excerpts from what you wrote:

Ron Alford: “We should immediately stop all aid to any and ALL countries that are pro everything and everybody except to the U.S. and Israel.”


vjb007: “It doesn’t matter how much in percent; what matters is the dollar amount of $14.5B (or $57B, military AND otherwise) that goes floating away into the aether [sic].”


Stevehrl: “I advocate the immediate ceasing of the sending of any U.S. taxpayer money to any other country. Period. Time and again, we have funded some questionable regime, or even foreign special interest group, only to have those same weapons we funded (or gave to them) used against us when our alliances change. The U.S. needs to return to its non-interventionist roots and get out of the nation-building/world police business. Over $14 BILLION in taxpayer dollars to places most Americans couldn’t care less about. What could $14 billion, returned into our economy, do for the country as a whole? What tax could we lower or cut? How many jobs could that create? We’ll never know.”


This entry is cross-posted on the Making Sen$e page, where correspondent Paul Solman answers your economic and business questions