Rand Paul, Egypt, and the law of the land

Article Highlights

  • One may not like the law, like the Muslim Brotherhood, like Egypt, or like foreign aid, but the law is the law.

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  • It’s far from my usual habit to defend either Paul or his acolytes, but he was at least partly right about aid to Egypt.

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  • There is a happy middle ground that would respect the law and maintain US influence over Egypt at a critical moment.

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Yesterday, the Senate whomped a Rand Paul amendment that would have cut off US aid to Egypt and redirected the money to US infrastructure. The vote, 86-13, misleads, as at the last moment several members up for re-election – the Senate minority leader included – switched their votes to “yes.” In defending his amendment, Paul reportedly delivered rebuttals via “rambling speeches and wild gestures.” Now, it’s far from my usual habit to defend either Paul or his acolytes, but he was at least partly right about aid to Egypt. As I and many others have written before, the law is clear. There was a coup in Egypt, a coup means a cut off of US assistance, and assistance should have been suspended at the very least. One may not like the law, like the Muslim Brotherhood, like Egypt, or like foreign aid, but the law is the law. The Obama administration, in classic l’etat c’est moi fashion, has decided that while a coup might require an aid cutoff, the law does not require that the president actually make a determination on that key point. This sort of legal parsing is why Congress writ large so mistrusts the executive branch; and Obama’s brazenness has only eroded that relationship further. But I digress.

There are a few problems with the Paul amendment, not least of which is Paul himself. First, playing the populist card by deliberately redirecting aid to Egypt to domestic infrastructure may look awesome to Paul groupies, but practically speaking, it’s a lie. Aid to any country is committed long before senators mosey to the floor to chat about it ex post facto, so the notion that a cutoff would somehow free cash (rather than simply stopping the pipeline, which is the intention behind the law), and that said cash could somehow be sent to, I dunno, Detroit, is nothing more than a lie. Second, most of the aid that goes to Egypt is in the form of military assistance, or Foreign Military Financing. We can (and should) quibble with that, but let’s understand reality for a moment: there are contracts, there are assembly lines, there are real business things that happen with the money (most of it going to US defense contractors). Again, no Detroit. In other words, Paul either intended to deceive or didn’t know enough to understand his amendment wouldn’t really work.

Finally, there’s the loathsomeness behind Paul’s assessment of his detractors, whom he labels “neoconservatives.” I may be unjust when I wonder if Paul has any sense of what that means, but I sure as heck know what many of his supporters mean when they say it. (Hint: they mean Jews.) It’s the main reason why Paul has been so aggressive in his courtship of Israel; he realizes he has been tarred with the brush of anti-semitism and wants to distance himself from it in order to be a viable presidential candidate. Well, more power to him if that wish is sincere. But his efforts have thus far been rather transparent, and his flailing on AIPAC during his defense of his Egypt amendment sounded more like Paul the Elder.

It’s a shame when someone with questionable motivations and lousy strategy needs to stand up for the law of the land in the face of objections from the rest of the cohort that penned those laws. There is a happy middle ground that would respect the law and maintain US influence over Egypt at a critical moment. A suspension of support – which is partially in place since President Obama announced a hold on aircraft transfers to Egypt – with a clear conversation regarding the terms under which it should be resumed is the proper course. Signaling to the Egyptian people and government that the law is the law only when the president feels like it only reinforces the notion held round the world that what matters in Washington is if you’re liked. Was there no one else in the Senate other than Rand Paul willing to stand for that principle? Ugh.

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