Monday, September 26, 2011

Grant aid to Egypt: the more things change...

On April 15 of this year, the president signed the spending bill (pdf) which kept the government from shutting down. Despite the ouster of Mubarak two months earlier, grant military assistance to Egypt remained the same as in past years: a $1.3 billion Foreign Military Financing (FMF) earmark, cash that expressly "shall be available for grants only for Egypt." That's consistent with the language of past years, and the dollar amount has held steady (pdf) since the late 1980s.

As you'll know if you pay attention to the news, we still don't have signed appropriations bills for 2012; there's another shutdown threat for the end of the week. In fact, there's not even any talk of a full-year spending bill at this stage in the game: the Congress is just trying to pass legislation to keep the lights on through the middle of November, when they'll have to take this up all over again. (The stopgap bill is currently being held up by disagreements over how to pay for something like $6 billion in disaster-relief funding, which makes perfect sense when you think about the fact that we're dealing with something like 0.2% of the damn budget.)

What we do have, though, is an FY 12 State Department and Foreign Operations spending bill (pdf) that's made it out of committee in the Senate, which is something, I guess. Language in that bill (especially where it's consistent with language in the draft of the House bill (pdf)) will probably make its way into whatever legislation ends up appropriating money for FY 2012, whenever that happens. Here's what's new:
[U]p to $1,300,000,000 shall be made available for grants only for Egypt, including for border security programs and activities in the Sinai: Provided further, That prior to the obligation of funds appropriated under this heading for assistance for Egypt, the Secretary of State shall certify to the Committees on Appropriations that the Governments of the United States and Egypt have agreed upon the specific uses of such funds, that such funds further the national interests of the United States in Egypt and the region, and that the Government of Egypt has held free and fair elections and is implementing policies to protect the rights of journalists, due process, and freedoms of expression and association [p. 49 of the pdf]
(The House draft merely states that funds will be made available "with the expectation that the Egyptian military will continue to adhere to and implement its international obligations, particularly the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty," which is also taken up later in the Senate bill. Of course, the SecState can waive that provision if deemed "important to the national interests of the United States," so there's that.)

Beyond the requirement for democratic and liberalizing reform, the certification provision is in there to make it clear that the post-Mubarak government can't suddenly re-imagine its military priorities and redesignate funds they'd previously committed to spend on U.S.-approved goods and services. It's not much for advocates of conditioned aid to latch on to, but it's more than the basically un-caveated aid written into previous spending bills. (All grant assistance is bound by the provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act, of course, which does require adherence to certain human rights standards, &c.)

Here's the bottom line: the money is still going to flow, whatever happens in the coming months on elections or civil liberties in Egypt. The distribution of military aid to Pakistan requires a certification that Pakistani government entities are fully cooperative in the fight against anti-Afghan insurgents and terrorist groups; ADM Mullen finally admitted last week that the USG can make no such declaration in good faith, and yet the aid still flows. The bilateral relationship with Egypt is much stronger and much more institutionalized, and many of the peculiar details of Egyptian aid are premised on the understanding and assumption of stability over the long term. (Egypt and Israel, for example, are exceptional among grant aid recipients in that they aren't required to pay the full balance of their purchase costs in the year of sales agreement; in fact, unspent aid is held by the U.S. in an interest-bearing account from year to year.) The money will keep on coming unless Congress acts to expressly block it.

One more thing that's worth noting in the Senate bill, however, is Sec. 7039(a):
Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, funds appropriated by this Act under the heading ‘‘Foreign Military Financing Program’’ for assistance for Egypt may be transferred to, and merged with, funds appropriated for assistance for Egypt under the heading ‘‘Economic Support Fund’’ [p. 134 of the pdf]
This is interesting because it permits the transfer of money appropriated for military aid to an account used for economic assistance -- that is, to a fund specifically intended "for the purpose of improving the lives of the Egyptian people through education, investment in jobs and skills (including secondary and vocational education), and access to finance for small and medium enterprise with emphasis on expanding opportunities for women, as well as other appropriate market-reform and economic growth activities" (p. 135 of the pdf). It seems unlikely to happen, but the option's there.

Oh yeah, and while we're on the subject: PCCF is back! (See p. 10 of this pdf.) In the International Security Assistance section of the State budget! Instead of in the Defense budget! And with a billion dollars! That's $200 million more than the $800 million appropriated for FY 11! Foreign policy is saved from militarization! At least until somebody needs to slash a bil from the aid budget, anyway; then DoD will change the way it calculates inflation, or something, and slide that extra billion in under its catastrophically shrunken topline. Or something.

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