The Duck of Minerva

Etch-a-Sketching the Egyptian Arms Deal

24 March 2012

A few sensitive souls expressed dismay this week when a Romney official declared that the campaign would “reset” itself for the general election after the primaries. Virtually all of the shock was insincere and hypocritical. The “Etch-a Sketch” approach is hardly news for anyone who understands election politics in the U.S. or just about anywhere. In fact, the only newsworthy aspect of the statement was its refreshing openness–but of course the Romney campaign furiously backpedaled from it.

 Of greater interest is another example of Etch-a-Sketch politics this week. Only a few months ago, the Obama administration had threatened to withhold military aid to Egypt based on its indictment of American NGOs for supposedly interfering in Egyptian politics. Also behind the threats perhaps was a new American law requiring that the State Department certify Egyptian progress on human rights before dispensing military aid.

This week, however, the administration reversed course, approved $1.3 billion in aid, and avoided application of the new law.

A major reason: election year politics in the U.S. Withholding military aid to Egypt might have cost jobs among some of America’s neediest–its military contractors–or cost large amounts of American taxpayer money.As the New York Times reported:

A delay or a cut in $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt risked breaking existing contracts with American arms manufacturers that could have shut down production lines in the middle of President Obama’s re-election campaign and involved significant financial penalties, according to officials involved in the debate.

In other words, this major foreign policy decision, which one might naively have hoped would hinge on strategic or perhaps even human rights concerns, was in fact driven by domestic jobs in battleground election states. It works this way: American taxpayers pay for military aid to our good friends and fellow democrats in the Egyptian army. If for some reason, the government decides not to send the aid, the U.S. government must pay penalties to the American arms companies who manufacture the arms for Egypt. Either way, the American taxpayer foots the bill.

Meanwhile, the biggest winners in this game of Etch-a-Sketch are America’s underprivileged government contractors, worthy citizens like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. You’ve got to love our sacrosanct system of military and corporate welfare!