Suggested caption: US President Barack Obama is asking Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham to travel to Egypt next week to discuss US aid to Cairo amid protests and political strife. Original Caption: Supporters of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi protest in Lahore on July 28, 2013. Supporters of Morsi continue to hold a sit in outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque demanding his reinstatement. AFP PHOTO/Arif ALI (Arif Ali/AFP)
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama has asked two Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who have harshly criticized his foreign policy to travel to Egypt amid that nation’s ongoing political strife.
Committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters Tuesday that Obama “has asked Sen. [John] McCain and myself to go to Egypt next week.”
“We’re trying to find a way to get there so we can go over and reinforce, on a bipartisan fashion, the message that we have to move to civilian control,” Graham said. “The military is going to have to allow the country to have new elections and move toward an inclusive democratic approach.”
By sending Graham and McCain, Obama is placing a big bet on two GOP senators who, at times, have harshly criticized his foreign policy decisions. But, since his re-election in November, Obama has courted both senators in his pursuit of deals with Congress on a “grand bargain” fiscal deal, immigration reform, gun control and other issues.
Obama, Graham and McCain huddled for two hours at the White House on July 17, a meeting the White House said was almost exclusively about national security issues.
Graham told reporters the goal of the trip will be to “send a clear message to the people in charge of Egypt that there are certain expectations here in America that are bipartisan in nature.”
Selecting the Senate Armed Services Committee members also underscores just how dependent Washington is on its decades-old relationship with Egypt’s military. That point was made Tuesday by committee Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who called the Egyptian military one of Washington’s “friends” in the Middle East.
The Egyptian military depends on the $1.5 billion in aid it receives each year from the United States. But some in Washington, such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., want to shut off that spigot as the Egyptian military is under intense pressure because of its move to oust — then imprison — former President Mohammed Morsi.
Congress appears split about whether to suspend or permanently cut off the aid to Egypt.
The pressure on the Obama administration to use the aid as leverage to push the military to hold elections soon ramped up after Egyptian military forces reportedly opened fire on some Morsi supporters.
The Obama administration has resisted dubbing the military’s forced ouster of Morsi a coup d’état, largely because US law requires any aid dollars be cut off to a country in which such a government changeover occurs. The administration did, however, last week opt against delivering four Lockheed Martin-made F-16 fighters to Egypt.
That largely symbolic move has been called a message by foreign policy experts, with Obama not-so-subtly telling Egypt’s generals that if they want to continue receiving American dollars and weapon systems, they have to begin preparing Egypt for a return to a civilian government.
“I think any vote taken now [on cutting aid] is bad for us. This is a quickly changing landscape,” Graham told reporters. “Let’s get more information before we have votes about cutting aid off or keeping aid flowing. We’re going to have to fund the government in a couple months, so there will be plenty of opportunities.”
Graham said he has yet to decide whether the Egyptian military’s actions warrant a suspension or permanent end to US aid.
“I may come to conclude that we ought to cut off aid,” he said. “But I’d like to go over there and talk to the [Egyptian] military, and to any members of the government and the [Muslim] Brotherhood factions to find out what’s going on on the ground.
“If you cut off aid, that’s a destabilizing event,” Graham said. “If you refuse to cut off aid, that could give people, you know, the impression that everything’s fine when it’s clearly not. So having the vote now is bad for us. … It’s up to the majority leader.”
Paul’s plan to cut off aid, introduced as an amendment to a Senate transportation appropriations measure, appears dependent on the Obama administration formally labeling Morsi’s ouster a coup.
“Eliminates military foreign assistance to Egypt based upon current law, which the United States is legally prohibited from providing foreign assistance to nations that experience a military coups d’état,” states a summary of the amendment provided by Paul’s office. “Funding directed to Egypt would be redirected” to another portion of the transportation bill that addresses bridge projects inside the United States, according to Paul’s office.