US Finds Influence Hard to Buy

For decades the U.S. government has ladled billions upon billions in military assistance to countries that either don’t need it or use it to suppress popular uprisings. But all that money has bought very little in terms of genuine influence with the recipients, ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman writes.

By Melvin A. Goodman

The current crisis in Egypt and the inability of the United States to formulate a policy and to have any influence in Cairo marks another setback for U.S. foreign policy, which relies too heavily on military assistance.

Too many pundits and analysts believe that U.S. military aid to Egypt, which amounts to $1.3 billion annually, is a source of leverage in the Egyptian domestic crisis. Well, it isn’t and the same could be said for the lack of U.S. influence, let alone leverage, with any of the top recipients of U.S. military assistance.

The top six recipients of U.S. military aid (Israel, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey) provide very little return on our investment. Israel has overwhelming military dominance in the Middle East and doesn’t require military aid. In fact, the United States is constantly and deliberately embarrassed by the Israeli government despite the huge amounts of military assistance that Israel has received over past decades.

Egypt has received more than $60 billion in military and economic aid over the past three decades with no indication that Egyptian policy was susceptible to U.S. influence. Cairo doesn’t violate its peace treaty with Israel because of U.S. assistance; it adheres to the treaty because it is in Egypt’s interest to do so.

Pentagon officials believe that close ties between U.S. and Egyptian armed forces helped the Egyptian military council become a force for social cohesion rather than repression. A retired commandant of the U.S. Army War College, Major General Robert Scales, has argued that “they learn our way of war but they also learn our philosophies of civil-military relations.” If only this were true.

The most futile example of U.S. military aid programs is the case of Pakistan. The Bush and Obama administrations have sent billions of dollars in aid to Islamabad, but Pakistan has never stopped its double dealing on pledges to fight the Afghan Taliban. At the same time, the United States has never used its assistance to promote democracy in Pakistan. The U.S. military presence in Pakistan, including its efforts at so-called assistance, merely contribute to militant anti-Americanism.

Military assistance to Iraq and Afghanistan does not contribute to U.S. goals and objectives in the region. No sooner had U.S. forces withdrawn from Iraq than the Obama administration announced multibillion-dollar arms sales to Iraq, including advanced fighter aircraft, tanks and helicopters.

This deal was announced as the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki worked to consolidate his authority, create a one-party Shiite-dominated state, and abandon the U.S.-backed power-sharing arrangement. Meanwhile, Iraq has improved its bilateral relations with Iran, raising the prospect that U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf could encounter U.S. weaponry in a future conflict.

With the United States winding down its combat role in Afghanistan, the government of Hamid Karzai is already demanding $4 billion annually for its military and policy forces over the next decade. Afghanistan is unable to use effectively the assistance that it receives, and thus far has been unable to create a military force that can counter the Taliban threat.

The surge in recent years in incidents of Afghan soldiers killing U.S. and European military personnel, and the increased corruption in Afghanistan that is fueled by U.S. dollars argue for very limited assistance.

Turkey is the sole case where huge amounts of military assistance provide some influence in getting Turkish support for U.S. diplomatic initiatives in the Middle East. But the recent violence in Istanbul’s Taksim Square could one day match the combustion in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and Prime Minister Recep Erdogan Turkey’s most important leader since Ataturk doesn’t appear receptive to demands for a genuine, pluralistic democracy. For the first time since he came to power, Erdogan appears politically vulnerable. At this particular time, Turkey needs more genuine political debate, not U.S. military assistance.

The United States gives military assistance to numerous countries that do not need it or do not deserve it because of serious human rights violations. The recent sale of $30 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia was ill-timed because it is more likely that such aid would be used to suppress demonstrations for reform in Bahrain than in any other scenario.

Eastern European countries need economic and political stability, not modern military technology. Indonesia, a country with numerous human rights violations, receives $20 million annually in military aid.

While the Obama administration was conducting a feckless debate over whether a military coup had taken place in Cairo, the Egyptian military rapidly emerged as the dominant political force in the country. It is also the richest (and most corrupt) institution in the country, and hardly needs U.S. largesse.

There is no external security threat to Egypt that requires the huge weapons platforms that its military forces demand. The United States was slow to criticize the authoritarian actions of former presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi, and we still have no strategy for fostering political and economic reform in Cairo.

At the very least, the Obama administration needs to call a coup a coup, and begin to suspend military assistance to the interim Egyptian government. U.S. policy should be based on getting Egypt to establish a coalition government and to begin a consensus-based transition process.

Cutting future military aid to Egypt would give the United States an opportunity to reduce military assistance to Israel as well. Such measures would send a necessary signal to U.S. allies and clients that military aid will not dominate the implementation of U.S. foreign policy.

Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. He is the author of the recently published National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (City Lights Publishers) and the forthcoming The Path to Dissent: The Story of a CIA Whistleblower (City Lights Publisher). Goodman is a former CIA analyst and a professor of international relations at the National War College. [This article previously appeared at Counterpunch and is reprinted with the author’s permission.]

5 comments for “US Finds Influence Hard to Buy

  1. Eddie
    July 10, 2013 at 00:06

    I would suggest that much (not ‘all’, but ‘most’) of the current US military spending is done strictly out of narrow domestic political concerns of the US right-wing conservatives and the profiteering of the US arms industry – – – there’s probably little specific concern about whom they sell it to, other than how it’ll play in the polls. Geopolitical concerns are nowadays more of just an after-the-fact rationalization. The US armaments industry had momentum from the Cold War and (unfortunately) the conservatives were able to bypass the ‘peace dividend’ and continue to increase ‘defense’ spending. Now thanks greatly to NAFTA/CAFTA and the other trade agreements, the arms industry is the only one that many US citizens feel that they can really be proud of, since it’s ‘Made in the USA’.

  2. rosemerry
    July 9, 2013 at 16:59

    The boring rat is back, full of wonderful Zionist slogans. I wonder what you think of the extremist “christian States” of Texas, North Carolina etc now doing their best to take the lives of women ba

  3. F. G. Sanford
    July 8, 2013 at 19:25

    Pakistan will never turn on the Taliban; they are a buffer in Pakistan’s dispute with India over Kashmir. Nobody in our esteemed “think tank” subculture of expertise (credentials conferred by consensus, not by academic achievement) will acknowledge that. They probably are not even aware of that. But, look at the bright side. The real problems in Egypt and elsewhere in the ME are brought about by a population growth that has exceeded the material and technical culture available to support that growth. Of course, aid to these countries alleviates some of the short term burden, which allows that growth to continue. Given that every country in the ME is politically motivated by bronze-age ideology (Sorry, no exceptions-I know what you’re thinking), birth control and rational resource and population management are off the table. Our lunatic Christian right, however, provides adequate means to eliminate adults at almost the same rate that unwanted pregnancies occur. It’s just a little messy, but numerically equivalent. Right to life is only for fetuses. Adults get cluster bombs and drone strikes.

    • Hillary
      July 8, 2013 at 20:05

      “every country in the ME is politically motivated by bronze-age ideology”
      All about living with absurd rules dictated by the “Ruler of the Universe”,and putting up with unbelievable misery — but –with the promised payoff in the hereafter of those virgins etc. etc.
      Just like many Christian folk.

      • Steve
        July 11, 2013 at 15:20

        borat: Well put! I mean the amount of intelligence that we have received from Israel and the quality alone is immensely helpful…. I mean look at for instance the yellow cake wmd assertions helped along by the Mossad, and heck how about those assertions of chemical weapons by our great friends the Israelis? Just think of how many Americans we can send to die and how much of our $$$ also. Not like Israel benefits from all our dirty work right???

        As for those wild savages in Iran that have gone on militant rampages throughout the last 20 years or heck even 200 or 300 years just viciously attacking their neighbors and bombing them at will, err I might be a bit off base on this one– hang on looking through the internet to get you a list of all the warmongering done by Iran. Shouldn’t take too long I mean they have been using force all over the region, right?

        Bravo, borat- keep up the great work and continue to show all these crazy peace lovers how good a friend Israel has been and how much we benefit from their worldly advice!

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