The LA Times op-ed page has run an important piece by realist Andrew Bacevich saying that military aid to Egypt is symptomatic of a failed US policy across the Middle East of supplanting diplomacy with militarism. The aid was the price of the Camp David accords, and Bacevich argues that in the four decades before Camp David, the US had little military involvement in the region, while in the four decades since it has been endlessly mired in hostilities there.
It may help to recall how the United States forged its perverse relationship with the Egyptian army in the first place. That relationship dates from the 1978 Camp David accords brokered by President Jimmy Carter. Rather than receiving a commission, the broker in this case ended up on the hook, promising to compensate the contracting parties for doing what each had agreed to do. From that day to the present, the United States has annually funneled billions of taxpayer dollars to Egypt and Israel. Rather than furthering the cause of mutual understanding — funding education programs or cultural exchanges, for example — most of that money has gone to the purchase of advanced weaponry.
What are we to make of this arrangement? Writing in the New York Times, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt recently noted that “in the four decades before Camp David, Israel and Egypt fought several major wars; in the nearly four decades since, none.”
True enough, and a welcome development. Yet no less true, if much less welcome, is this: In the four decades before Camp David, the U.S. had managed to steer clear of war in the Middle East; in the nearly four decades since, U.S. involvement in hostilities throughout the region has become routine, with little to show as a result.
What becomes clear in retrospect is that Camp David mattered less as a milestone on the road to peace than as a departure point signaling a radical transformation of U.S. policy. Before Camp David, in the Pentagon‘s eyes, the region had qualified as an afterthought. After Camp David — and especially as the Cold War wound down — it became the center of attention.
Underlying the shift in U.S. policy inaugurated by Carter was the expectation that military “engagement” (to use a favorite Pentagon term) was going to enhance U.S. leverage throughout the region…. As a means of solving problems, or at least keeping them manageable, military power was displacing diplomacy.
In the years that followed, in ways that Carter himself neither envisioned nor intended, a flurry of military activity ensued. …
First there was the “tanker war” of 1984-88 against Iran, the initiation of hostilities against our erstwhile Iraqi ally in 1991, and armed intervention in Somalia the following year. U.S. airstrikes against various targets throughout the greater Middle East punctuated the Bill Clinton era. Then, after 9/11, came the (ongoing) Afghanistan war, Round 2 of the Iraq war, armed intervention in Libya and small-scale actions in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.
This crowded narrative provides the context for assessing what “engagement” has wrought not only in Egypt but throughout the region.
The piece is a significant contribution to the theory of the Israel lobby. Myself, I am reductive about the role of the lobby: I think the special relationship has driven US policy more than national interest factors or military-industrial-complex factors. And this piece is evidence for my case: Camp David came out of the ’67 and ’73 wars and also the sudden emergence of the Israel lobby. Friends of Israel in the US demanded that the US guarantee Israel’s security; and the peace treaty and the military largesse flowed from that. No doubt military contractors in the US have bought a lot of expensive wine because of this policy, as Chomsky would tell you. But the militarization has done nothing to enhance American access to Arabian oil.
Meantime, the militarization has helped Israel chiefly by reflecting and valorizing Israel’s relationship with its neighbors. What a tough neighborhood, the Israelis always complained; well, now the US is the policeman of that neighborhood and venting in the same angry manner. And occupying Arab countries and experiencing suicide terrorism and fulminating about Islamists. Absent the special relationship, this wouldn’t be happening.