McCain and Graham flipflop on aid to Egypt– after AIPAC speaks up

Israel/Palestine
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Two conservative senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, went to Egypt this week to urge Egyptian leaders to show more respect for democracy. McCain and Graham may be Republicans, but they have a lot of clout. They were reported to have the blessing of the Obama administration in making this embassy.

Why do they have such clout? One reason is that they are extremely responsive to the Israel lobby. In fact, both men lately flipflopped on a principled statement– cutting off aid to Egypt — evidently at the urging of AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby organization.

Here is the sequence.

Back in early July, McCain went on CBS’s Face the Nation saying that the U.S. should cut off aid to Egypt.

“Reluctantly, I believe that we have to suspend aid until such time as there is a new constitution and a free and fair election.”

McCain had good company: libertarian Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham too.

McCain and Graham made clear that this was a matter of principle. They wrote a long op-ed in calling for a cut-off of aid to Egypt in the Washington Post last month:

We know that many of our friends in Egypt and the region do not want the United States to suspend assistance. But we are fully committed to encouraging the Egyptian people’s efforts to build an effective and enduring democracy. And if Egyptians join together and move their country toward the democratic future that so many of them have risked so much to achieve, we will be the first to call for a full restoration of U.S. assistance to Egypt.

The op-ed cited “our democratic values” and the wisdom gained from the U.S. experience in the Middle East:

If events in Egypt and the broader Middle East over the past three years have taught us anything, it should be that we may pay a short-term price by standing up for our democratic values, but it is in our long-term national interest to do so. Ultimately, that is the best thing the United States can do to support our friends in Egypt and around the world.

Hold on, guys. Former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, formerly McCain and Graham’s wingman in the neoconservative caucus called the Three Amigos, weighed in. From the National Review, July 15:

The retired Democratic-turned-independent senator expressed guarded optimism about the state of affairs in Egypt, and declared that, contra his former ally John McCain, the U.S. shouldn’t cut off its aid to the Egyptian military.

He explained to Sean Hannity today… “I’m actually going to disagree with my buddy John McCain; I don’t think we should suspend military aid.”

Then the other shoe drops. AIPAC, the leading Israel lobby group, also speaks up. Jewish Telegraphic Agency

“We do not support cutting off all assistance to Egypt at this time, as we believe it could increase the instability in Egypt and undermine important U.S. interests and negatively impact our Israeli ally,” AIPAC said in a letter to Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), its top Republican.

The letter is the first public signal since the army coup that deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in early July that AIPAC is actively opposing efforts to cut aid to Egypt.

And McCain and Graham sided with AIPAC. The Senate killed Rand Paul’s bill to end aid to Egypt on July 31, with McCain and Graham harping on Israel:
 

The floor debate was virtually everyone versus Paul. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said cutting off aid to Egypt would also hurt Israel, a close ally.

Here’s the transcript of that debate. (Which Ali Gharib reported first). Graham and McCain repeatedly cited AIPAC.

“As you know, Egypt is the largest Arab state in the Middle East and has played a vital role in advancing key U.S. interests in that region,” said the [AIPAC] letter, read into the Senate record on Wednesday by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Graham said that if Egypt becomes a failed state, “it would be a nightmare for Israel, and it would take the whole region down a path that would be at best chaotic.”

McCain called Rand Paul an isolationist and an American Firster and also cited the AIPAC letter: 

I think the vote on this amendment has even larger implications than that of whether we should cut off all assistance to Egypt. By the way, my friends, I don’t think it is an accident that APAC, our friends there who represent the interests of the State of Israel, have opposed this amendment. If there is further upheaval in the Sinai, and if there is a collapse of the rule of law in Egypt, I don’t think there is any doubt that the threat to Israel is dramatically increased.

McCain made a statement about Israel’s interests that many have quoted since:

Again, isn’t the question whether the Senator from Kentucky knows what is better for Israel or Israel knows what is better for Israel? The fact is, AIPAC and the Israelis are adamantly opposed to this amendment; isn’t that correct?

It certainly appears that the two men abandoned a position of principle because AIPAC told them to. You’d think they would be buffoons. But they’re not. They haven’t lost any political capital for this abdication of principle. No, they’ve gained political capital. The Times said the senators went to Egypt this week “at the request of President Obama.” And as Jeff Klein, who pointed me to this story, says, No one in the press is calling them out for flipflopping. It’s just not a story when powerful senators dance to AIPAC’s tune. 
 
This is a demonstration of how central AIPAC’s ideas are to American foreign policy. As neocon Lee Smith once said, the central plank of the last dictatorship in Egypt was the peace treaty. That is all that matters to the U.S. We’re willing to throw everything else overboard for the sake of preserving Israel’s security.

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