By Kevin Bogardus - 09/08/13 10:00 AM EDT
Egypt is running short on allies as President Obama considers slashing foreign aid to the country. [WATCH VIDEO]
The ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and subsequent violence against protesters has shaken the country’s long-standing alliance with the United States.
Obama’s advisers have reportedly recommended that he end most foreign aid to Egypt, and few in Washington are speaking out against the move.
"It’s too early for AIA to take an official position on U.S. aid to Egypt this year," said Cord Sterling, the group’s vice president for legislative affairs.
"It’s a complex matter with ramifications to our national security and foreign policy. We do not have access to the intelligence on which our government is basing its determination. We are confident that our elected leaders will make a decision based on the national security interests of the American people."
The lack of a firm stance from AIA, which represents powerful defense contractors, could be an ominous sign for Egypt.
The group rallied to the defense of Egypt in the past, making the case to congressional appropriators that the foreign aid — which includes $1.3 billion in annual military assistance — boosts the U.S. economy.
In 2007, Marion Blakey, AIA’s president and CEO, signed several letters to lawmakers that said the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program for Egypt ensures “strategic regional goals” and translates into “jobs for Americans across the country.”
The climate in Washington today is much different.
Even if Obama opts not to punish Egypt, there’s no guarantee that Congress will go along.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has long opposed foreign aid spending, plans to push legislation this fall that would end financial support for Egypt, according to spokeswoman Moira Bagley.
Defense companies stand to lose millions of dollars if Egypt’s military assistance is curtailed.
General Dynamics has a $395 million contract to provide 125 M1A1 Abrams tank kits to Egypt. Lockheed Martin has a $776 million contract to produce 20 F-16 fighter jets, though delivery of some of the aircraft has been delayed in response to Egypt’s crackdown on protesters.
Former Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.), the chairman of the Moffett Group who represented Egypt until 2012, said the country’s lobbying team used to rally support from defense contractors when the aid came under threat.
“We would say to them [defense companies] ‘Can you put this high up on our lobbying priorities?’ The response was ‘Okay, we will see what we can do.’ They would write a letter to Capitol Hill,” Moffett said. “They would lobby on it but I never saw it elevated to the point that I said to myself, ‘Wow, this is really important to them.’”
The PLM Group — made up of Podesta Group, the Livingston Group and the Moffett Group — parted ways with Egypt in 2012, and the country has yet to hire a replacement.
One defense lobbyist predicted the industry would eventually rally to protect the aid.
“They [defense industry] will support foreign aid to Egypt because it helps our industrial base here, but it's our only tie to Egypt, through the military. If we cut this, we lose our ability to influence things there and we become a bystander,” said the lobbyist.
In the past, perhaps the most powerful member in the coalition backing Egypt was the Pentagon. Moffett said he was often accompanied on lobbying visits to Capitol Hill with high-ranking U.S. generals.
“You could almost always rely on the word from Tampa [Central Command] to the Pentagon to the Hill to say 'Hey, don't mess with this aid to Egypt. We need this,'” Moffett said.
Egypt still has a few powerful friends in its corner.
Pro-Israel groups have spoken up in favor of the foreign aid. Jason Isaacson with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) said Egypt needs to get back on track but remains “a keystone for Middle East peace.”
“In the final analysis, the relationship between the U.S. and the Egyptian military is profoundly in the interests of the United States. We plan to speak out against any attempt to cut off that aid, recognizing that are urgent issues that we need to keep discussing with the Egyptian government,” said Isaacson, AJC’s director of government and international affairs.
The powerhouse American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), meanwhile, sent a letter to senators this summer opposing an amendment from Paul on ending Egypt's aid.
The vocal support from pro-Israel groups is a notable shift.
Moffett said that in the past, Egypt’s lobbyists had problems getting AIPAC into the fight. That they are speaking out now, he said, is a sign of how the debate has shifted.
“We never had a letter from AIPAC. If AIPAC is really playing it, that would indicate to me that Israel is more than a little worried about the aid being cut off,” Moffett said.