WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration’s plan to transfer $450 million in cash to Egypt hit a roadblock Friday as a top House committee chairwoman blocked the move, saying it warrants further review.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, said the State Department had notified Congress of plans to move the money to the new government of President Mohammed Morsi as Cairo struggles economically. The money is part of the nearly $1 billion in debt relief that President Barack Obama had promised Egypt earlier this year.
‘‘This proposal comes to Congress at a point when the U.S.-Egypt relationship has never been under more scrutiny, and rightly so,’’ the chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations said in a statement. ‘‘I am not convinced of the urgent need for this assistance and I cannot support it at this time. … I have placed a hold on these funds.’’
And she should hold those fund just as long as she possibly can, until the money is pried from her fingers.
Look, I’m not one of those folks who thinks we ought not send out gobs of foreign aid. We are a ridiculously wealthy nation. We can afford to send a few billion dollars to countries that can use it to build or reinforce their civil societies. But (and clever readers will see what I did in that last sentence) that money should always arrive at its destination with more strings attached to it than a marionette recreation of the last ten minutes of The Blues Brothers. We, our government, gave away almost $53 billion in foreign aid in 2010 (PDF link) more than the GDP of nations like the Dominican Republic or Bulgaria (and not quite a quarter the GDP of Egypt). That is a considerable sum of money.
Now look at the leading recipients of our foreign aid and consider how many of those nations have a strong and free civil society. Out of the top ten, I see one. Israel. Still, we give hundreds of millions of dollars to regimes that could care less about the welfare of their people, who use them as tools to get more money from us. We can change that with a few conditions on the money we give them.
Let me suggest one such condition, a little string that could make a big difference. We ought to ask any country that takes our money to enact its own version of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. If you’ve forgotten how that reads, let me quote it for you:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
In other words, no State can make a law that deprives you of what you get as a citizen of the United States. It originally protected newly-freed black citizens against laws that would strip them of voting or other civil rights; however, it easily applies to laws you might find in other countries that routinely strip citizens in good standing of their basic civil rights (*cough*Sharia*cough*). The clause (and I admit I quoted more than what is strictly considered the Equal Protection Clause, but it’ll work for the sake of the idea I’m proposing here) also protects citizens from capricious actions of a despot. If Zimbabwe (to which President Obama pledged $73 million in 2009 alone) had such a law, Robert Mugabe could not have seized farmland from thousands of citizens and driven the nation’s economy into the dumper. Tyrants who throw dissidents in prison without trial would get no money from us nor would the repressive regimes like those across the Middle East who use brute force to silence dissent.
The real magic here, though, is in the part of the 14th Amendment that guarantees everyone equal protection under the law. A nation that embraced that principle could not persecute Coptic Christians; would have to protect those who wished to build a church or synagogue and worship as freely and openly as those of the state’s religion; could not countenance honor killings; and would have to protect women from rapists, could not deny them the right to vote, the ability to drive automobiles, or expose a wrist or ankle in public. In other words, our foreign aid would come with a demand that any nation that accepts our generosity also join us among the civilized nations of the world.
Of course, countries like Egypt could refuse our assistance. They certainly have the right do to so. I’m sure the leaders of those nations, backed by the spineless progressive Americans who believe our free and liberal culture is no better than one that enslaves women and kills gays, would complain. So what? We have an obligation to ensure that the fruits of our labor not fund the subjugation of little girls and the rampant rapes of little boys. We have to make sure that our money goes to places where the people are protected by their governments, where their inalienable rights are guarded as fiercely as they can be, where everyone can pursue their own happiness and order their own communities as they deem right to them.
Now I’m not saying freedom will break out like a patch of mint plants the year after we send out our newly-strung aid packages nor am I saying this is the only condition we should attach. It’ll take time — years, if not decades — for people who have known only tyranny to figure out they can have better. They won’t get there without help, though, and tens of millions (or in most cases, hundreds of millions) or dollars will surely help. We won’t get there, though, until we start. We have a lot of soft power. It’s time we used it.