As Egyptian armed forces engaged in a brutal crackdown on anti-coup protesters, Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul excoriated his Senate peers for their earlier votes to keep billions in U.S. military aid flowing.
“This is something that those who voted in Congress are going to have to live with,” he told Foreign Policy. “The question is: How does their conscience feel now as they see photographs of tanks rolling over Egyptian civilians?”
At least 638 people were killed on Wednesday when Egyptian military and police forces moved to clear two Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo. Thousands more were injured.
Clashes between protesters and security forces continued Thursday and Friday, resulting in additional deaths. The military government declared a state of emergency and authorized the use of live ammunition against any additional protests.
In late July, Paul proposed a Senate amendment to halt the $1.5 billion in promised U.S. aid to Egypt until the military renounces power and allows new elections. He argued that the Foreign Assistance Act barred the transfer of American aid to “any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup or decree.”
Paul’s proposal failed dramatically; only 13 senators supported the measure.
But with the Egyptian military now massacring protesters in the streets, the senator took his peers to task for their earlier claims that aid must continue for the United States to remain “engaged.”
“This mindset that if you don’t give people money and weapons, then you’re not engaged is bizarre,” he said. “I want to engage with the world, I just don’t want to be engaged in battle.”
“When you’re protesting in the streets and you’re run over by an American tank, you’re not going to be appreciative of American engagement,” he continued.
After the Senate defeated an earlier version of his amendment last year, Paul ran ads against swing state Democrats who voted to continue aid to Egypt.
President Obama briefly interrupted his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard on Thursday to condemn the violence and announce that the United States was cancelling a scheduled military exercise with Egypt.
“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” Obama said.
But he also signaled no intention of ceasing aid to the Egyptian military, which relies on U.S. support to fund around 20 percent of its operations.
Paul called the decision to cancel the military exercise “too little too late” and said Obama is “skirting” the law by refusing to label the events in Egypt a military coup.
“If he wants to send a message to the military, tell them they’re not getting any more planes,” he said. “Tell them they’re not getting any more tanks.”
Many Middle Eastern powers, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, have urged the United States to keep Egypt aid intact.
“If the aid gets cut, you can be sure that Putin will arrive in Cairo in two or three months,” a senior Arab official told The New York Times. “And he will give aid with no strings attached.”
During the vote on Paul’s Egypt amendment, Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker opposed cutting off foreign assistance.
“We need to deal with our laws in such a way that allow us to continue to be that instrument of stability in the region,” he said on the Senate floor.
But Paul rejects that argument, contending that by ignoring human rights violations and U.S. law the government diminishes American stature abroad.
“Congress is way out of touch on this issue,” he said. “These people who believe in projecting American power, really believe in projecting American weakness. They don’t want us to respond to words with actions or obey our own laws.”
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