The Obama administration has chosen yet again to flout a law it finds inconvenient, deciding not to make a determination about whether Egypt’s military came to power through a coup, a designation that would force the United States to cut off $1.5 billion in annual aid.
Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked today for an update on whether the White House has decided that a coup is a coup:
There are certain legal obligations that go with the designation of a coup. And it has been determined by senior foreign policy officials in this administration to not make a determination, but rather to engage in a dialogue with the interim government of Egypt and encourage them to follow through on their promises to promptly transition to a democratically elected, civilian government . . .
We have determined that it is not in the best interest of the United States to make that determination. But as we’ve also said throughout that process, we are on a regular basis reviewing the aid that is provided by the United States to Egypt, and we’ll continue to do that.
I get that it’s inconvenient and possibly bad policy, but so are lots of laws. Some women, for example, may want to strap an underwear bomb onto their ex-husbands – or even, perhaps, their current husbands – and set it off from a distance, and this may in some cases be a good idea. But it’s also against the law.
And according to the nonpartisan Middle East Institute, the law on coups is unambiguous:
Section 508 of the (Foreign Assistance Act of 1961) prohibits appropriated funds from being “obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance” to a state where a head of government has been removed by military coup or decree. In contrast to other restrictions contained in the FAA, provisions governing the United States’ response to a military coup do not allow for a presidential waiver that would permit the administration to sidestep, without Congressional authorization, the prohibition on continuing assistance. That said, termination of assistance is not final under Section 508. The law provides that financial assistance may resume or continue if the president reports to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations that a democratically elected government has assumed office. Thus, either the country returns to democratic rule or remains ineligible for U.S. assistance.
In fact, the intent of Congress more recently has been to strengthen, not weaken this provision:
Recently, Congress strengthened Section 508 with a reinforcement clause that imposes an additional factor for Congress to consider in determining whether to withhold aid. Specifically, the United States may not disburse any assistance to the government of any country whose elected leader is removed by a “military coup d’etat or decree in which the military plays a decisive role.”
Congress appropriates the $1.5 billion, not Obama. Obama should at least obtain some kind of permission from lawmakers to supersede this law.
And my understanding is that those who think the Egyptian military did not stage a coup also happen to be convinced that the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot are honeymooning in the Oregon woods.
Like many leftists before him, Obama is discovering that governing in a democracy is highly inconvenient. How far he will take his imperious unilateralism remains to be seen.
He might be able to take it quite far. After all, while the executive branch, the like legislature and Congress, is supposedly constrained by the law, unlike the other two branches, it also is the one that enforces the law.