In a 1945 landmark speech, Senator Arthur Vandenberg declared that we must stop partisan politics “at the water’s edge” by cooperating with former President Harry Truman in passing the Marshall Plan. Vandenberg argued that members of Congress must keep their passionate political differences from the President separate from foreign policy when national security interests are at risk. This statement could not be more relevant amid the current situation with Egypt. Republican Representative Michele Bachman and two other congressmen’s recent trip to Cairo praising the Egyptian military’s brutal coup could not be more ill timed and sends the wrong message to the Egyptian people and leaders.
In July, following the military’s ouster of former democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, the military has engaged in three mass shooting resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 Egyptians. Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, characterized this event as a “massive police abuse on an unprecedented scale.” Prosecutors have started investigating the moderate former United Nations diplomat, Mohammed Elbaradei for “betraying the public’s trust.” Furthermore, the state owned flagship newspaper, Al-Ahram, accused the Obama Administration and U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson of reaching a secret agreement with the Muslim Brotherhood to divide Egypt by bringing in hundreds of fighters from the Gaza Strip. These examples demonstrate the Egyptian military’s disregard for human rights and American interests in the region.
Nonetheless, former 2012 Presidential hopeful Michele Bachman and two other members of Congress arrived in Egypt last week and attempted to reverse US foreign policy with regards to the country. In a press conference aired on the state-owned television channel Bachman emphasized, “We are here with you and we encourage you.” Congressman Louie Gohmert even compared General Sisi to one of America’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson. Finally, Bachmann appeared even to draw a link between the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Al-Qaeda, the terrorist group that struck America on September 11th, despite no proven connection.
In addition to ignoring the Egyptian military’s atrocious human rights record, a pillar of American foreign policy for decades, these three Congressmen also contradicted the foreign policy advocated by the Obama Administration. Secretary of State John Kerry was remarkably nuanced in his reaction to the July crisis by refusing to label these events as a coup and not cutting military aid to Egypt to preserve America’s relationship with Egypt’s new rulers. On the other hand, Kerry was firm in his opposition to the killings as he said on August 14th after a massive wave of attacks by the military, “The United States strongly condemns today’s violence and bloodshed across Egypt. It’s a serious blow to reconciliation and the Egyptian people’s hopes for a transition to democracy.”
By the Republican members of Congress offering such strong support of Sisi, they are blatantly ignoring the President’s foreign policy agenda and creating confusion in Egypt. The official state media showcased the Republican press conference on state television demonstrating to its people that America is divided with it appearing that respect for human rights and law is a partisan issue separating Democrats and Republicans or Congress and the President.
Bachman claimed that other Congressman support her view in opposition to the President. Speaker of the House Republican Congressman John Boehner has refused to condemn these remarks. This offers an implicit endorsement of Bauchman’s positions and an ambiguity of a coherent Republican foreign policy viewpoint in the Middle East.
Samer Shehati, a professor of political science who specializes in Egypt, described the members of Congress’ statements as “utterly absurd” comparing it to a “Saturday Night Live skit.” As Shehati explained, if the situation weren’t so tragic, it might be comical.