Honesty Needed In U.S. Aid to Egypt

The horrendous slaughter in the streets of Egyptian cities is calling into question the value of U.S. foreign aid to Egypt. Currently, the U.S. provides about $1.5 billion annually in aid to Egypt.

Hopefully, this discussion will lead to a deeper and broader debate about the objectives of our aid programs and the methods used to provide aid and monitor its uses -- not just to Egypt, but to countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Kenya where key issues of international security are a prime driver of U.S. largesse.

In many such cases, U.S. aid is being used as bribes.

U.S. taxpayer cash often flows into the hands of foreign political and military leaders in non-transparent ways, without strict monitoring. Often it finds its ways into the foreign bank accounts of those leaders, and the foreign investments owned by them, their families and their cronies.

What the U.S. government seeks in return for such bribes is explicit influence over the security policies of the governments that take the U.S. money. But sometimes the bribery fails.

The Obama administration made many efforts, which ultimately failed, to convince the military regime now running Egypt not to use violence to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood protesters, according to the New York Times.

The Egyptian generals ignored the U.S. requests, so should the U.S. now end foreign aid to Egypt?

No. But from now on U.S. aid should be provided to Egypt on the basis of more rigorous standards of transparency and accountability. Americans and the Egyptian people need to know exactly how the aid is being used and who benefits from the aid.

But U.S. aid cash does not only flow through the Department of State; it also gets delivered to foreign governments through the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency. For decades, U.S. governments have provided tens of billions of dollars to foreign governments that have been seen as vital partners in efforts to enhance international security.

Ever since President Jimmy Carter negotiated the Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in 1979, both countries have received U.S. aid. On average, Egypt received about $2 billion a year from 1979 to 2011 in economic and military aid, according to the Congressional Research Service. That cash has been seen as important to repeatedly underscoring the need to maintain the peace between Egypt and Israel and so exert U.S. influence in the region.

For years, many Egyptians complained that the U.S. aid was not making a significant difference to social and economic conditions in the country, but was being primarily used to strengthen the power of the Egyptian military and the government of President Hosni Mubarak. Public hostility to the regime rose to the point where the "Arab Spring" erupted in Egypt in January 2011. Mubarak was arrested, as were his sons and efforts were immediately made to freeze the family's many foreign bank accounts. Hostility to the U.S. at the time in Egypt was substantial because the U.S. was seen as having been far too close top the Mubaraks.

More often than not, aid used to influence the security policies of foreign governments has not been subject to strict and transparent public accounting.

Billions of dollars went missing due to waste and fraud and corruption in Iraq, according to U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Stewart Bowen . And his counterpart for Afghanistan, Inspector General John Sopko, who in reports and speeches has publicly voice grave concern about the vast amounts of U.S. reconstruction aid now flowing into Afghanistan that is not being monitored effectively. Afghanistan today ranks at the very foot of the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index - yes, its government is widely seen as among the most corrupt in the world.

As President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood took office after elections in 2011, the U.S. continued its aid to Egypt. Relationships were tense and yet the new government respected the peace treaty with Israel. This fact supports the argument of those who believe the U.S. must now continue aid to Egypt, despite the vile atrocities perpetrated by the military leaders, because it serves our geo-political interests.

I believe that it is time for candor and accountability. The U.S. administration needs to be more forthright with the American public in explaining why the U.S. gives foreign aid to countries run by corrupt regimes.

At the same time, a new approach should be initiated to the monitoring and public reporting of the uses of aid funds. There needs to be full transparency. The U.S. government agencies that provide aid to foreign governments should account fully on where the aid goes, how it is used and how much of it goes missing. U.S. taxpayer cash should not end up in the personal bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein and Dubai and the Cayman Islands of foreign politicians and generals.

Without such accountability and transparency a significant slice of U.S. aid will be seen as bribes by the citizens of the countries where aid goes. Too often, as was the case for example with Mubarak in Egypt, and is the case now with President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, the U.S. is viewed negatively by the public because of its financial support of governments that are widely seen as abusing public office for private benefit.

Non-accountable payments to corrupt foreign government leaders challenge the core ethics and integrity of the implementation of U.S. foreign policy. This is increasingly evident to people in the U.S. and around the world, thanks to many excellent investigative reporters whose articles reach further than ever before thanks to the world-wide-web.