Chuck Hagel is No Egyptologist

Frontrunner for next Sec Def says U.S. has little influence over Egypt despite billions in U.S. aid over the years
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel / AP

Former Sen. Chuck Hagel / AP


Former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Nebr.), rumored to be on Obama’s short list for Secretary of Defense, claimed that the U.S. has limited influence in either Egypt or Syria, according to Politico.

“These big, complicated issues — whether it’s Egypt or what’s going in Syria today — are beyond the control of any great nation or any great leader,” Hagel said at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council, where he serves as chairman. “The United States has minimal ability to influence the outcomes in those countries.”

The U.S. currently maintains a $1 billion foreign aid package for Egypt including twenty F-16’s, which will be delivered starting on Jan. 22. Egypt receives another $1.3 billion in military aid annually, $375 million in financing and loan guarantees to encourage foreign investment, and $60 million for an investment fund for Egyptian businesses. Egypt and the U.S. maintain numerous close ties, particularly in military matters. Military aid to Egypt is deposited in an interest bearing account in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As the Atlantic points out:

This arrangement gives the U.S. a certain degree of leverage over the Egyptian government. Congress could freeze the Federal Reserve bank account, or merely limit arms purchases, if the Egyptian government were overthrown or did something to sufficiently upset Washington.

While maintaining close ties with Egypt, the United States has also sustained a series of sanctions against Syria to pressure them to avoid interfering in Lebanon and stop supporting terrorist organizations. According to the Jerusalem Post, the U.S.’s own envoy to Syria, Robert Ford, sees a possible U.S. role in influencing the outcome in Syria:

If we can keep these Syrian leaders united, I think there will be less chance for Iran, Russia, and other pernicious actors – Hezbollah, for example – to intervene in their typically negative way.