Every year, the U.S. Congress appropriates more than $1 billion in military aid to Egypt. But that money never gets to Egypt. It goes to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, then to a trust fund at the Treasury and, finally, out to U.S. military contractors that make the tanks and fighter jets that ultimately get sent to Egypt.
The U.S. started sending M1A1 Abrams tanks to Egypt in the late ’80s. In all, the U.S. sent more than 1,000 tanks to Egypt since then — valued at some $3.9 billion — which Egypt maintains along with several thousand Soviet-era tanks.
“There’s no conceivable scenario in which they’d need all those tanks short of an alien invasion,” Shana Marshall of the Institute of Middle East Studies at George Washington University, told me.
A thousand tanks would be helpful for large land battles, but not for the threats facing Egypt today, such as terrorism and border security in the Sinai Peninsula, according to Robert Springborg, an expert on the Egyptian military at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. In fact, he said, at least 200 of the tanks the U.S. has sent to Egypt have never been used.
“They are crated up and then they sit in deep storage, and that’s where they remain,” he told me.
The story with F-16 fighter jets is similar. Since 1980, we’ve sent Egypt 221 fighter jets, valued at $8 billion. “Our American military advisers in Cairo have for many years been advising against further acquisitions of F-16s,” Springborg said. Egypt already has more F-16s than it needs, he said.
The U.S. wants Egypt to have them in part because of people like Bruce Baron, president of Baron Industries, a small business in Oxford, Mich. “The aid that we give to Egypt is coming back to the U.S. and keeping 30 of my people working,” Baron told me. Specifically, he said, 30 of his 57 employees are working on parts for the M1A1 Abrams tanks that we give to Egypt.
Every March for the past few years, Baron says, he and other small-business owners have gone to Capitol Hill at the invitation of General Dynamics, a big contractor. They visit their congressmen and “let them know of our support for these programs and also the impact that these programs have on employment,” he says.
(...) the State Department doesn’t want to upset the status quo, the Defense Department doesn’t want to upset a valuable ally in the region, and, of course, defense contractors want to keep their contracts.