Commentary Magazine


Obama Sounding Confused About Egypt

In an interview with Telemundo, President Obama said that he did not consider Egypt an ally or an enemy. He may want to confirm that with the State Department, which still appears to have Egypt designated as a major non-NATO ally (MMNA). That designation gives it special status under the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act:

The following countries have been designated as major non-NATO allies: Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Republic of Korea. Taiwan shall be treated as though it were designated a major non-NATO ally (as defined in section 644(q) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2403(q)).

If Egypt is not an ally, can Obama explain why the U.S. continues to support the country via military cooperation and foreign aid? And can he also explain when exactly Egypt dropped from “ally” status? As recently as March 23, White House spokesman Jay Carney referred to the country as “an important ally in the region” during a press briefing. When was the severing point? Before or after Morsi’s election?

UPDATE: Josh Rogin spoke to National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor, who slammed critics for “reading way too much into” Obama’s comments, and said Egypt’s status as a Major Non-NATO Ally hasn’t been changed:

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable Thursday that the administration is not signaling a change in that status.

“I think folks are reading way too much into this,” Vietor said. “‘Ally’ is a legal term of art. We don’t have a mutual defense treaty with Egypt like we do with our NATO allies. But as the president has said, Egypt is longstanding and close partner of the United States, and we have built on that foundation by supporting Egypt’s transition to democracy and working with the new government.”

That doesn’t exactly clarify the situation.