September 29, 2023QiOSK
Time is ticking if senators want to reinstate a hold on U.S. military aid to Egypt following indictments this week against Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is accused of taking bribes in exchange for greasing the skids for Cairo to receive weapons and aid.
On September 22, the Southern District of New York indicted the New Jersey Democrat, his wife Nadine Arslanian Menendez, and three associates on federal corruption charges. Prosecutors alleged that the senator accepted bribes, including gold bars, stacks of cash, and a Mercedes-Benz convertible, using his position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to benefit the government of Egypt. The FBI is now investigating Egyptian intelligence’s possible role.
Despite calls from fellow Democrats, Menendez is not resigning from the Senate and has pledged to run for re-election. He did, however, step down from his chairmanship of the SFRC.
The indictment shows how much the el-Sisi regime relies on U.S. security assistance and cooperation. The United States allocates a staggering $1.3 billion in foreign military financing to Egypt every year, amounting to over $50 billion in military aid since 1979. In turn, U.S. trained and equipped forces have shown a consistent pattern of gross violations of human rights in the Sinai peninsula.
A restriction Congress passed in March 2022, conditions $235 million in military aid on the Egyptian government meeting benchmarks to hold security forces accountable for human rights violations and to protect freedom of expression, association, and assembly. The annual appropriations legislation additionally mandates Congress to withhold another $85 million in the absence of progress in releasing political prisoners and continuing transnational repression.
In 2021 and 2022, continuing these efforts, the Biden administration reprogrammed $130 million in aid for Egypt, leading the Egyptian government to make concessions on human rights, including releasing over 1,000 political prisoners.
In 2023, however, the Biden administration elected to provide Egypt with the $235 million in previously earmarked funding, despite what local civil society groups describe as a sharp crackdown in civil liberties and political rights leading up to the “elections” scheduled for December.
Now, after this week’s indictments, several members of Congress, including the newly minted SFRC chair, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), have called for greater investigations on the Egypt issue. Others, like Sen.Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), have called for SFRC to promptly resume the hold on $235 million.
But Sen. Cardin has two days before the fiscal year ends to exercise his newly acquired privilege as SFRC chair to place an immediate hold on the entirety of the $235 million. This would send a strong signal that the U.S. can hold its allies accountable, not just its rivals.
With more available information in the new fiscal year, the Senate can hold hearings and conduct oversight to assess the impact of U.S. security assistance in Egypt and the extent of the alleged corruption before determining what, if any, military assistance should be sent.
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Diplomacy Watch: A peace summit without Russia
September 29, 2023QiOSK
Last week’s edition of Diplomacy Watch focused on how politics in Poland and Slovakia were threatening Western unity over Ukraine. A spat between Warsaw and Kyiv over grain imports led Polish President Andrzej Duda to compare Ukraine to a “drowning person … capable of pulling you down to the depths ,” while upcoming elections in Slovakia could bring to power a new leader who has pledged to halt weapons sales to Ukraine.
As Connor Echols wrote last week, “the West will soon face far greater challenges in maintaining unity on Ukraine than at any time since the war began.”
A piece in Politico this week outlining the challenges facing the incoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff C.Q. Brown as he prepares to take over from Gen. Mark Milley suggests that the divisions may be even more widespread.
“As Ukrainian forces push for a breakthrough before winter sets in, there is a growing sense in Washington and Europe that the West may be weary of the fight,” wrote Lara Seligman. “On Capitol Hill, hardline Republicans oppose sending additional aid; across the Atlantic, Poland recently said it could not send any more weapons to Ukraine in the short term, and French officials recently hinted the country would soon reach that point as well.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been busy trying to win over skeptics around the world, but there is not much evidence that his audience in the Global South or the GOP caucus in Washington has been particularly receptive to his message.
In the U.S. Congress, future funding for the war in Ukraine has taken an outsized role in the ongoing battle for government funding, and little progress has been made this week. A small but growing (and increasingly vocal) group of Republicans in both the House and Senate have vowed to hold up government spending legislation if it includes more aid for Ukraine. The Wall Street Journal indicated that others are watching these fights closely.
“Intertwined with those contentious negotiations in Washington are rising concerns in European capitals about the war, particularly if Washington’s support shows signs of flagging,” the Journal reported. “While European backing for Ukraine generally remains solid, cracks are starting to surface as weapons stockpiles from some allies dwindle and others hesitate to fill the gaps.”
This infighting in various capitals around the world comes at what Mark Cancian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies described to Politico as a turning point in the war. “If the counteroffensive fails, or if the counteroffensive does not get through the Russian defensive zone in a major way, I think that fears of a forever war will get stronger,” said Cancian.
From the perspective of the incoming U.S. Joint Chiefs chairman, it will likely become increasingly difficult to navigate both the domestic political and battlefield realities. “Milley was in the enviable position of having a lot of stuff and a lot of political support so that makes it easy,” Cancian told Politico. “Brown is in the position of having less stuff and less political support.”
In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:
—Some Western politicians are pushing the government in Kyiv to hold elections, despite the ongoing war and the imposition of martial law. Visiting Ukraine’s capital last month, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that it was“time for Ukraine to take the next step” in the “development of democracy, namely to hold elections in 2024.” But Ukrainian officials have expressed serious skepticism that new elections would be prudent, or even possible. “Ukrainian officials say that in order to hold a major vote during wartime, considerable financial, logistical and legal hurdles must be overcome,” the Washington Post reported. “In private, some say that the prospect is outright impossible, and could provide Moscow’s security forces with a means to infiltrate and weaken Ukraine from within.” The Biden administration has maintained that the timing for a new election will be Ukraine’s decision.
—Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky met with defense ministers from France and Britain, as well as NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg ahead of an arms production forum in Kyiv. The forum, according to Ukraine’s foreign minister, will bring together representatives of 165 military contractors from 26 nations.
“It will be an important opportunity for Ukrainian companies to forge new partnerships with the industry across the alliance and beyond,” Stoltenberg said at a news conference with Zelensky on Thursday. “The stronger Ukraine becomes, the closer we come to ending Russia’s aggression.”
—Significant territorial gains have been hard to come by for either side this year, according to a new study by the New York Times. “Despite nine months of bloody fighting, less than 500 square miles of territory have changed hands since the start of the year. A prolonged stalemate could weaken Western support for Ukraine,” the Times reported. The Times’ analysis of data from the Institute for the Study of War showed that August 2023 was the month in which the least territory changed hands since the invasion last year.
—Ukraine is continuing to search for safe alternatives for its grain exports following Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain initiative in July. Last week, Ukraine successfully tested a new route, and a second ship made it through this week. Three more vessels have safely entered Ukrainian waters in recent days, officials told the New York Times. In the past week, the Times reported, “it appears that Russia has made no public attempt to impede the progress of commercial vessels along the new route.”
U.S. State Department news:
In a press briefing on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Mattew Miller spoke about the state of Ukraine support amid the ongoing disputes on Capitol Hill.“We have been encouraged by the bipartisan support that we have gotten from Congress since the beginning of this war. I think it is quite clear, if you look at the debate in Congress, that there are bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress that support continued aid to Ukraine,” Miller said. “Now, look, there’s a process that we have to go through in working with Congress. I think it was important that President Zelenskyy was able to travel to the Hill last week and communicate directly with members of Congress about what is happening on the ground. We have been able to talk to Congress about accountability mechanisms that we have in place for the aid that we’ve provided. We’ve heard them say we want to hear accountability; we’ve made clear we have accountability mechanisms and we’re happy to talk to you more about what those look like.”
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September 28, 2023QiOSK
The second Republican debate last night hosted by Fox news was marked by a lot of acrimony, interruptions, personal insults and jokes that didn't quite land, like Chris Christie calling an (absent) Donald Trump, "Donald Duck," and Mike Pence saying he's "slept with a teacher for 30 years" (his wife).
What it did not feature was an informed exchange on the land war in Europe that the United States is heavily invested in, to the tune of $113 billon dollars and counting, not to mention precious weapons, trainers, intelligence and political capital. Out of the tortuous two hours of the debate — which included of course, minutes-long commercials and a "game" at the end that they all refused to play — Ukraine was afforded all but 4 minutes and 39 seconds. This, before the rancor moved on — not to China, though that country took a beating throughout the evening — but to militarizing the border and sending special forces into Mexico to take out cartel-terrorists who are working with the Chinese.
Here is how the Ukraine conversation went (keep in mind this was recorded by a translation tool and most of this discussion was overwhelmed by interruptions from the other candidates, so this was edited for clarity and ellipses indicate crosstalk):
Florida Gov Ron DeSantis :
"It's in our interest to end this war. And that's what I will do as president. We are not going to have a blank check. We will not have U.S. troops. We're going to make the Europeans do what they need to do. But they've sent money to pay bureaucrats, pensions and salaries and funding small businesses halfway around the world. Meanwhile, our own country is being invaded. We don't even have control of our own territory. We have got to defend the American people. Before we even worry about all these other things. I watch these guys in Washington D.C. and they don't care about the American people. They don't care about the fentanyl deaths. They don't care about the communities being overrun because of this border. They don't care about the Mexican drug cartels. So as Commander in Chief, I will defend this country sovereignty."
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (0:52): "It's never been a territorial dispute!"
Senator Tim Scott:
"Ninety percent of the resources that we send over to Ukraine is guaranteed as a loan... at the end of the day, 90% of the money that we send over there is actually about Ukraine... is paid by the NATO or NATO allies ... our national vital interest is in defeating the Russian military, by degrading the Russian military, we actually keep our homeland safer. We keep our troops at home. And we all understand article five of NATO. ... So at the end of the day...we reduce if not eliminate an attack on NATO territory."
"We have to level with the Americans. We have to level with the American people on this issue. The reality is just because Putin's an evil dictator does not mean that Ukraine is good. This is a country that has banned 11 opposition parties so ...."
"A win for Russia is a win for China! A win for Russia is a win for China! A win for Russia ...."
"You'll have you'll have your chance in just a moment. The hurling personal insults isn't helping. China's the real enemy and we're driving Russia further into China's arms. We need a reasonable peace plan to end this. Especially this is a country whose president just last week was hailing..."
Vice President Mike Pence:
“Vivek, if you let Putin have Ukraine, that's a green light to China [to] take Taiwan!"
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie:
"They're all connected. The Chinese are paying for the Russian war in Ukraine. The Iranians have supply more sophisticated weapons, and so are the North Koreans now as well, with the encouragement of the Chinese, the naivete on the stage from some of these folks is extraordinary. Look, I understand people want to go and talk to Putin. Guess what so did George W. Bush. So to Barack Obama, so to Donald Trump. And so to Joe Biden when he said a small invasion wouldn't be so bad. Every one of them has been wrong. And the fact of the matter is, we need to say right now that the Chinese Russian alliance is something we have to fight against, and we are not going to solve it by going over and cuddling up to Vladimir Putin. Well, Donald Trump said Vladimir Putin was brilliant, and a great leader. This is the person who is murdering people in his own country and now not having enough blood, he's now going to Ukraine to murder innocent civilians and kidnap 20,000 children. And let me tell you, if you think that's where it's going to stop. If we give him any of Ukraine, next will be Poland. This is a guy who in 1991 said that was the darkest moment world's history when the Soviet Union fell. Listen, everybody. He wants to put the old band back together and only America can stop it. And when I'm President, we will ...."
Fox Host Stuart Varney (4:39):
"Let's get to the governor of Oregon. He hasn't had a chance. I have a question I think you're going to really like or at least you have experience in it. And we need to talk about America's farmers because there is a foreign policy connection here, the U.S. and China and this fierce economic competition. It's hurting American businesses, and there is blowback against American farmers because China then targets them in retaliation. How would you as president protect American farmers and ranchers from that kind of retaliation from a foreign government like China?"
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