A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, August 15, 2013

US Cancels Bright Star. But Wait: The Last One was in 2009

The US has canceled the Bright Star joint military exercise with Egypt, scheduled to begin next month. What isn't being mentioned as frequently is the fact that the last exercise was actually held in the fall of 2009.

Originally begun in 1980 after Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. Bright Star originally began as an annual exercise but for some time has been held every two years. But the last one was Bright Star 09/10, held in October 2009. The one scheduled for 2011 was postponed since the Egyptian Army was busy running the country at the time; the next one would have been this fall.

So, while the cancellation of Bright Star sends a message that the US is displeased, it is hardly equivalent to cutting off the billion-plus in military aid provided to Egypt annually.

While I think the bloodshed of yesterday could have been avoided with more careful implementation (far more people died in a day than in the five-month "siege of Imbaba" in 1992, an event I hope to post about soon), I also agree with the caution the US is showing about canceling aid. The aid is the last card the US has to play with Egypt, and, once played, the last bridge may be burned. Secular Egyptians blame the US for supporting Morsi, and and the Brotherhood blames us for, well, all the troubles in the world. Once canceled, the aid might be difficult to restore. At any rate, I think the US is wise to move deliberately and with caution before taking a precipitous act. Whether canceling Bright Star (which a once-again-busy Egyptian Army might have been looking to avoid anyway) is enough of a slap on the wrist, though, is another question.


freude bud said...

The United States has the largest economy in the world (for the time being anyway) and by far the most sophisticated military. It is one of the few countries that is truly capable of projecting force nearly anywhere on the planet. Therefore we would still have plenty of cards left to play with Egypt if we withdrew aid, there would remain several ways in which we would remain relevant to policymakers in Cairo, just so long as they have a fairly realistic perception of the world, hardly a given, I'm afraid. I'm not necessarily arguing that aid should be withdrawn, just that I hardly think that should we do so that we would be left with no tactics to employ should we do so.

David Mack said...

Tom Pickrering, probably the greatest US professional diplomat of the late 20th Century, agrees with Freude Bud. I heard him tonight on NPR. It's easy for both Egyptians and American commentators to take cheap shots at Obama Administration. Much harder to recommend an alternative course that makes any sense.