The announcement that 20 F-16s are being given to Egypt, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer, should be of interest to senators already uneasy about the president's widely reported choice of Susan Rice for Secretary of State, replacing the retiring Mrs. Hillary Clinton.
Wasteful public spending is not a primary concern of the State Department, though one assumes it is held accountable for waste within its own precincts, as are, surely, all the other federal departments and agencies, renowned for the self-sacrificing frugality in the finest spirit of '76. And to be sure, recommendations on what military hardware to give foreigners is not tasked to State, but, again, one assumes State has its say in these matters, particularly in a region like the Middle East where the balance of power is a permanent U.S. concern.
Many questions are raised by the administration's decision to go forward with this high-military-tech transfer, approved two years ago for a rather different Egyptian regime, that of Hosni Mubarak. Since then certain events have happened in Egypt and Mr. Mubarak is out, incarcerated and awaiting sentencing for all kinds of crimes imputed him by the springtime Robespierres who overthrew him in the name of democracy.
So the first question for any high-ranking nominee whose brief includes foreign policy might be this: "For what does the Morsi government in Egypt need F-16s -- one of the best fighter planes in the world?"
"Well," the answer might be, after all the equivocations and sophistries about how this was a done deal and we cannot go back on our word and etcetera, "to defend themselves."
The Morsi regime does not need F-16s to defend itself against insurgents, should there eventually be an insurgent movement in Egypt. To be sure, the Assad regime has been using fighter aircraft against insurgents, striking even targets in densely populated urban centers. Senators should be ready with a follow up, to wit, "Do you expect the Morsi government to be at war with its own people soon, and do you think it should be U.S. policy to help it prevail by raining down death from the sky?"
On the other hand, if that is our policy, I mean if it is our policy to help Morsi with such a policy, F-16s are not the weapons system of choice, so a line of questioning might be prepared to ask why alternative aircraft are not being proposed to the no doubt grateful and beholden Egyptians.
But the question senators must eventually get to is the one that would go to the heart of both matters -- the matter of a new secretary and the matter of taxpayer paid military support for the Morsi regime: What should the U.S. demand of this government?
The aim of foreign policy is to protect American interests, of which at the very top are our security and the security of our allies. We have only one ally in the part of the world Egypt bestrides, the junction of Africa and the Near East, namely: Israel. So the only question to put to the nominee, which is really a question to the president, is this: Can you guarantee that the Morsi government will never use F-16s against Israel? Either you cannot, in which the administration in which you wish to serve is putting American security at risk; or you can, but in that case there is no justification for a gift to Egypt worth hundreds of millions, unless you can demonstrate that Egypt may soon find itself at war against another of its neighbors -- which would mean an Arab nation or an African one. Why we should assist either side in such a conflict with one of our best fighters is a question that answers itself.