Week In News: On Sticky Situation Of U.S. Aid

Jul 6, 2013
Originally published on July 12, 2013 12:49 pm
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Senator John McCain yesterday called for the suspension of U.S. financial aid to Egypt.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: I say that with great reluctance, but the United States of America, I think, must learn the lessons of history, and that is we cannot stand by without acting.

SHEIR: James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us as he does most Saturdays. Hello, Jim.

JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Rebecca.

SHEIR: So what Senator McCain is suggesting, I mean, that's nothing new, right? The U.S. has found itself in this position more than a few times.

FALLOWS: It has. And he was referring to the provisions of a law passed in the early days of the John F. Kennedy administration in 1961, which set up a lot of foreign aid programs for the U.S. and essentially said in the case of human rights violations of certain sorts or if there is a coup deposing a legitimately elected government, then the U.S. should suspend its aid. So in principle, that rule is very clear. In practice, presidents of both parties have found ways to fudge this line.

They've frozen parts of the aid, for example, as President George W. Bush did after a military coup in Thailand. They found ways to define things that are happening as other than a coup, as with the case in Pakistan. So I suspect that the Obama administration's caution about using the word coup reflects the reality they're not going to cut off all aid to Egypt. They'll find ways probably to do something, you know, limit it in a symbolic way, which is what all their predecessors have done.

SHEIR: Back in 2009 with a military coup, if you will, in Honduras. I understand they called it a coup, but then they backpedaled?

FALLOWS: Yes. And you could even say that two years ago, the Arab Spring situation that deposed President Mubarak in Egypt in the first place, he in principle had been an elected leader. And so the U.S. again didn't define that as a coup. It defined it has an uprising or whatever. So in a long string of episodes, the U.S. has usually found ways to register symbolic disapproval without going all the way towards a full cutoff.

SHEIR: Well, let's look at things that are happening inside our own shores. The new jobs report came out yesterday, and once again we're seeing progress. It's slow. No change in the unemployment rate. We're still at about 7.6 percent. We hear a similar story with just about every jobs report, but, Jim, can you help us take a step back and look at the long view of the economy here?

FALLOWS: Yes. The discouraging part of this recovery, as you say, is how long it has taken. It's been now, you know, more than four years since the trough of the 2008, 2009 collapse. The best part of this latest report is that even though the official rate was unchanged at 7.6 percent unemployment, the real rate - that is what proportion of the people who would like to find jobs have found them - seem to improve because more people were rejoining the workforce.

So this is, on the one hand, encouraging and encouraging enough that the Federal Reserve has said it's going to begin tapering off some of its stimulus to the economy. Discouraging in that it's taking so long and that so many millions of the jobs lost five years ago have not been returned and also that so many of the long-term unemployed seem not to have been brought back into this rising tide. So this is better news than it might have been, but still is a sign of how deep the blow has been from this recession.

SHEIR: Well, finally, Jim, it seems Edward Snowden has his pick of left-leaning countries to escape to to find asylum. He has promises from Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela - all of which have histories of antagonism toward the U.S. government. If he can make it to any of these countries, is he pretty much untouchable?

FALLOWS: I think in terms of formal extradition, he is. And I think what is interesting about this drama over the past two or three weeks is that the large countries that have complicated relationships with the United States - Russia, which is by no means the United States best ally now, or China where we have a mixture of competitive and cooperative relationships - they apparently wanted nothing to do with Mr. Snowden.

Indeed, there was that incredible moment of Mr. Putin from Russia saying that he wouldn't let Snowden stay in Russia if Snowden kept using his leaks to damage the United States. Even Putin admitted how strange that sounded.

So if he is eventually to find asylum, it will probably be in these countries that have a much more straightforward relationship with the United States, which is sort of an outright hostility. So that may be the best place for him. And it looks as if the Russians, Chinese, French and others will be happy to have him there.

SHEIR: James Fallows is national correspondent with The Atlantic. You can read his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Rebecca. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.