With continued support in Washington, Jordan unlikely to be affected by US aid cuts

Jordan has received US aid — economic and military — since 1951.
Sunday 18/02/2018
Strong ties. US Vice President Mike Pence (L) meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman, on January 21. (AFP)
Strong ties. US Vice President Mike Pence (L) meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman, on January 21. (AFP)

US President Donald Trump threatened to cut aid to countries that voted in the United Nations to condemn the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us. Well, we’re watching those votes. Let them vote against us. We’ll save a lot. We don’t care,” Trump said.

His comments were echoed by US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who warned in a letter to dozens of UN members that Trump had requested that she “report back on those countries who voted against us.”

If Trump were to carry out this threat, it would negatively affect several traditional US allies, including Egypt, the country that sponsored the UN resolution condemning the Jerusalem decision. Of all the potential targets of Trump’s threat, however, it is Jordan that may be at greatest risk in the event of a cut-off in US aid.

The Hashemite kingdom has received US aid — economic and military — since 1951. In the 2017 budget, the US Congress appropriated “not less than $1.29 billion” in aid to Jordan.

Over the past decade, Jordan has had its stability tested by a wide range of challenges, including the 2008 global financial crisis, the effects of regional unrest in 2011, the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian refugees, vocal domestic Islamist opposition forces and threats posed by the Islamic State (ISIS).

US aid and the widely held perception that the United States is committed to the kingdom’s stability have helped Jordan withstand those challenges. The prospect of that aid being cut should concern Amman.

There is no need for panic, though.

For one thing, King Abdullah II appears to have a good personal relationship with Trump; the two leaders met four times in 2017.

Jordan also has other powerful friends in Washington, first and foremost, the Pentagon. Not only does the United States provide Jordan with high levels of military assistance, it has stationed nearly 3,000 military personnel in Jordan and an unknown number of intelligence personnel who use the country as a base to monitor developments in Syria and the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).

The Pentagon would furiously resist — to put it mildly — any effort to sever the US-Jordanian military relationship over a mere UN vote.

Jordan also has friends in Congress. While Trump — or any other president — may threaten to cut or promise to increase US aid to countries, only Congress has the authority to appropriate funds. On February 5, the US House of Representatives, with support from both Republicans and Democrats, passed the United States-Jordan Defence Cooperation Act. The measure increases assistance and defence coordination with Jordan and calls on the administration to negotiate a new memorandum of understanding with Jordan to ensure US assistance through 2022. It does not set specific dollar amounts of aid.

In introducing the act for a vote, Chairman of the House International Affairs Committee Ed Royce, a Republican from California, said: “We are here to reaffirm our strong commitment to one of our closest partners in the Middle East.”

Jordan soon will have a supporter in a senior position in the US State Department: Nearly a year into his term, Trump is expected to soon appoint an assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. David Schenker, director of the programme on Arab Politics at the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is expected to assume the position once he is confirmed by the US Senate. Schenker’s appointment breaks with the longstanding tradition of naming a senior career diplomat to the position.

In a policy analysis for the Washington Institute in 2017, Schenker said: “Jordan today is Washington’s most reliable Arab security partner” and called on the Trump administration “to strengthen the relationship and improve Jordan’s capabilities.”

Those are not the words of someone who would favour cutting aid to the kingdom.

Because of Jordan’s unique vulnerabilities, Trump’s threat to cut aid must have generated anxiety in Amman but Jordan’s friends in Washington are powerful and include both Republicans and Democrats.

It is no coincidence that the United States-Jordan Defence Cooperation Act was pushed through the House just weeks after Trump’s blustery threat. By this point, King Abdullah, like most astute world leaders, probably has learned that the words that fly out of Trump’s mouth rarely have any connection to actual policy.

Still, it’s good to have friends in Washington.