Presumably, this is why U.S. officials—recognizing the dangerous path Egypt was traveling down—felt compelled to announce some sort of change in the aid relationship. But, even then, the aid "cut"—which is itself a misnomer since the aid was always likely to resume—was largely symbolic, with little meaningful impact on the military. An aid cut, to be effective, needs to change the calculus of Egypt's generals. But, in this case, there was little at stake: all essential aid would continue to flow (and one of the army's biggest perks—"cashflow financing"—would be unaffected).
In case there was any doubt, senior U.S. officials went out of their way to belittle the aid cut during the policy rollout, admitting it would have little impact, and perhaps wasn't even designed to have an impact in the first place. It was an odd thing to watch. Still, some held out hope that, while far from ideal, the aid suspension—which included delaying the delivery of various weapons systems—was at least a start. The administration could decide to do more at a later date, if necessary. As Sharanbir Grewal wrote, "With a partial suspension, the United States now has a wider range of options to use for leverage, from cutting additional aid to reinstating part or all of the suspended aid."
As it turned out, though, the administration's October decision was the final, underwhelming salvo before a return to business as usual. The Obama administration's heart wasn't in it. The Egyptian army knew full well that American threats were never quite credible. Instead, the administration split the middle, offering another confused sort-of-but-not-really measure that seemed to capture the worst of both worlds—alienating pro-army Egyptians while accomplishing nothing.
Which raises the question: What was the point? It's a difficult question to answer because it remains unclear what, if anything, U.S. policy toward Egypt actually is. As Peter Mandaville and I argued in a recent Brookings Doha Center paper, an initial aid cut—particularly a partial one—would mean little if it was a one-off divorced from a longer-term strategy. Any aid cut would have to be coordinated with European nations and other donors in order to maximize leverage. Sticks would then need to be followed by carrots in the form of large-scale financial incentives, if certain political benchmarks were met. In other words, deciding on whether to suspend aid would have only been the beginning.
But already, just a mere month after the aid suspension, the Obama administration has, apparently, lost interest. National Security Advisor Susan Rice recently led a Middle East policy review in which Egypt did not figure prominently. Far from articulating any coherent strategy, the objective seemed to be to avoid getting any more entangled in the Middle East. "We can't just be consumed 24/7 by one region, as important as it is," Rice explained to The New York Times. In effect, this was a restatement of what U.S. policy already had been—before a summer of being dragged into various Middle East crises, including a near-military intervention in Syria.