The Foreign Assistance Act, a U.S. law first enacted in 1961, is pretty clear: It says, in Section 508, that the United States must cut aid to any country "whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree."

Whatever popular sentiments might have compelled the Egyptian military to oust President Mohammed Morsi on Wednesday, there is little doubt that this met the definition of a coup against a democratically elected government.

The U.S. faces a dilemma in Egypt: Does it adhere to its own laws by cutting aid to the country, which amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars annually? Or does it keep the aid, which is crucial both for Egypt's precarious economy and for a close U.S. relationship with the Egyptian military, built on the 1979 Camp David peace treaty with Israel?