I just returned from Israel today and will have a few days in Washington this week before traveling to the Holy Land* with my wife for some vacation on the family farm. I will post some observations on and thoughts about my latest trip over the next few days. I apologize for the lack of posts over the past week, but this next week should have more.
I'll return on Friday. Posting will be light-to-nonexistant until then. Intern Dana is working on an interesting post looking at the events in the Arabic-speaking world through the lens of Malcom Kerr's The Arab Cold War: Gamal 'Abd al-Nasir and His Rivals, 1958-1970, which has the potential to be really interesting.
I will be traveling for the next two weeks in Europe and the Middle East. I suspect I will be able to post material to the blog during that time, but have patience if a few days go by without any updates.
I'm taking Jon Sumida's Decoding Clausewitz (per Gian Gentile's suggestion) and David Grossman's Someone to Run With with me on the trip, but as far as recommendations for the readership are concerned, let me recommend both Peter Bergen's The Longest War and Bing West's The Wrong War. I reviewed the latter on assignment and should not say too much about it until the review is published, but I can whole-heartedly endorse the former, which I finished a few weekends ago and feel bad for not having mentioned on the blog just yet. It is really excellent.
I will leave you, meanwhile (and in honor of the soon-to-be-released defense base budget), with the following dissenting opinion on USAID, which I solicted from a Hill staffer who took offense to an earlier post I had written. I stand by what I wrote, but I'm always willing to entertain thoughtful dissent:
A few weeks back, Abu Muqawama criticized the proposal to defund USAID as a part of a larger package of cuts to federal spending introduced by the Republican Study Committee (aka the conservative wing of the House Republicans). It should be noted that although there are 165 members of the RSC, only twenty or so actually cosponsored this bill, and no vote was taken--merely a bill introduced and press releases sent around. This was a marker in the ongoing debate about how to deal with our staggering federal debt. And while the readers of this blog are probably very aware of this fact, it should also be noted that CBO's recent estimate for the FY2011 single year budget deficit is $1.5 trillion, which is more than the total cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 combined. We are borrowing more this year than we have spent in ten years of two wars.
The argument Abu Muqawama put forward is that conservatives don't realize that USAID has a role in national security. I think this is largely true. However, I'm not sure that USAID's role in national security is all that vital. Go read USAID's budget justification for FY2011 [pdf]. It leads with USAID's request for $646 million to fight global climate change. Not only does this drive up the blood pressure of the Fox News crowd, but also, when we're borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend, should we really spend over a half a billion dollars helping other countries with "sustainable landscaping" and clean energy? And while I understand the argument that climate change could have long term geopolitical consequences, if this is USAID's contribution to national security, I'm not sure it's worth it. Of the $39 billion requested in FY11 in the Foreign Ops accounts, only $7 billion of it is under the category of "International Security Assistance", most of which USAID itself doesn't even manage. Yes, avoiding wars over resources or clean water would be nice, but our financial situation is unsustainable, and that has to trump lower priority efforts... which is most of what USAID's money goes to.Secondly, while some specific types of aid can produce clear national security benefits (Haiti, Afghanistan, Pakistan), even these are easily overplayed or misused and often do not lead to the long term results we are hoping for. The question is effectiveness, and others can have this debate at a much deeper level than I, but the perception is that most of our foreign aid is not a good investment.Lastly, and probably most importantly, the conservative desire to sunset USAID is a philosophical one. Conservatives believe that the federal government should only do what the federal government alone can do and is allowed to do by the Constitution. Most of the work that USAID is doing is also being done by various other NGO's around the world. Americans are a very generous people, but we should encourage their generosity via good NGO's rather than require it via taxation.So while I agree that most conservatives don't understand the national security components of foreign aid, I'm not sure that canning USAID would really hurt our nation's security all that much. And in financially tough times like these, we need to be serious about cutting anything that isn't truly vital.
I will be out of the office and traveling for a week or so. No updates during that time.
I'll be attending a conference for the next week outside the United States. Don't expect any posts unless they're by Londonstani, though you can always check @abumuqawama on Twitter for updates.
It appears as if I will have to leave for the airport (for a conference on Afghanistan no less!) before either USA-Algeria or McChrystal's fate is resolved. So you are best turning elsewhere for instant analysis today. That said, many thanks for the thoughtful comments yesterday. Mama Muqawama reported from East Tennessee they were the most mature and incisive comments on this blog in quite some time. Thanks.