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.
Yesterday, 165 House Republicans voted to completely de-fund USAID as part of austerity measures designed to address the U.S. budget crisis. They suggested a lot of other cuts, but you can guess what they did not suggest cutting: the budget of the Department of Defense. They suggested we zero out the budget for USAID but not make any changes to the amount we are currently spending within the Department of Defense.
The FY2011 Department of Defense budget request was $548.9 billion dollars for the base budget, which does not include the $159.3 billion dollars set aside for "overseas contingency operations" such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just to give you a little perspective, the International Affairs budget we set aside for foreign and security assistance programs totaled, according to Gordon Adams and Cindy Williams, $500 billion in the three decades between FY1977 and FY2007 -- $50 billion less than the base budget for the Department of Defense for one year of operations!
But that incredible disparity is not what folks need to know about USAID. The question that last factoid should prompt in the heads of at least 165 people in Washington, DC is, "Wait a minute, why is discussion of the USAID budget included in the authoritative book on the national security budget?"
The answer is that Adams and Williams understand what every U.S. military officer and defense official from the youngest second lieutenant at Fort Benning to Bob Gates understands: the money we spend through USAID is part of our national security budget. Some money, such as the money we spent through both the defense and aid budgets in Haiti last year, we spend for mostly altruistic purposes. But the two biggest recipients of U.S. international aid through USAID are Afghanistan and Pakistan. We can have a separate debate about whether or not this money is being well spent, but we cannot have a debate as to why it is being spent: it is quite obviously being spent to advance what are seen to be the national security interests of the United States.
USAID, as an organization, no doubt wastes a lot of money. But so too, to put it mildly, does the Department of Defense. I have no doubt, in fact, that the amount of money USAID wastes in any given year amounts to a small fraction of the amount of money the Department of Defense loses through cost overruns for the F-35 alone.
The bottom line here is that the biggest defender of the USAID budget will be Bob Gates -- and any U.S. military officer who has ever served with someone from the Office of Transition Initiatives in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Sec. Gates will argue, supported by veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, that while USAID has problems, the money we spend through it is just as related to U.S. national security interests as the money we wasted on the Crusader or the money we spend to put an 18-year old through basic training. To not understand that is embarassing because it means you're an elected policy-maker and still uneducated about the wars we've been fighting for almost 10 years now.
You want to spend less money on aid and development in Afghanistan? Fine, I agree with you. But get of USAID? Now you're just being ignorant.