Friday, July 29, 2011

Point, Counterpoint

With foreign relations authorization ($) and appropriations legislation released in the past week, House Republicans threw down the gauntlet on foreign affairs spending for the coming fiscal year. Senate Democrats came back Wednesday with their own -- very different -- vision for American foreign policy with a rival version of the authorization bill ($).

Some of the starkests differences between the two chambers' bills:
  • House Republicans want to distance the U.S. from the United Nations, Senate Democrats want to cozy up further
  • House Republicans want to cut Pakistan civilian aid and add a bevy of new strings to the aid that is left, Senate Democrats did not entertain any additional restrictions on non-military aid
  • Senate Democrats want to expand, while also improving upon, the Millenium Challenge Corporation model; Republicans are looking to significantly pare back funding
  • Overall, Senate Democrats would keep funding for diplomacy and foreign assistance in line with the president's request, while Republicans want to chop the budget by more than $7 billion
It shouldn't be terribly surprising that the parties are as far apart on policy as they are on these two bills, given the way the rest of this Congressional cycle is going, but the contrast between their views of America's role in the world is disconcerting, nonetheless.

Monday, July 25, 2011

And in Non-Budget Battle News ...

With the debt ceiling debate sucking up most of the oxygen in Washington these days, you might have missed some interesting research on U.S. relations with the Muslim world that was released last week. These two are definitely worth a perusal:

- As part of its Global Attitudes Project, the Pew Research Center published a report on Western and Muslim views of one another on Thursday. The polling, conducted March through May of this year, provides a snapshot of attitudes at a tumultuous time for the Muslim world, which has affected, of course, various states' relations with their peoples, but also with the outside world. So it was fascinating to see how much things are starting to change in public views both there and here, since 2006, as well as where attitudes are holding steady. Good stuff.

- The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released a paper Friday on Egypt's democratic transition -- which given Washington's nanoseconds-long attention span right now already seems to be passe -- addressing five myths about the situation on the ground there. The paper doesn't seem to be up on the CEIP Web site yet, but hopefully should be soon, because it's worth a read. Dispels a lot of the flawed conventional wisdom circulating amongst policy makers on the state of the country these days.

Count on some of the issues raised in the reports to come back up in the days to come -- the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations is marking up its spending bill for fiscal 2012 on Wednesday, which will be an important indicator of where Congress is headed on some of the more controversial aid funding issues -- far more so than the State Department Authorization bill mark-up/free-for-all (CQ, $) in House Foreign Affairs last week.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Time Warp, DC-Style

After a short holiday I'm back and blogging. And given how much D.C. seems to be turning into Groundhog Day, it doesn't seem I've missed much. In fact, I had a bit of a 'Back to the Future' moment -- to mix my movie metaphors -- when I landed back in Washington last week, having spent what felt like a lifetime away (in reality, seven days), only to return home to the exact same bickering on debt reduction and deficit ceiling that was raging when I'd left. An Only-in-the-Beltway Time Warp. Sigh.

Speaking of issues that don't seem affected by the passage of time, U.S. aid to Pakistan continues to be the subject of intense debate in Washington -- without any sense of a breakthrough on the way forward.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is set to consider a State Department Authorization bill, sponsored by Republican Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, on Wednesday that would eliminate all Pakistan aid until Islamabad can demonstrate it is cooperating on counterterrorism efforts, conducting a real investigation into the bin Laden affair and readmits military trainers (my article for CQ on the bill is HERE, $$). Members of the committee are bracing for a combative mark up that could go late into the night, and Pakistan will certainly be one of the main things members clash over.

Interestingly enough, one of the things the (neo-) conservative Ros-Lehtinen calls for in her bill is something the liberal Center for American Progress analysts Sarah Margon, Colin Cookman, Caroline Wadhams and Brian Katulis echoed in a brief on Pakistan aid policy released Monday - an audit of where the U.S. money is going. Pakistan's government spending is notoriously opaque and corrupt, which raises a whole raft of questions and concerns about the billions in aid the U.S. aid and how its being used.

Of course, where the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Ros-Lehtinen diverge is on how the U.S. should respond to the current failings in the American aid program. Ros-Lehtinen wants to end it until Pakistan can demonstrate it is a fully responsible steward. CAP and a growing number of other think tanks, policy analysts and development advocates, have concluded that the aid program is desperately flawed, but that doesn't mean aid to Pakistan is not a potentially valuable tool for the U.S. Like the latest CAP analysis, other experts like Isobel Coleman at the Council on Foreign Relations and a report by the Center for Global Development have recently argued that U.S. aid to Pakistan ought to be 'reevaluated' -- not as a code word for ending it entirely, but to determine genuine fixie for what a growing consensus of observers agree are fundamental failings in the current system.