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.

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