Commentary Magazine


Topic: foreign aid

Was Rand Paul Wrong on Aid to the Palestinians? Not Entirely.

Something interesting happened in the Senate this week. Senator Rand Paul is someone who is not generally considered a great friend of Israel because of his knee-jerk isolationism that has led him as well as his far more extreme father to take stands that are antithetical to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But Paul just proposed something most ardent supporters of the Jewish state generally agree with: an aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority to punish it for the decision to ally itself with Hamas terrorists. Yet AIPAC, the group that is synonymous with the pro-Israel community, wouldn’t support the bill.

That led Paul to go on Steve Malzberg’s Newsmax.com TV show yesterday to express his dismay at AIPAC in what must be considered an attempt to be more Catholic than the pope. His gibes had to sting, especially since most AIPAC supporters are also deeply critical of the PA. AIPAC wasn’t talking but was clearly pleased when Paul didn’t get unanimous consent to put forward his bill and it died on the Senate floor. However Jennifer Rubin, our former COMMENTARY colleague, didn’t pull any punches in her Washington Post blog denouncing Paul’s gesture as a “phony pro-Israel bill.”

Who’s right in this confused squabble? As difficult as it may be to unravel this tangle, the correct answer is all of them, at least in part. How is that possible? It’s complicated.

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Something interesting happened in the Senate this week. Senator Rand Paul is someone who is not generally considered a great friend of Israel because of his knee-jerk isolationism that has led him as well as his far more extreme father to take stands that are antithetical to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But Paul just proposed something most ardent supporters of the Jewish state generally agree with: an aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority to punish it for the decision to ally itself with Hamas terrorists. Yet AIPAC, the group that is synonymous with the pro-Israel community, wouldn’t support the bill.

That led Paul to go on Steve Malzberg’s Newsmax.com TV show yesterday to express his dismay at AIPAC in what must be considered an attempt to be more Catholic than the pope. His gibes had to sting, especially since most AIPAC supporters are also deeply critical of the PA. AIPAC wasn’t talking but was clearly pleased when Paul didn’t get unanimous consent to put forward his bill and it died on the Senate floor. However Jennifer Rubin, our former COMMENTARY colleague, didn’t pull any punches in her Washington Post blog denouncing Paul’s gesture as a “phony pro-Israel bill.”

Who’s right in this confused squabble? As difficult as it may be to unravel this tangle, the correct answer is all of them, at least in part. How is that possible? It’s complicated.

Let’s state upfront that Paul’s objectives here are to:

a. Seize any opportunity to cut any kind of foreign aid, a cost-effective measure that the isolationist from Kentucky opposes in principle and which enables him to pander to the large group of Americans who also dislike the idea of sending money abroad, especially to unsavory types like Abbas; and

b. Pander to pro-Israel Jewish voters and donors in preparation for his expected 2016 run for president.

Whether one considers Paul to be sincere in his professions of friendship for Israel or not, attacking aid to the PA is an easy way to achieve both objectives and distract Americans from the fact that he also opposes the vital aid that Israel gets to maintain its qualitative military edge over its enemies.

Rubin explains the opposition to the cutoff as something that is both reasonable and linked to Israel’s interests. Quoting the insightful Elliott Abrams, she explains that pulling the plug on all U.S. aid to the Palestinians is not something the Netanyahu government wants. Some of the money goes to help fund the PA security forces that cooperate extensively with the Israelis. Without these funds the PA could collapse and leave the Israelis with the messy job of having to administer the territories as well as depriving them of the assistance that the Palestinians provide in keeping a lid on terror in the West Bank.

Thus, while the Israelis have been denouncing the PA in the last week since Abbas announced the deal with Hamas that put a formal end to the peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry, they actually don’t want anyone in Washington to act on those complaints, at least with regard to the money that the U.S. funnels to the PA.

That means Paul’s line about AIPAC being derelict in its job is, at best, a cheap shot, and, at worse, a devious attack on a group that rightly suspects that his overtures toward the Jewish state are not to be trusted.

But before we file this incident away as an incomplete forward pass cynically aimed at Jewish voters by Paul, those who care about Israel and the slim hopes for peace need to acknowledge that the isolationist isn’t completely wrong here.

The security cooperation between the two peace partners/antagonists helps the PA as much if not more than Israel because without it Hamas might have toppled Abbas in the West Bank just as it did in Gaza in 2007. But, like it or not, Israel needs the PA to stay afloat even if it is an untrustworthy, hate fomenting foe as much as a partner.

Yet part of the problem with the PA dating back to its beginnings in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords is that it has exploited Israel’s dependence on it as a shield against accountability. Rather than use aid to the PA as leverage to force it to stand up against terror and to stop broadcasting hate and undermining peace, the U.S., often with Israel’s connivance, has given it a pass. It has been all carrot and no stick, a situation that has allowed the PA to become an institution that works hard to stoke the fires of the conflict even as it is insincerely praised as a force for peace. No matter what it does, up to and including forming a new alliance with a group that is dedicated not just to Israel’s elimination but also to genocide, it knows it can be sure that the spigot of U.S. taxpayer money funneling into the pockets of Abbas’s Fatah cronies will never be turned off. Just as Kerry’s initiative failed in large measure because of the administration’s unwillingness to press the Palestinians while they were also mercilessly bashing Israel, so, too, does the aid perpetuate the conflict as much it helps keep the peace.

While it is true the Israelis are no more interested in cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinians than the administration, Paul is right in the sense that unless something is eventually done to scare the PA straight, it will never stop feeding the anti-Zionist hate that fuels the conflict. This is a sentiment that is shared by most supporters of Israel, including AIPAC members. Nor is it surprising that the Zionist Organization of America formally endorsed Paul’s proposal.

So while Paul’s swipe at AIPAC was wrongheaded and has more to do with his ambition than any love for Israel, his critics shouldn’t be so blithe about spiking his proposal. It’s time to start holding the PA accountable for its behavior. What’s too bad is that Paul, of all people, seems to be the only one ready to do so.

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Is the U.S. Waging a War of Ideas?

I was struck by two recent, seemingly unrelated news articles that have unexpected relevance to the struggle against violent jihadism.

The first of these concerns revelations from a new book about how in the 1950s the CIA helped disseminate Boris Pasternak’s novel Dr. Zhivago to undermine the appeal of communism.  

The second concerns efforts by Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, to retool his outfit, born of the Cold War, to meet new challenges.

In my view the first article implicitly suggests what the CIA and other agencies of the US government should be doing today to wage the current version of the Cold War–a struggle not against communism (whose appeal does not extend beyond a few Western college campuses) but against Islamism. In the Cold War, the CIA saw its mission as waging ideological war, which meant publishing “subversive” books among other things. Is the CIA doing anything similar today?

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I was struck by two recent, seemingly unrelated news articles that have unexpected relevance to the struggle against violent jihadism.

The first of these concerns revelations from a new book about how in the 1950s the CIA helped disseminate Boris Pasternak’s novel Dr. Zhivago to undermine the appeal of communism.  

The second concerns efforts by Rajiv Shah, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, to retool his outfit, born of the Cold War, to meet new challenges.

In my view the first article implicitly suggests what the CIA and other agencies of the US government should be doing today to wage the current version of the Cold War–a struggle not against communism (whose appeal does not extend beyond a few Western college campuses) but against Islamism. In the Cold War, the CIA saw its mission as waging ideological war, which meant publishing “subversive” books among other things. Is the CIA doing anything similar today?

It’s hard to know for sure, since such programs are necessarily covert, but I doubt there is anything approaching the scale of the Cold War efforts. If it isn’t doing so already, the CIA and other organs of the U.S. government should be paying to translate great works on liberty, from novels to philosophical tracts, from Western languages into Arabic, Pashto, Farsi and other relevant languages while also spreading the work of liberal Muslim writers. I know I know: Books are so 20th century. So, sure, we should also be propagating such ideas in cyberspace but even today books have resonance that is hard to match for spreading ideas.

As for the second article, it suggests that we are currently wasting some of the scarce funds that could be going to wage political warfare for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. While the article’s focus is on how Rajiv Shah is changing USAID’s focus away from simply funding contractors toward using loan guarantees to enable efforts by private industry–a good idea, no doubt–the lead example is a bit discomfiting: “Here in South Africa, in one of the signature new deals for the agency, Dr. Shah brought in corporate America — General Electric — to guarantee a portion of a bank loan to help buy $30 million in much-needed equipment” for a new children’s hospital.

The hospital is no doubt a laudable undertaking, one that will benefit the children of South Africa. But how exactly does this project benefit the foreign policy of the United States? South Africa is already one of the most prosperous and stable states in Africa; it is not home to terrorist groups or other developments that threaten U.S. security. So why is USAID spending any portion of its $20 billion budget in South Africa instead of concentrating on countries such as Mali, Libya and Yemen–to pick three at random–which are threatened by jihadist groups that are also enemies of the United States?

USAID should be focusing on nation-building in those front-line states as part of a coordinated counterinsurgency strategy worked out with the CIA, the U.S. military, the State Department and other agencies of government; it should leave purely charitable work to private institutions such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for which Shah used to work.

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Dissolve USAID and Revamp Foreign Aid

Last month, I wrote about how much money the United States has wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan—not in terms of the military mission, which I continue to support, but rather because of the misguided notion that development assistance and foreign assistance bring security.

The problem with foreign assistance runs deeper. Many proponents of aid point out that the United States gives a smaller percentage of its GDP to foreign assistance than many smaller states. Speaking at the National Defense University last month, President Obama bought into this trope.

I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures that there is. That’s true for Democrats and Republicans–I’ve seen the polling–even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. In fact, a lot of folks think it’s 25 percent, if you ask people on the streets. Less than one percent–still wildly unpopular. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security. And it’s fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism. 

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Last month, I wrote about how much money the United States has wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan—not in terms of the military mission, which I continue to support, but rather because of the misguided notion that development assistance and foreign assistance bring security.

The problem with foreign assistance runs deeper. Many proponents of aid point out that the United States gives a smaller percentage of its GDP to foreign assistance than many smaller states. Speaking at the National Defense University last month, President Obama bought into this trope.

I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures that there is. That’s true for Democrats and Republicans–I’ve seen the polling–even though it amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget. In fact, a lot of folks think it’s 25 percent, if you ask people on the streets. Less than one percent–still wildly unpopular. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security. And it’s fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism. 

The complaint about foreign aid is dishonest for several reasons.

  • First, Americans give far more in charity than do their European counterparts: Just because aid is not coming from the government does not mean it is not American assistance.
  • Second, Sweden may at first glance give a higher proportion of both its GDP and budget, but when push comes to shove, America still gives more. To be blunt: the U.S. military does more to save people than to kill them. The U.S. military formed the backbone of tsunami relief in the Indian Ocean basin during the 2004 tsunami, and restored airport operations to enable relief in Haiti following that country’s devastating 2010 earthquake. If the cost of such operations is factored in, then the United States gives much more. (As an aside, sequestration and the resulting lack of naval readiness will mean that victims of the next massive natural disaster may have to fend for themselves, unless Swedes, Danes, or Norwegians find their own aircraft carrier.)
  • Many extremists—and most terrorists—are actually quite well-off and educated. The 9/11 bombers, for example, came from privileged upbringings, and the Boston bombers had access to a better education than many other residents in Boston. If policy were based strictly on the data, then the path to counter-terrorism would be to de-emphasize education and encourage poverty. I say that with tongue in cheek, of course, but it is important to recognize that ideology drives terrorism, not simply grievance or poverty. Just throwing money at countries does not make America more secure.

Foreign aid may represent less than one percent of the federal budget, but that alone is not justification for waste. Simply put, neither the State Department nor the White House have, across administrations, been able to propose metrics to demonstrate that foreign aid as currently distributed actually improves American security or furthers American interests. Most of the money is simply wasted on bureaucratic bloat, ill thought-out projects, conferences, or amorphous goals that provide no lasting benefit for the people. Management of aid money is notoriously bad, especially when people like disgraced former mayor and diplomat Andrew Young is put in charge.

While American administrations across parties will often pay lip service to democratization, a major problem with foreign aid is it actually promotes poor governance. Building schools, hospitals, and housing should be the job of the government, not a foreign aid organization. If such basic responsibilities of government are assumed by outsiders, then corrupt governments have no disincentive against pursuit of counterproductive social agendas or terror sponsorship.

The simple fact is that foreign aid has:

  • Encouraged corruption and poor governance in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Been the bane of Palestinian development. The best way to encourage the Palestinians to develop a functioning economy and responsible state would be to wean them off outside assistance altogether and eliminate UNRWA.
  • Passage and implementation of the Kerry-Lugar amendment and provision of its nearly $7 billion in assistance has increased rather than decreased anti-Americanism in Pakistan.
  • Failed to promote responsible government in Egypt. Rather than throw a lifeline to the Muslim Brotherhood, it should be an American interest to see the Muslim Brotherhood fail and retire disgraced. No, Egypt is not too big to fail.

Rather than continue USAID as it is now structured, dissolve the organization. The time has come to defer items such as “capacity building” (whatever that means in practice) to endowments and NGOs, and dispense with contributing any development assistance to any state which votes with the United States less than—let’s say arbitrarily—80 percent of the time at the United Nations. There might be notable exceptions: Let the U.S. focus on disaster relief—where Washington can actually win hearts and minds—or promoting foreign direct investment by American companies which will benefit far more people at home and abroad than do USAID programs now.

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The GOP and Foreign Aid

A battle is going on for the future of Republican foreign policy. At one end of the spectrum stand the isolationists–or, if they prefer, non-interventionists–like Rand Paul. The Kentucky senator has incredibly enough has called for the elimination of all foreign aid–a policy that, if ever implemented, would decrease American clout in the world and leave allies dangerously exposed. His message resonates with some in these days of war-weariness and budget insolvency. But his policies are extremely dangerous–not only for the United States and the world but also for the Republican Party which, if it were to embrace the Paulian gospel, would return to its irrelevancy of the 1930s.

Luckily Paul does not speak for the majority of Republicans–not even close. Luckily, too, there are smart voices emerging in the party to provide a principled voice for American leadership in the world. Foremost among the new contributors to the debate is Senator Marco Rubio, who has defended the utility of foreign aid in general while not being afraid to condition U.S. assistance on the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives.

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A battle is going on for the future of Republican foreign policy. At one end of the spectrum stand the isolationists–or, if they prefer, non-interventionists–like Rand Paul. The Kentucky senator has incredibly enough has called for the elimination of all foreign aid–a policy that, if ever implemented, would decrease American clout in the world and leave allies dangerously exposed. His message resonates with some in these days of war-weariness and budget insolvency. But his policies are extremely dangerous–not only for the United States and the world but also for the Republican Party which, if it were to embrace the Paulian gospel, would return to its irrelevancy of the 1930s.

Luckily Paul does not speak for the majority of Republicans–not even close. Luckily, too, there are smart voices emerging in the party to provide a principled voice for American leadership in the world. Foremost among the new contributors to the debate is Senator Marco Rubio, who has defended the utility of foreign aid in general while not being afraid to condition U.S. assistance on the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives.

In this regard Rubio has just introduced the Egypt Accountability and Democracy Amendment, which “would block the disbursement of additional economic support funds and new foreign military financing (FMF) contracts until Egypt begins to enact economic reforms and the Obama administration certifies that Egypt is protecting basic freedoms and human rights.”

This is an entirely appropriate response to the growing campaign by the Muslim Brotherhood to seize control of all aspects of Egyptian society including the judiciary–and it stands in contrast not only to Paul’s simple-minded efforts to cut of all assistance to everyone everywhere but also to Secretary of State John Kerry’s overly generous pledge to give Egypt another $250 million in economic aid even without any evidence of real economic reforms. Rubio is redefining conservative internationalism for the Age of Obama–and beyond.

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Romney on How Foreign Aid Can Change the Middle East

At heart, Mitt Romney is a moderate and a businessman. So it’s not a surprise that his speech at the Clinton Global Initiative today, which was non-partisan and focused on fostering free enterprise in poor nations, was one of the best and most detailed ones he’s given in a while.

Romney delved into the cultural issues behind poverty and instability in the Middle East, a touchy subject that he got burned on during his Israel trip. But this time he made the case in a more elegant way. “Religious extremism is certainly part of the problem,” he noted. “But that’s not the whole story.” The other factor? A very young population with a bleak economic future, who have known nothing but corruption and oppression:

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At heart, Mitt Romney is a moderate and a businessman. So it’s not a surprise that his speech at the Clinton Global Initiative today, which was non-partisan and focused on fostering free enterprise in poor nations, was one of the best and most detailed ones he’s given in a while.

Romney delved into the cultural issues behind poverty and instability in the Middle East, a touchy subject that he got burned on during his Israel trip. But this time he made the case in a more elegant way. “Religious extremism is certainly part of the problem,” he noted. “But that’s not the whole story.” The other factor? A very young population with a bleak economic future, who have known nothing but corruption and oppression:

In such a setting, for America to change lives, to change communities and nations in the Middle East, foreign aid must also play a role. And the shape that role should take was brought into focus by the life and death of Muhammed Bouazizi of Tunisia, the street vendor whose self-immolation sparked the Arab Spring.

He was just 26-years-old.  He had provided for his family since he was a young boy.  He worked a small fruit stand, selling to passers-by. The regular harassment by corrupt bureaucrats was elevated one day when they took crates of his fruit and his weighing scales away from him.

On the day of his protest, witnesses say that an officer slapped Bouazizi and he cried out, “Why are you doing this to me?  I’m a simple person, and I just want to work.”

I just want to work.

Work.  That must be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs for people, young and old alike. Work builds self-esteem. It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding. Work will not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hard-working men and women.

Romney proposed something he calls “Prosperity Pacts” for the Middle East, which will require developing countries to open up certain barriers to trade, investment and entrepreneurship in exchange for non-humanitarian foreign aid. Romney grasps a simple concept that the Obama administration apparently doesn’t. In some places, particularly those with deep-seated corruption, democracy needs a push. There should be a greater government focus on efforts like the one Romney outlined, that promote economic and political freedom.

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The Sad Reality of Harry Reid’s Senate

Yesterday afternoon, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and offered the words that will—or at least should—define his tenure in the Senate. “The amendment days are over,” Reid somberly declared. He was referring to a specific bill—Rand Paul’s legislation that would remove foreign aid from Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan—but Reid could say those words at any time, because that sentiment hangs over the Senate day after day.

The basic backstory is this: Paul has wanted a vote on this bill for quite some time, but since Republicans aren’t permitted to offer legislation or amendments in Reid’s Senate, he has been ignored. Paul decided he was going to hold up Senate business so he could get his floor vote. Liberals call this obstruction, but they are either uninformed or disingenuous; it’s actually a response to obstruction, which begins with Reid’s methodical deconstruction of basic Senate procedures. John McCain wanted to have a debate on the subject–something that is now foreign to Reid’s Senate as well–and to offer amendments to the bill. No, said Reid. Here is how the Hill framed it:

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Yesterday afternoon, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor and offered the words that will—or at least should—define his tenure in the Senate. “The amendment days are over,” Reid somberly declared. He was referring to a specific bill—Rand Paul’s legislation that would remove foreign aid from Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan—but Reid could say those words at any time, because that sentiment hangs over the Senate day after day.

The basic backstory is this: Paul has wanted a vote on this bill for quite some time, but since Republicans aren’t permitted to offer legislation or amendments in Reid’s Senate, he has been ignored. Paul decided he was going to hold up Senate business so he could get his floor vote. Liberals call this obstruction, but they are either uninformed or disingenuous; it’s actually a response to obstruction, which begins with Reid’s methodical deconstruction of basic Senate procedures. John McCain wanted to have a debate on the subject–something that is now foreign to Reid’s Senate as well–and to offer amendments to the bill. No, said Reid. Here is how the Hill framed it:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) caved on Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) demand for a vote on his bill to end aid to some Middle Eastern countries.

It now constitutes “caving” for Reid to allow a vote in the Senate–and without amendments or debate. The amendment process is key to understanding why liberal commentators get it so wrong when they complain about the GOP’s insistence on being permitted to take part in the democratic process. Reid has perfected the art of “filling the amendment tree,” which is a device he employs to use up all allowable amendment space on a bill with his own so the GOP is unable to offer theirs.

The best demonstration of how far from reality the GOP’s critics are, and the best refutation of it as well, actually came in Senator Marco Rubio’s full interview with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show in June. Stewart asked Rubio about GOP obstruction, and what he sees as a one-sided refusal to engage in bipartisanship. He asked Rubio: “can you explain to me why my reality is wrong?” Rubio was happy to. He explained to Stewart that in order to protect Democrats from having to take any votes—even votes they’ll win—Reid won’t let the GOP offer amendments or get votes on their legislation.

Later on, Rubio gave a few examples of Reid’s obstruction. Rubio said he put forth a bill called the AGREE Act, because it was essentially a piece of legislation that incorporated the positions that Democrats and Republicans both agreed on. He said he offered a Jobs 2.0 bill that was bipartisan as well. He couldn’t get a vote on either one, he said.

Though Rubio didn’t mention it, it’s worth here pointing out what exactly Reid was doing instead of passing bipartisan legislation. While the Senate still hasn’t passed a budget in three years, Reid was wasting Senate floor time on stunts like leveling unfounded accusations against Mitt Romney and possibly flouting ethics rules to campaign for Obama on the Senate floor–all instead of a jobs bill or a budget. Then Reid has the audacity to say that the time for amendments is over, because they have to get moving on temporary bills to fund the government, which shouldn’t be necessary in the first place if Reid were doing his job.

The Stewart-Rubio debate on Senate procedure wrapped up with this exchange:

Stewart: “There is an accountability issue within the Republican conference that I think is not a fantasy of mine, or has been made up. And in any conversation of it, it’s been ‘well those guys are mean too, and we’re not’.”

Rubio: “But you’re talking about the filibuster. The filibuster basically is requiring 60 votes on a bill. That’s what the filibuster is. I’m saying we can’t even get the vote on the ideas that we’ve offered. And so when you don’t allow the minority party to get votes on legitimate ideas, the only tool the minority party has, the only leverage you have as the minority party in the Senate is the 60-vote threshold. That’s the counterreaction to it. And that’s what I’m trying to tell you.”

Stewart: “So you don’t feel that you’ve overused your filibuster, it’s you’ve overprotected yourselves from the viciousness of the lack of voting you’re allowed?”

Rubio: “No. I’m saying the Senate isn’t working the way it’s supposed to work. The Senate is supposed to be a place where any senator can offer amendments on any bill, you have a vote on it, [and] if they don’t like it you vote against it and we move on.”

And with that, the conversation moved on as well, with Stewart duly educated and pronouncing the debate—which he was losing, badly—too technical for the show. I’ve written before about the various Senate traditions and procedures that Reid has destroyed in his ongoing quest for a debate-free, vote-free, budget-free Senate. The amendment process is a major one, however, and those mourning the end of the Senate we once knew can either continue their partisan venting by attacking Republicans or they can be honest and go right to the source. They can talk to Harry Reid.

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Why is USAID Celebrating “Global Female Condom Day”?

The attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi have sparked a debate in Congress about the efficacy and wisdom of foreign aid in both Egypt and Libya, and more broadly throughout the region; some congressmen are already calling for stripping aid to Egypt and Libya. Aid and assistance have their purpose but, against the backdrop of a severe financial situation at home and a looming threat that sequestration could decimate defense, the State Department and the larger aid community do themselves no good when, on a day of mourning, they prioritize this:

Today is the first-ever Global Female Condom Day, and women and men around the world are celebrating. They’re also speaking out for increased recognition of a prevention method that is too often overlooked… One new type of female condom is the Woman’s Condom, developed in part with funding from PEPFAR through USAID. PATH, CONRAD, and our research partners in several countries developed the Woman’s Condom using feedback from women and their partners. Their input helped us design a female condom that’s easy to insert, secure during use, and comfortable for both partners. Through our Protection Options for Women Product Development Partnership, we are now working to bring the Woman’s Condom to market in China and sub-Saharan Africa.

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The attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi have sparked a debate in Congress about the efficacy and wisdom of foreign aid in both Egypt and Libya, and more broadly throughout the region; some congressmen are already calling for stripping aid to Egypt and Libya. Aid and assistance have their purpose but, against the backdrop of a severe financial situation at home and a looming threat that sequestration could decimate defense, the State Department and the larger aid community do themselves no good when, on a day of mourning, they prioritize this:

Today is the first-ever Global Female Condom Day, and women and men around the world are celebrating. They’re also speaking out for increased recognition of a prevention method that is too often overlooked… One new type of female condom is the Woman’s Condom, developed in part with funding from PEPFAR through USAID. PATH, CONRAD, and our research partners in several countries developed the Woman’s Condom using feedback from women and their partners. Their input helped us design a female condom that’s easy to insert, secure during use, and comfortable for both partners. Through our Protection Options for Women Product Development Partnership, we are now working to bring the Woman’s Condom to market in China and sub-Saharan Africa.

This isn’t the Marshall Plan. USAID and the State Department should dispense no money without first answering the very basic question: How does this enhance U.S. national security? If all they can respond with is theoretical and fluffy gobbledygook, perhaps they should shelve that project as something the private sector and non-governmental organizations can take up on their own. It’s well past time that foreign aid bolstered American security, not provided a slush fund to let do-gooders spend endlessly money that would better stay in taxpayers’ wallets.

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Is Egypt Too Big to Fail?

Former Arab League Chairman Amr Moussa leads a field of 13 presidential candidates in Egypt, according to a survey by the Al-Ahram Political Studies Center. Moussa received 41.1 percent of the vote, compared to surging Islamist but ex-Muslim Brotherhood candidate Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, who took 27.3 percent of the vote. The poll does not reflect the impact of the Salafist Nour Party and Salafist Scholar Shura Council’s endorsement of Abul-Fotouh.

It would be a mistake to get lost in the horse race among the candidates at this point, though. It may be tempting for many to embrace Amr Moussa because he is not an Islamist, but when it comes to any issues about which Western liberals and proponents of Middle East peace and tolerance care, Amr Moussa is little better than his Salafist opponents.

Rather, it’s time the United States look ahead to Egypt’s future. Each candidate has promised their constituents the world. The Muslim Brotherhood and an-Nour rose to victory in parliamentary elections not only on the back of Saudi and Qatari petrodollars, but also because their representatives could condemn corruption and promise the poor and dispossessed almost anything: Guaranteed jobs, housing, and higher education; good salaries; and set prices in the markets.

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Former Arab League Chairman Amr Moussa leads a field of 13 presidential candidates in Egypt, according to a survey by the Al-Ahram Political Studies Center. Moussa received 41.1 percent of the vote, compared to surging Islamist but ex-Muslim Brotherhood candidate Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, who took 27.3 percent of the vote. The poll does not reflect the impact of the Salafist Nour Party and Salafist Scholar Shura Council’s endorsement of Abul-Fotouh.

It would be a mistake to get lost in the horse race among the candidates at this point, though. It may be tempting for many to embrace Amr Moussa because he is not an Islamist, but when it comes to any issues about which Western liberals and proponents of Middle East peace and tolerance care, Amr Moussa is little better than his Salafist opponents.

Rather, it’s time the United States look ahead to Egypt’s future. Each candidate has promised their constituents the world. The Muslim Brotherhood and an-Nour rose to victory in parliamentary elections not only on the back of Saudi and Qatari petrodollars, but also because their representatives could condemn corruption and promise the poor and dispossessed almost anything: Guaranteed jobs, housing, and higher education; good salaries; and set prices in the markets.

Of course, once they are in power, they will not be able to deliver but, by then, it will be too late for ordinary Egyptians. Here, Iran’s Islamic Revolution provides a good analogy. A full ten percent of Iranians took part in the 1979 revolution. They were united in their opposition to the Shah, and read into Ayatollah Khomeini what they wanted. “We were promised an Islamic democracy,” one of my Iranian tutors explained to me when I lived in Isfahan, “but what we got was neither Islamic nor a democracy. By the time we figured this out, though, it was too late and we were already embroiled in war.”

There will be a day of reckoning for the Egyptian government as the country’s tourism sector flatlines and its foreign reserves evaporate. Bread is subsidized in Egypt, and the government will no longer be able to provide. The question for the West at that point will be whether Egypt deserves even more debt forgiveness and aid. The new Egyptian government might be noxious, its management irresponsible, and its positions extreme, but would the world face either a far more extreme Egypt or a failed state if the Egyptian economy collapses?

With one-in-three Middle Eastern Arabs living in Egypt’s narrow Nile River valley, there is a real case to be made that the chaos of state collapse must be averted at any cost. But, while failure would not be pretty, it is time the White House and Congress consider whether U.S. foreign assistance is an entitlement or a privilege. The foreign aid community would differ, but simply put, U.S. foreign aid should never be an entitlement. Egyptians should realize they are accountable for their governments’ actions. If their government leads them down the path to disaster, so be it.

Perhaps rather than subsidizing an Amr Moussa or Abul-Fotouh slow-motion train wreck and rewarding anti-American and anti-Israel incitement, American policymakers would be better off considering how to advance the principles upon which America was founded: freedom, liberty, tolerance, and individual rights.

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Obama Spiking the Football Before Forfeiting the Game

President Obama made a tough call to order the hit on Osama bin Laden. Had the operation failed, pundits and press would have fallen over themselves to liken him to Jimmy Carter and the ham-handed hostage rescue operation in Iran. And, contrary to Mitt Romney’s suggestion that anyone would have made the same call, even Carter, that’s clearly not true: When the U.S. intelligence community and military had bin Laden in its sights, Bill Clinton did not have the political courage to make the call.

Celebrating the much-ballyhooed strategic partnership deal finalized last month between the United States and Afghanistan is premature, however. With the smoke clears, details of the agreement are short, and Obama’s timeline continues to erode confidence in the wisdom of the alliance where it matters, among Afghans.

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President Obama made a tough call to order the hit on Osama bin Laden. Had the operation failed, pundits and press would have fallen over themselves to liken him to Jimmy Carter and the ham-handed hostage rescue operation in Iran. And, contrary to Mitt Romney’s suggestion that anyone would have made the same call, even Carter, that’s clearly not true: When the U.S. intelligence community and military had bin Laden in its sights, Bill Clinton did not have the political courage to make the call.

Celebrating the much-ballyhooed strategic partnership deal finalized last month between the United States and Afghanistan is premature, however. With the smoke clears, details of the agreement are short, and Obama’s timeline continues to erode confidence in the wisdom of the alliance where it matters, among Afghans.

At present, the Afghans get perhaps $15 billion per year in foreign aid. The Afghan government estimates it needs $10 billion per year from donors after 2014. It will take $6 billion per year to finance a 352,000-man Afghan army and police force; extracting savings by shrinking the force is self-defeating. The World Bank has predicted an unmanageable fiscal crisis if Afghanistan has to finance its own security forces.

Beyond the lack of certainty regarding Afghanistan’s finances and American willingness to support Afghanistan and its mercurial president, the Obama team’s outreach to the Taliban promises to accelerate defeat. Hasht-e Sobh (8 a.m.),  Afghanistan’s newspaper of record, has published an article suggesting the following, according to an Open Source Center translation:

Reports said a few days ago that the United States will release former Taliban Interior Minister Mullah Khairkhwah and another key Taliban prisoner from Guantanamo prison. According to reports, these prisoners will be released as a confidence-building measure so that talks between the United States and Taliban can resume. Mullah Khairkhwah will be transferred to Qatar, the reports said. A number of MPs, who wished to remain anonymous, had even said that he might be sent to Kabul.

Colin Powell once famously proposed reaching out to “moderate Taliban.” Khairkhwah is no moderate.  As a key Taliban security official prior to 9/11, he protected bin Laden and has the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands.

Hasht-e Sobh continues:

A number of Pakistani media have also reported that the United States has asked the Taliban to issue a statement and declare their separation from Al-Qa’ida. The Taliban, however, have rejected to do so.

Celebrating the new U.S.-Afghan Agreement is premature; it is written in smoke rather than ink. Punting discussion of details and funding to the future will be no more successful than past administrations which celebrated Arab-Israeli breakthroughs while final status issues remained untouched and unresolved. Had Obama stopped there, perhaps no harm would have been done. However, the combination of a timeline and outreach to the Taliban is a noxious mix that destines any American strategy to defeat.  Until and unless the commander-in-chief is willing to sign on to a strategy to defeat the Taliban completely rather than co-opt and flee, he is simply spiking the football at halftime, before forfeiting the game.

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Obama’s Renewal of Egypt Aid Sends Region a Dangerous Signal

President Obama faces a difficult task in trying to influence events in post-revolutionary Egypt. With its military rulers brutally abusing the human rights of their people and a rising tide of Islamism threatening to drag the most populous Arab nation into a morass of fundamentalism and violent conflict, maintaining the U.S. relationship with Egypt is inherently problematic. But as he did during the last days of the Mubarak regime last year, the president may have just managed to make a bad situation worse.

On the heels of the Egyptians’ attempt to imprison Americans seeking to promote democracy, Obama has directed the State Department to exercise a national security waiver that will enable $1.3 billion in military assistance to once again flow to Cairo despite legislation linking the aid directly to human rights concerns. It is believed the waiver was payment to the Egyptian military for its decision to allow seven Americans to leave the country this month. The ransom might have seemed reasonable to their families (especially because the father of one of those in peril was Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood). But the move will disillusion Egyptian democrats as well as send a signal to both the military and the Islamist majority in the new parliament that not only is Obama not interested in human rights but that the U.S. is willing to bow to blackmail.

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President Obama faces a difficult task in trying to influence events in post-revolutionary Egypt. With its military rulers brutally abusing the human rights of their people and a rising tide of Islamism threatening to drag the most populous Arab nation into a morass of fundamentalism and violent conflict, maintaining the U.S. relationship with Egypt is inherently problematic. But as he did during the last days of the Mubarak regime last year, the president may have just managed to make a bad situation worse.

On the heels of the Egyptians’ attempt to imprison Americans seeking to promote democracy, Obama has directed the State Department to exercise a national security waiver that will enable $1.3 billion in military assistance to once again flow to Cairo despite legislation linking the aid directly to human rights concerns. It is believed the waiver was payment to the Egyptian military for its decision to allow seven Americans to leave the country this month. The ransom might have seemed reasonable to their families (especially because the father of one of those in peril was Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood). But the move will disillusion Egyptian democrats as well as send a signal to both the military and the Islamist majority in the new parliament that not only is Obama not interested in human rights but that the U.S. is willing to bow to blackmail.

Egypt has gotten billions in aid since the early 1980s, largely as a bribe intended to both keep the country out of the Soviet orbit and to preserve the peace treaty it signed with Israel in 1979. But with Egypt now moving away from an ice-cold peace with Israel to a situation barely distinguishable from belligerence, the same criteria no longer should apply to the annual grant of U.S. largesse. For too long, the aid was rightly seen by the Egyptian people as merely a baksheesh payment to Mubarak and his cronies that did nothing to better their lives. In continuing this practice now that a new group hostile to American interests has replaced the dictator, Obama has not only demonstrated his contempt for ordinary Egyptians but also told the Middle East it is the Brotherhood and not America that is the “strong horse” in the region.

If the United States is truly going to use its $1.3 billion present to the Egyptian military as leverage over the country, then it might have been advisable to employ it as more than a ransom payment. Egypt has opened up its border with Gaza, relieving the isolation of the Hamas government of the strip. The military has embraced the Muslim Brotherhood in an uneasy alliance rather than seeking to work with secular liberals. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to envision Egypt as either a bulwark against fundamentalism or a force for peace in the region.

By throwing away its one bargaining chip, the administration has lost its ability to have any impact on the situation. While it is reasonable to argue that a complete cutoff of aid would deprive Washington of any ability to influence Egypt’s rulers, by not even waiting until after a new presidential election is held to replace Mubarak, Obama has made it clear that both the generals and the Brotherhood will have a free hand in the coming months no matter what they do.

Given the administration’s obvious disinterest in human rights issues throughout the first three-plus years of Obama’s presidency, this decision can hardly be seen as a surprise. But by demonstrating it is willing to continue to throw good money after bad into an Egyptian cesspool, the president and Secretary Clinton will further undermine American prestige at a time when Islamists already believe they represent the future of the region.

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