Commentary Magazine


Topic: United States Agency for International Development

USAID: Mend It, Don’t End It

The Republican Study Committee, a group of 165 conservative House members, has just unveiled a proposal for cutting the federal budget. Their push for cuts and their willingness to be specific is to be commended. Many of their nominees for cuts are traditional Republican targets, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Legal Services Corporation. I would not lose any sleep if these agencies were defunded tomorrow, but I am concerned about one of the proposals: a cut of $1.39 billion in the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since USAID’s budget is only $1.65 billion, this would all but put the agency out of business.

I share the concerns expressed by many over how foreign aid is being spent. No doubt much of it goes to useless or even counterproductive projects. USAID is notorious for poor management and for judging results by how much money it spends — not by what kinds of effects it achieves. In Afghanistan and Iraq, where the agency has been asked to cooperate in military-led counterinsurgency projects, some of its work has been valuable, but a good deal of it has also fueled corruption and been too disconnected from the broader campaign.

Does that sound as if I agree with the desire of these House Republicans to all but eliminate USAID? I don’t, because I do think foreign aid can be a valuable tool of American diplomacy, and it’s not as if USAID is a big drag on the budget — it represents a whopping .04 percent of estimated federal spending this year ($3.8 trillion). We are not going to balance the budget by eliminating USAID. Calling for its virtual eradication will only make it easy for Democrats to brand the GOP as an isolationist party.

The Republicans’ message should be “mend it, don’t end it.” USAID needs a major overhaul, which should involve hiring more full-time officers. In recent decades, it has been too reliant on contractors of dubious reliability because its workforce has been cut. It also needs a more sharply defined mission rather than simply bolstering generic “development” — it ought to be targeted specifically at enhancing nation-building in states of key concern to the U.S., such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In other words, it should be an adjunct of our broader “war against terrorism” and an instrument that the U.S. government can use to bolster failed or failing states. It sounds as if Rajiv Shah, current head of USAID, is planning to move the agency in that direction.

Hill Republicans should work with him, helping to overcome institutional resistance and holding him accountable for results, rather than trying to wish the agency away.

The Republican Study Committee, a group of 165 conservative House members, has just unveiled a proposal for cutting the federal budget. Their push for cuts and their willingness to be specific is to be commended. Many of their nominees for cuts are traditional Republican targets, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Legal Services Corporation. I would not lose any sleep if these agencies were defunded tomorrow, but I am concerned about one of the proposals: a cut of $1.39 billion in the budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Since USAID’s budget is only $1.65 billion, this would all but put the agency out of business.

I share the concerns expressed by many over how foreign aid is being spent. No doubt much of it goes to useless or even counterproductive projects. USAID is notorious for poor management and for judging results by how much money it spends — not by what kinds of effects it achieves. In Afghanistan and Iraq, where the agency has been asked to cooperate in military-led counterinsurgency projects, some of its work has been valuable, but a good deal of it has also fueled corruption and been too disconnected from the broader campaign.

Does that sound as if I agree with the desire of these House Republicans to all but eliminate USAID? I don’t, because I do think foreign aid can be a valuable tool of American diplomacy, and it’s not as if USAID is a big drag on the budget — it represents a whopping .04 percent of estimated federal spending this year ($3.8 trillion). We are not going to balance the budget by eliminating USAID. Calling for its virtual eradication will only make it easy for Democrats to brand the GOP as an isolationist party.

The Republicans’ message should be “mend it, don’t end it.” USAID needs a major overhaul, which should involve hiring more full-time officers. In recent decades, it has been too reliant on contractors of dubious reliability because its workforce has been cut. It also needs a more sharply defined mission rather than simply bolstering generic “development” — it ought to be targeted specifically at enhancing nation-building in states of key concern to the U.S., such as Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. In other words, it should be an adjunct of our broader “war against terrorism” and an instrument that the U.S. government can use to bolster failed or failing states. It sounds as if Rajiv Shah, current head of USAID, is planning to move the agency in that direction.

Hill Republicans should work with him, helping to overcome institutional resistance and holding him accountable for results, rather than trying to wish the agency away.

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USAID, Spanish Government Supporting Anti-Israel Tourism Group?

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem. Read More

Some Israeli bloggers have discovered that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Spanish government may be involved with a Palestinian tourism website that seems to be disseminating some troubling anti-Israel propaganda. Here’s some of the background on the story from Challah Hu Akbar:

The other day we heard how Spain was sponsoring a PA TV ad that called for the boycott of all Israeli products.

Spain denied the accusations and began an investigation, saying they were the victims.

Now it seems as though Spain is funding the website Travel to Palestine. (h/t ElderofZiyon) This website is known for its ad in the UK which said that Palestine was the area from the Mediterranean to Jordan, thus eliminating Israel. Read this for more on what they view Palestine as. …

A map on the site does not show Israel.

The Travel to Palestine website, which appears to be the official site of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, can be found here. The ministry’s website claims that Palestine “lies between the Mediterranean Coast and the Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East” (which, while technically true, is still a bit misleading).

Challah Hu Akbar also notes that a map on the site does not show Israel, just a blank space where Israel should be. In addition, the information section says that the capital of Palestine — which is obviously not yet a country — is Jerusalem.

But perhaps more troubling was some of the other tourism information put out by the ministry, which includes references to Israel’s alleged “apartheid” policies and “illegal occupation.” One pamphlet for tourists on the website claims that “Jerusalem — the heart of tourism in the region — has been illegally annexed to Israel, filled with illegal settlements, besieged, surrounded by checkpoints, and encircled by the Apartheid Wall, all of which has resulted in the city’s isolation from its social and geographical surroundings.”

Another part of the pamphlet alleges that Israel “wiped Palestine off the map”:

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. These events have created catastrophic political, economic and social facts which have deeply affected the life of the Palestinian people, most of whom became refugees. In many ways Palestine itself was simply wiped off the map, historic Palestine coming to be known as Israel. In this context tourism became a political tool in the supremacy and domination of the Israeli establishment over land and people, and an instrument for preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the benefits and the fruits of the cultural and human interaction on which tourism thrives.

A separate pamphlet on the site blames the poor tourism industry on the Israeli “Occupation” and Israel’s alleged refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate key sites:

The Occupation, with all its facets, is the biggest obstacle. The restrictions on movement and access (on both tourists and Palestinian service providers) make managing tourist flow and developing themed routes very difficult. Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinians to renovate, restore and manage key sites located in Areas C, such as Sebastiya, the Jordan Valley, and the coast of the Dead Sea, hinder our abilities to develop a comprehensive tourism offer, and the overall lack of control over borders and points of entry makes managing and developing a tourism sector extremely challenging.

So obviously, it would be problematic for official Spanish or U.S. agencies to be involved with this group. But it looks like that may, in fact, be happening — the ministry’s homepage says at the bottom that “This project was made possible thanks to the support of the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation” and includes a logo of the Spanish consulate in Jerusalem.

The involvement of USAID with the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism is more tenuous, though. Another pamphlet on the website includes the USAID logo and the ministry’s logo, implying that the project was a collaboration between the two organizations.

The ministry also claims that USAID facilitated its involvement in an international tourism conference last October. “This activity came as part of the Palestine Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities’ membership at the Adventure Travel Trade Association and part of the support provided by the Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion (EDIP) project funded by the USAID,” says the website.

USAID’s own website says that it “supported Palestinian representation at the World Religious Tourism Expo,” though it doesn’t clarify who the representation was.

I’ve called USAID for comment, but as of now, they have been unable to get in touch with officials at their West Bank office, which is closed until after the holiday weekend. We’ll update this story as soon as more information arises.

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Funding Corruption in Afghanistan

Everyone knows that corruption is a huge, crippling, corrosive problem in Afghanistan and that reducing it won’t be easy. But aside from the obvious obstacles we face — namely an entrenched political class in Afghanistan that has gotten rich from foreign lucre — there is a not-so-obvious obstacle as well: the interest that many in the U.S. government have in lubricating relationships with lots of greenbacks. In this connection the New York Times‘s Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti have a great scoop today about how the CIA has been paying off Mohammed Zia Salehi, the aide to President Karzai who has been charged with corruption. As the Times account notes, “Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade.”

The list is actually considerably longer, and from the CIA’s narrow standpoint, the investments are well justified. The Times quotes an anonymous “American official” as follows: “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.” True, and the CIA has been paying off rogues for information ever since its inception. Such activity is to be expected from any competent intelligence service, but in Afghanistan, this has had parlous consequences.

The funding that the CIA has provided — along with largesse from the U.S. military, USAID, the State Department, and other agencies — has turbo-charged the problem of corruption. It has led to the emergence of a class of malign actors, fabulously wealthy Afghans who have connections not only to the U.S. government but also to the Taliban and the drug cartels. They are widely seen as the real center of power in Afghanistan, and it is this perception, more than anything else, that fuels support for the insurgency. The problem begins at the top with Hamid Karzai who, shamefully, intervened to get Salehi sprung from jail shortly after his arrest.

Some in the U.S. government believe that there is nothing to be done about such corruption and that fighting it is counterproductive because it will damage our “relationships” with key Afghans. As one “Obama administration official” tells Filkins and Mazzetti:  “Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep.” Wrong. Fighting corruption is the only way to achieve our mission. That won’t require eliminating corruption — truly a mission impossible. But it should be possible to reduce corruption from the current, off-the-charts levels to more socially acceptable norms. In fact, this is the most urgent priority for NATO forces. To achieve that objective, President Obama will have to make sure that all U.S. government agencies and officials are on board. So far, as the Salehi scandal shows, that hasn’t been the case.

Everyone knows that corruption is a huge, crippling, corrosive problem in Afghanistan and that reducing it won’t be easy. But aside from the obvious obstacles we face — namely an entrenched political class in Afghanistan that has gotten rich from foreign lucre — there is a not-so-obvious obstacle as well: the interest that many in the U.S. government have in lubricating relationships with lots of greenbacks. In this connection the New York Times‘s Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti have a great scoop today about how the CIA has been paying off Mohammed Zia Salehi, the aide to President Karzai who has been charged with corruption. As the Times account notes, “Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade.”

The list is actually considerably longer, and from the CIA’s narrow standpoint, the investments are well justified. The Times quotes an anonymous “American official” as follows: “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now. If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.” True, and the CIA has been paying off rogues for information ever since its inception. Such activity is to be expected from any competent intelligence service, but in Afghanistan, this has had parlous consequences.

The funding that the CIA has provided — along with largesse from the U.S. military, USAID, the State Department, and other agencies — has turbo-charged the problem of corruption. It has led to the emergence of a class of malign actors, fabulously wealthy Afghans who have connections not only to the U.S. government but also to the Taliban and the drug cartels. They are widely seen as the real center of power in Afghanistan, and it is this perception, more than anything else, that fuels support for the insurgency. The problem begins at the top with Hamid Karzai who, shamefully, intervened to get Salehi sprung from jail shortly after his arrest.

Some in the U.S. government believe that there is nothing to be done about such corruption and that fighting it is counterproductive because it will damage our “relationships” with key Afghans. As one “Obama administration official” tells Filkins and Mazzetti:  “Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep.” Wrong. Fighting corruption is the only way to achieve our mission. That won’t require eliminating corruption — truly a mission impossible. But it should be possible to reduce corruption from the current, off-the-charts levels to more socially acceptable norms. In fact, this is the most urgent priority for NATO forces. To achieve that objective, President Obama will have to make sure that all U.S. government agencies and officials are on board. So far, as the Salehi scandal shows, that hasn’t been the case.

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Giving Hamas a Helping Hand

The inanity of Obama’s Middle East diplomacy was on full display yesterday. Obama has a knack for getting both the macro and the micro wrong.

On the macro, we now are pressuring Israel to relax the Gaza blockade, thereby giving up a grand-slam home run to the team from Hamas — the ones responsible for the Gaza war and the oppression of the Palestinians under its thumb. This, of course, also redounds to the benefit of their state sponsors, the mullahs, who will take a break from whooping it up over the pathetic UN sanctions in order to gloat about this triumph.

Moreover, this also undercuts Obama’s Fatah clients, whom he has worked so strenuously to bolster and shield from blame for their own rejectionism and incitement. As Jonathan pointed out, Obama now has roped Mahmoud Abbas into cheerleading for a Gaza/Hamas diplomatic coup (i.e., relaxation of the blockade) despite the obvious ill effects it will have on Abbas’s standing. As a former U.S. official explains, “Today the whole Arab world, the U.S. and the EU are talking about poor Gazans and the mean blockade, so what choice does he have? Whatever his private view he has to join the chorus.” After all you can’t be more reasonable than Obama and the UN and still retain your standing with the Palestinians. But not to worry:

There is concern in the US, as well as among Israelis and in the PA government, that any steps taken to ease conditions in Gaza in the wake of the deadly Israeli raid to stop a flotilla from breaking the blockade there would benefit Hamas.

Well, yeah. But on the Obama team trudges, wreaking havoc wherever the “smart” diplomats venture.

Then there is the micro problem. It’s actually not that micro — it’s $400M, which is the amount of the U.S. taxpayers’ money Obama is shoveling over to Gaza. A keen observer asks, “Will a Congress spooked by an increasingly disgusted mob of anti-incumbent voters approve it? Probably, because Mr. Obama and Nancy Pelosi still own enough Members—and after all, it’s ‘humanitarian.’” Aside from the sheer amount, there is reason to wretch over the particulars:

$75 million “to support the Palestinian Authority’s work to improve infrastructure throughout the West Bank and Gaza.” Yeah, see above: Palestinian Authority not administering an outhouse in Gaza, let alone “infrastructure.” “$10 million in USAID-funded activities aimed at enhancing the Palestinian private sector’s competitiveness.” Which speaks for itself and says nothing. $14.5 million will go for “USAID projects for school rehabilitation, small-scale agriculture, the repair of a hospital facility and other community infrastructure in Gaza.” Remember those thriving greenhouses the Israelis left behind in Gaza after disengagement that the Arabs chose to destroy?

You get the idea — but read the rest to appreciate the full absurdity of the entire package “for the wholly undeserving.”

Obama’s efforts in ways big and bigger are destructive to our own credibility, to the security of our allies, to our efforts to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, and to the American people, who have had far too much of their hard-earned money confiscated for idiotic purposes under this administration. But few match this one.

The inanity of Obama’s Middle East diplomacy was on full display yesterday. Obama has a knack for getting both the macro and the micro wrong.

On the macro, we now are pressuring Israel to relax the Gaza blockade, thereby giving up a grand-slam home run to the team from Hamas — the ones responsible for the Gaza war and the oppression of the Palestinians under its thumb. This, of course, also redounds to the benefit of their state sponsors, the mullahs, who will take a break from whooping it up over the pathetic UN sanctions in order to gloat about this triumph.

Moreover, this also undercuts Obama’s Fatah clients, whom he has worked so strenuously to bolster and shield from blame for their own rejectionism and incitement. As Jonathan pointed out, Obama now has roped Mahmoud Abbas into cheerleading for a Gaza/Hamas diplomatic coup (i.e., relaxation of the blockade) despite the obvious ill effects it will have on Abbas’s standing. As a former U.S. official explains, “Today the whole Arab world, the U.S. and the EU are talking about poor Gazans and the mean blockade, so what choice does he have? Whatever his private view he has to join the chorus.” After all you can’t be more reasonable than Obama and the UN and still retain your standing with the Palestinians. But not to worry:

There is concern in the US, as well as among Israelis and in the PA government, that any steps taken to ease conditions in Gaza in the wake of the deadly Israeli raid to stop a flotilla from breaking the blockade there would benefit Hamas.

Well, yeah. But on the Obama team trudges, wreaking havoc wherever the “smart” diplomats venture.

Then there is the micro problem. It’s actually not that micro — it’s $400M, which is the amount of the U.S. taxpayers’ money Obama is shoveling over to Gaza. A keen observer asks, “Will a Congress spooked by an increasingly disgusted mob of anti-incumbent voters approve it? Probably, because Mr. Obama and Nancy Pelosi still own enough Members—and after all, it’s ‘humanitarian.’” Aside from the sheer amount, there is reason to wretch over the particulars:

$75 million “to support the Palestinian Authority’s work to improve infrastructure throughout the West Bank and Gaza.” Yeah, see above: Palestinian Authority not administering an outhouse in Gaza, let alone “infrastructure.” “$10 million in USAID-funded activities aimed at enhancing the Palestinian private sector’s competitiveness.” Which speaks for itself and says nothing. $14.5 million will go for “USAID projects for school rehabilitation, small-scale agriculture, the repair of a hospital facility and other community infrastructure in Gaza.” Remember those thriving greenhouses the Israelis left behind in Gaza after disengagement that the Arabs chose to destroy?

You get the idea — but read the rest to appreciate the full absurdity of the entire package “for the wholly undeserving.”

Obama’s efforts in ways big and bigger are destructive to our own credibility, to the security of our allies, to our efforts to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, and to the American people, who have had far too much of their hard-earned money confiscated for idiotic purposes under this administration. But few match this one.

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Saving American Employees in Iraq

U.S. forces are rapidly withdrawing from Iraq; they are supposed to be down to 50,000 by the end of August and to zero by the end of 2011. What does that mean for the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have worked for U.S. military and civilian representatives? That is unclear, but the portents are ominous.

Iraq is getting more peaceful, but extremist groups have openly talked about “nine bullets for the traitors.” Al-Qaeda in Iraq is, no doubt, much weakened by a recent wave of raids by Iraqi and U.S. forces that have taken out much of its top leadership, but it could well regenerate itself to carry out such threats or other groups could rise up to target these American employees. Many have already died in such terrorist attacks since 2003, and those who remain an American employee are scared about what happens once American troops leave. This article in an English-language Abu Dhabi paper quotes one “‘terp,” who works for American troops:

“They’re going to leave us behind, I can see that now,” he said. “I never thought this day would come and even when [president] Obama said they’d pull-out, I believed all the promises from the soldiers that they’d take us with them, that we were their brothers, their buddies, their guys.

“But now they’re going and it’s obvious they’re not going to take us. We’ll be left here, we’ll be hung out to dry, we’ll be [expletive].”

The question is whether America will accept a moral responsibility to help out those who have helped us. Kirk Johnson, a former USAID worker in Iraq who has started an NGO called the List Project to resettle Iraqi allies, urges what he calls the Guam option:

In the 1970s, then-President Gerald Ford eventually did the right thing by airlifting hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, using the U.S. military base in Guam as a staging area, but not before thousands were slain or lost to Ho Chi Minh’s “re-education camps.” Bill Clinton used Guam again in 1996 when he ordered Operation Pacific Haven, which flew 7,000 at-risk Iraqis to safety in an effort that took weeks, not months or years. Since then, the “Guam option” has been the standard for swiftly saving refugees, while also maintaining security, as processing occurs in military bases.

One may well object that the Vietnam analogy doesn’t apply, because we haven’t lost in Iraq. That’s true. And if some U.S. troops remain in Iraq after 2011 — as I hope will occur — the Guam option may not be necessary, because U.S. forces can play an important peacekeeping role to ensure that Iraq remains on a stable, democratic path. But if we do execute a full pullout by the end of next year, then all bets are off, and the Guam option should be given serious consideration as a way to save our brave allies, whose safety cannot otherwise be assured.

U.S. forces are rapidly withdrawing from Iraq; they are supposed to be down to 50,000 by the end of August and to zero by the end of 2011. What does that mean for the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have worked for U.S. military and civilian representatives? That is unclear, but the portents are ominous.

Iraq is getting more peaceful, but extremist groups have openly talked about “nine bullets for the traitors.” Al-Qaeda in Iraq is, no doubt, much weakened by a recent wave of raids by Iraqi and U.S. forces that have taken out much of its top leadership, but it could well regenerate itself to carry out such threats or other groups could rise up to target these American employees. Many have already died in such terrorist attacks since 2003, and those who remain an American employee are scared about what happens once American troops leave. This article in an English-language Abu Dhabi paper quotes one “‘terp,” who works for American troops:

“They’re going to leave us behind, I can see that now,” he said. “I never thought this day would come and even when [president] Obama said they’d pull-out, I believed all the promises from the soldiers that they’d take us with them, that we were their brothers, their buddies, their guys.

“But now they’re going and it’s obvious they’re not going to take us. We’ll be left here, we’ll be hung out to dry, we’ll be [expletive].”

The question is whether America will accept a moral responsibility to help out those who have helped us. Kirk Johnson, a former USAID worker in Iraq who has started an NGO called the List Project to resettle Iraqi allies, urges what he calls the Guam option:

In the 1970s, then-President Gerald Ford eventually did the right thing by airlifting hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, using the U.S. military base in Guam as a staging area, but not before thousands were slain or lost to Ho Chi Minh’s “re-education camps.” Bill Clinton used Guam again in 1996 when he ordered Operation Pacific Haven, which flew 7,000 at-risk Iraqis to safety in an effort that took weeks, not months or years. Since then, the “Guam option” has been the standard for swiftly saving refugees, while also maintaining security, as processing occurs in military bases.

One may well object that the Vietnam analogy doesn’t apply, because we haven’t lost in Iraq. That’s true. And if some U.S. troops remain in Iraq after 2011 — as I hope will occur — the Guam option may not be necessary, because U.S. forces can play an important peacekeeping role to ensure that Iraq remains on a stable, democratic path. But if we do execute a full pullout by the end of next year, then all bets are off, and the Guam option should be given serious consideration as a way to save our brave allies, whose safety cannot otherwise be assured.

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RE: Never Leave Evidence

The White House came up with its cover story to explain the “You can pick one of the following!” memo sent to Andrew Romanoff by Jim Messina. Here’s what they have cooked up:

“Andrew Romanoff applied for a position at USAID during the Presidential transition. He filed this application through the Transition on-line process. After the new administration took office, he followed up by phone with White House personnel,” Gibbs said. “Jim Messina called and emailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the US Senate. Months earlier, the President had endorsed Senator Michael Bennet for the Colorado seat, and Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters.”

Gibbs continued, explaining that Romanoff rebuffed the overture: “Romanoff said that he was committed to the Senate race and no longer interested in working for the Administration, and that ended the discussion. As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job.”

Something doesn’t quite make sense here. For starters, if this were simply a follow-up on a previous job application, why did Messina throw out two other possible jobs? And let’s get real here: Romanoff applied for a USAID job before Obama took office (between November 2008 and January 20, 2009). He didn’t get it. Nine to 11 months later, the ever-helpful job-placement assistant Messina (who is actually deputy chief of staff) reaches out to the fellow who is planning a run against Michael Bennet. In fact, Messina admits that he was trying to avoid a “costly” primary. This is the defense?

The White House came up with its cover story to explain the “You can pick one of the following!” memo sent to Andrew Romanoff by Jim Messina. Here’s what they have cooked up:

“Andrew Romanoff applied for a position at USAID during the Presidential transition. He filed this application through the Transition on-line process. After the new administration took office, he followed up by phone with White House personnel,” Gibbs said. “Jim Messina called and emailed Romanoff last September to see if he was still interested in a position at USAID, or if, as had been reported, he was running for the US Senate. Months earlier, the President had endorsed Senator Michael Bennet for the Colorado seat, and Messina wanted to determine if it was possible to avoid a costly battle between two supporters.”

Gibbs continued, explaining that Romanoff rebuffed the overture: “Romanoff said that he was committed to the Senate race and no longer interested in working for the Administration, and that ended the discussion. As Mr. Romanoff has stated, there was no offer of a job.”

Something doesn’t quite make sense here. For starters, if this were simply a follow-up on a previous job application, why did Messina throw out two other possible jobs? And let’s get real here: Romanoff applied for a USAID job before Obama took office (between November 2008 and January 20, 2009). He didn’t get it. Nine to 11 months later, the ever-helpful job-placement assistant Messina (who is actually deputy chief of staff) reaches out to the fellow who is planning a run against Michael Bennet. In fact, Messina admits that he was trying to avoid a “costly” primary. This is the defense?

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Increasing Arabs’ Clout in Congress: The NH-1 GOP Primary

In the New Hampshire 1st congressional district, there is a spirited, multi-candidate Republican primary race to face off against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The most viable Republicans are Sean Mahoney, Frank Guinta, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. (Polls suggest that Shea-Porter is in trouble, and the Cook Report pegs the seat as a “toss up.”) One of the candidates, Ashooh, is being bankrolled by a curious character. Nijad Fares and his wife, who reside in Houston, donated $2,400 to Ashooh and raised thousands more for him, likely making Ashooh the GOP candidate in the race with the most donors from  Houston. (Weird, huh?)

Now, who is Fares? He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for increasing Arab clout in Congress. This report relates:

Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.

“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” he wrote. “Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”

He and his father, Issam (“known to be close to the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan”), have been implicated in some funny business with regard to campaign donations:

After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.

Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon’s interests. The family’s main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.

So what sorts of views does Nijad Fares hope will gain traction through fundraising like that done for Ashooh? We have some clues. It seems that Nijad Fares has a track record of giving to congressional candidates, having given handsomely to Rep. Joe Knollenberg and his state legislator son. Knollenberg “put ‘Seeds of Peace’ — a summer camp founded by Yasser Arafat’s fave biographer — on the federal budget.” He also “doled out at least $86 million of our tax money [in USAID funding to southern Lebanon] … allowing Hezbollah to rebuild its strongholds in Southern Lebanon and expand.” That, it seems, is what “increasing Arabs’ clout” is all about. (Fares also gave to Obama and to the only Republican to co-host J Street’s confab, Charles Boustany. Fares is nothing if not consistent in his choice of recipients.)

And then there is this: when the fundraising brouhaha surfaced, Issam was quick to blame the Jews. Caught in a media firestorm for paying a large sum to Colin Powell for a speech five days before the 2000 election, he immediately “accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of spreading ‘distortion and lies.’”

And the family seems to have an unusual take on Hezbollah, as well. Issam offered this:

“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network … which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation,” Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares’s own Wedge Group CEO.

An Ashooh spokesman had this comment when I asked about the Fares fundraising:

What I can tell you is this: People donate to the Ashooh campaign based on Rich’s positions on the issues. As a candidate, he cannot possibly know or share all of the individual positions his donors may or may not have. At this time, Rich is focused on running a very positive campaign based on fiscal responsibility and bringing conservative, New Hampshire values back to Washington.

So are Ashooh’s positions the same as those of the Fares family, and is he someone ready and willing to increase the clout of Arabs? The campaign did not respond to my direct queries on these points or whether he will return the funds. If it does, I will be sure to pass it on.

In the New Hampshire 1st congressional district, there is a spirited, multi-candidate Republican primary race to face off against Democrat Carol Shea-Porter. The most viable Republicans are Sean Mahoney, Frank Guinta, Bob Bestani, and Rich Ashooh. (Polls suggest that Shea-Porter is in trouble, and the Cook Report pegs the seat as a “toss up.”) One of the candidates, Ashooh, is being bankrolled by a curious character. Nijad Fares and his wife, who reside in Houston, donated $2,400 to Ashooh and raised thousands more for him, likely making Ashooh the GOP candidate in the race with the most donors from  Houston. (Weird, huh?)

Now, who is Fares? He’s a self-proclaimed advocate for increasing Arab clout in Congress. This report relates:

Nijad Fares bluntly laid out his strategy for increasing the clout of Arab-Americans in an opinion piece he authored that appeared in the Detroit News on Dec. 16, 1996.

“Arab-Americans must substantially increase contributions to political candidates,” he wrote. “Even modest contributions help ensure that Members of Congress and their staffs take phone calls and are more responsive to requests. Furthermore, the contributor must make explicit an interest in Middle East-related issues.”

He and his father, Issam (“known to be close to the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, Ghazi Kenaan”), have been implicated in some funny business with regard to campaign donations:

After the Wall Street Journal reported the inaugural donation last month, the inaugural committee said the donation listed from Issam Fares came from the Link Group, LLC, a company headed by Nijad Fares and that the son had attempted to give credit for the donation to his father.

Both father and son have a long history of intimate political connections with U.S. politicians and have been major supporters of groups promoting Lebanon’s interests. The family’s main U.S. business holding, a Houston-based firm called the Wedge Group, is a major player in the oil services industry and is headed by William White, the former number two official at the Energy Department during the Clinton administration.

So what sorts of views does Nijad Fares hope will gain traction through fundraising like that done for Ashooh? We have some clues. It seems that Nijad Fares has a track record of giving to congressional candidates, having given handsomely to Rep. Joe Knollenberg and his state legislator son. Knollenberg “put ‘Seeds of Peace’ — a summer camp founded by Yasser Arafat’s fave biographer — on the federal budget.” He also “doled out at least $86 million of our tax money [in USAID funding to southern Lebanon] … allowing Hezbollah to rebuild its strongholds in Southern Lebanon and expand.” That, it seems, is what “increasing Arabs’ clout” is all about. (Fares also gave to Obama and to the only Republican to co-host J Street’s confab, Charles Boustany. Fares is nothing if not consistent in his choice of recipients.)

And then there is this: when the fundraising brouhaha surfaced, Issam was quick to blame the Jews. Caught in a media firestorm for paying a large sum to Colin Powell for a speech five days before the 2000 election, he immediately “accused the ‘Zionist lobby’ of spreading ‘distortion and lies.’”

And the family seems to have an unusual take on Hezbollah, as well. Issam offered this:

“It is a mistake to make a comparison between the [Al Qaeda] network … which Lebanon has condemned, and Hezbollah, which Lebanon considers a resistance party fighting the Israeli occupation,” Fares told Agence France-Presse. He claimed the group has never targeted Americans, a position disputed by U.S. officials as well as Fares’s own Wedge Group CEO.

An Ashooh spokesman had this comment when I asked about the Fares fundraising:

What I can tell you is this: People donate to the Ashooh campaign based on Rich’s positions on the issues. As a candidate, he cannot possibly know or share all of the individual positions his donors may or may not have. At this time, Rich is focused on running a very positive campaign based on fiscal responsibility and bringing conservative, New Hampshire values back to Washington.

So are Ashooh’s positions the same as those of the Fares family, and is he someone ready and willing to increase the clout of Arabs? The campaign did not respond to my direct queries on these points or whether he will return the funds. If it does, I will be sure to pass it on.

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No One Does Minutiae Like Hillary Clinton

The Washington Post has a puff piece on Hillary Clinton extolling her “internal outreach” to hire State Department gurus beyond her circle of Hillaryland loyalists. We hear that “Clinton has made a vigorous effort to widen her circle, wooing and pulling into her orbit the agency’s Foreign Service and civil service officials, many of whom said in interviews that she has brought a new energy to the building.” And then it’s nice to know that “those interviewed inside and outside the agency say Clinton has done a good job of heading off the historical tensions between career employees and quadrennial political newcomers by relying on the counsel of senior Foreign Service operatives and reaching out in general.” Let’s not forget:

She has walked the halls and popped into offices unexpectedly, created an electronic “sounding board,” and held seven internal town hall meetings to listen to gripes about everything from policy to cafeteria food to bullying in the workplace. She installed six new showers that joggers requested, is taking steps to remedy overseas pay inequities and instituted a policy that allows partners of gay diplomats to receive benefits. She became a heroine to the Foreign Service when she went to bat to get funding for 3,000 new Foreign Service positions for State operations and the U.S. Agency for International Development — the first boost of this magnitude in two decades.

Okay, this is a style section piece, I will grant you. But what does any of this matter? Nearly every aspect of our foreign policy is in disarray, but we should be happy to hear that she conducted “a line-by-line review that took three sessions to complete” and spent quality time with a “backbencher” on the Pakistan desk debating “non-governmental power centers in Pakistan.”

On one level, this could be part of the problem. Clinton is lost in the paperwork while our foreign policy is on fire (and under fire). She is consumed with trivia better left to bureaucrats but has no sense that the underpinnings of our foreign-policy approach are crumbling. Like Jimmy Carter assigning the tennis court times at the White House, Clinton’s compulsive micromanagement may be a sign that something is very wrong.

On another level, this is a telling insight into the process obsession that has gripped State and the whole administration. Success is measured by the number of meetings, not by the outcome. Who picks the appointees, rather than the track record of those selected, is what occupies everyone’s attention.

If the point of the puff piece was to assure us how much Clinton has grown, put me down as skeptical. As in campaigns, foreign-policy success is measured in results. Hers are generally disastrous. Once again, Clinton — who failed on HillaryCare and as a presidential candidate — lacks competence. But that topic probably wouldn’t make it as a Post style section story.

The Washington Post has a puff piece on Hillary Clinton extolling her “internal outreach” to hire State Department gurus beyond her circle of Hillaryland loyalists. We hear that “Clinton has made a vigorous effort to widen her circle, wooing and pulling into her orbit the agency’s Foreign Service and civil service officials, many of whom said in interviews that she has brought a new energy to the building.” And then it’s nice to know that “those interviewed inside and outside the agency say Clinton has done a good job of heading off the historical tensions between career employees and quadrennial political newcomers by relying on the counsel of senior Foreign Service operatives and reaching out in general.” Let’s not forget:

She has walked the halls and popped into offices unexpectedly, created an electronic “sounding board,” and held seven internal town hall meetings to listen to gripes about everything from policy to cafeteria food to bullying in the workplace. She installed six new showers that joggers requested, is taking steps to remedy overseas pay inequities and instituted a policy that allows partners of gay diplomats to receive benefits. She became a heroine to the Foreign Service when she went to bat to get funding for 3,000 new Foreign Service positions for State operations and the U.S. Agency for International Development — the first boost of this magnitude in two decades.

Okay, this is a style section piece, I will grant you. But what does any of this matter? Nearly every aspect of our foreign policy is in disarray, but we should be happy to hear that she conducted “a line-by-line review that took three sessions to complete” and spent quality time with a “backbencher” on the Pakistan desk debating “non-governmental power centers in Pakistan.”

On one level, this could be part of the problem. Clinton is lost in the paperwork while our foreign policy is on fire (and under fire). She is consumed with trivia better left to bureaucrats but has no sense that the underpinnings of our foreign-policy approach are crumbling. Like Jimmy Carter assigning the tennis court times at the White House, Clinton’s compulsive micromanagement may be a sign that something is very wrong.

On another level, this is a telling insight into the process obsession that has gripped State and the whole administration. Success is measured by the number of meetings, not by the outcome. Who picks the appointees, rather than the track record of those selected, is what occupies everyone’s attention.

If the point of the puff piece was to assure us how much Clinton has grown, put me down as skeptical. As in campaigns, foreign-policy success is measured in results. Hers are generally disastrous. Once again, Clinton — who failed on HillaryCare and as a presidential candidate — lacks competence. But that topic probably wouldn’t make it as a Post style section story.

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Too Much of a “Light” Thing

The profile of Country A in Yemen associates it with domestic military raids by the corrupt, ineffective central government. Country B’s profile in Yemen involves contracts to build a railroad and new electric power plant and sell the Sanaa government billions in new military equipment. Country C is Yemen’s largest trading partner, representing more than a third of its foreign trade, its biggest source of foreign investment, and the majority of its oil and gas sales.

Country A is, of course, the United States of America. Countries B and C are Russia and China. The year is 2010, and the war on terror is relying as never before on assassination strikes against terrorist leaders in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Standoff drone attacks have increased in the AfPak theater – dramatically so this month. For the new push in Yemen against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), U.S. reliance is on facilitating strikes performed by the national government. America has promised to double security assistance to Yemen, offering $150 million in 2010 for fighting AQAP. Humanitarian assistance from USAID, meanwhile, is projected to increase to $50 million in 2010. The U.S. also proposes to help the Saleh government fight internal corruption and improve its democratic practices.

As a Voice of America reporter points out from on-scene in Sanaa, Yemenis are not taking the increase in outside intervention well. The Saleh government faces a serious challenge in its effort to downplay the dimensions of foreign involvement. The Obama administration’s preference for light-footprint, standoff antiterrorism operations would seem to accord nicely with the Yemeni government’s desires, but there is hardly a one-to-one correspondence in the size of our presence and its effective political profile. AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day airline bombing attempt, already seeks to attack Americans; it will not be appeased by the absence of conventionally organized U.S. ground troops in Yemen. Yemenis themselves are now associating their government’s attacks, in which civilians are being killed, with American backing.

Trying to play this game without “skin” in it is likely to backfire on us and on our partner in Yemen, the Saleh government. In the coming months, that already-weak government will face a cadre of American advisers urging it to do things that make it more and more unpopular. Three other foreign governments – in Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia – will be bringing cash and looking for opportunities that may conflict directly with the course we have chosen, including competition for Saleh’s favor and loyalty. Iran will continue to jockey for a surrogate foothold on the peninsula and will find our commitment there a made-to-order front on which to oppose and confound the U.S.

The latter factor alone ought to prompt formation of the interagency task force proposed on Jan. 14 by Frederick Kagan and Christopher Harnisch. But our administration’s emerging reliance on targeted “leadership” strikes – now to be conducted by proxy in Yemen – is also widening an uncomfortable gap between its actual policy and the ideal of constructive use of all forms of national power. There is a real risk of doing just enough to enrage AQAP and the Yemeni populace but not enough to improve conditions and promote a long-term favorable outcome. Now is the time to mount a more deliberate approach.

The profile of Country A in Yemen associates it with domestic military raids by the corrupt, ineffective central government. Country B’s profile in Yemen involves contracts to build a railroad and new electric power plant and sell the Sanaa government billions in new military equipment. Country C is Yemen’s largest trading partner, representing more than a third of its foreign trade, its biggest source of foreign investment, and the majority of its oil and gas sales.

Country A is, of course, the United States of America. Countries B and C are Russia and China. The year is 2010, and the war on terror is relying as never before on assassination strikes against terrorist leaders in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Standoff drone attacks have increased in the AfPak theater – dramatically so this month. For the new push in Yemen against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), U.S. reliance is on facilitating strikes performed by the national government. America has promised to double security assistance to Yemen, offering $150 million in 2010 for fighting AQAP. Humanitarian assistance from USAID, meanwhile, is projected to increase to $50 million in 2010. The U.S. also proposes to help the Saleh government fight internal corruption and improve its democratic practices.

As a Voice of America reporter points out from on-scene in Sanaa, Yemenis are not taking the increase in outside intervention well. The Saleh government faces a serious challenge in its effort to downplay the dimensions of foreign involvement. The Obama administration’s preference for light-footprint, standoff antiterrorism operations would seem to accord nicely with the Yemeni government’s desires, but there is hardly a one-to-one correspondence in the size of our presence and its effective political profile. AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day airline bombing attempt, already seeks to attack Americans; it will not be appeased by the absence of conventionally organized U.S. ground troops in Yemen. Yemenis themselves are now associating their government’s attacks, in which civilians are being killed, with American backing.

Trying to play this game without “skin” in it is likely to backfire on us and on our partner in Yemen, the Saleh government. In the coming months, that already-weak government will face a cadre of American advisers urging it to do things that make it more and more unpopular. Three other foreign governments – in Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia – will be bringing cash and looking for opportunities that may conflict directly with the course we have chosen, including competition for Saleh’s favor and loyalty. Iran will continue to jockey for a surrogate foothold on the peninsula and will find our commitment there a made-to-order front on which to oppose and confound the U.S.

The latter factor alone ought to prompt formation of the interagency task force proposed on Jan. 14 by Frederick Kagan and Christopher Harnisch. But our administration’s emerging reliance on targeted “leadership” strikes – now to be conducted by proxy in Yemen – is also widening an uncomfortable gap between its actual policy and the ideal of constructive use of all forms of national power. There is a real risk of doing just enough to enrage AQAP and the Yemeni populace but not enough to improve conditions and promote a long-term favorable outcome. Now is the time to mount a more deliberate approach.

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Recruitment of Foreigners to Be Welcomed

For years I have been arguing that we should open military enlistment to recruits who don’t have citizenship or even a Green Card. For this I have been pilloried by nativists and xenophobes from both the Right and the Left. Last year the U.S. Army finally implemented a trial program to accept 1,000 immigrants with specialized skills. The results? According to this New York Times article:

Although the program has started small, senior commanders have praised it as an exceptional success. Recruiting officials said it had attracted a large number of unusually qualified candidates, including doctors, dentists and native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Korean and other languages from strategic regions where United States forces are operating.

“We don’t see this normally; the quality for this population is off the charts,” said Lt. Col. Pete Badoian, a strategic planner at the Army Accessions Command, the recruiting branch of the Army….

The immigrants who have joined the Army through the program scored, on average, about 20 points higher (on a scale of 100) than other recruits on basic armed forces entry tests, and they had three to five years more education, Colonel Badoian said. One-third of the recruits have a master’s degree or higher.

That’s pretty much what I expected. Yet now the program has been suspended pending an internal Pentagon review—even as hundreds of immigrants petition to sign up. No doubt the review has been slowed down by concern following Major Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree at Fort Hood. But keep in mind that Hasan was no immigrant; he was born in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. Obviously military officials need to do a better job of monitoring such Islamist radicals within the ranks but that scrutiny should be applied equally to the foreign-born and the native-born; it should not stop this highly successful program of immigrant recruiting.

In fact the program needs to be expanded to recruit a much higher number of personnel and not only for the Army but for all the services—and by civilian agencies such as the CIA, State Department, and USAID as well. Only in this way can we address the pervasive, crippling lack of knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within our government, which constitutes a major strategic liability. As an army recruiting official told the Times: “We send people to language school, but it is tough to get a non-native speaker to the level of these folks.”

For years I have been arguing that we should open military enlistment to recruits who don’t have citizenship or even a Green Card. For this I have been pilloried by nativists and xenophobes from both the Right and the Left. Last year the U.S. Army finally implemented a trial program to accept 1,000 immigrants with specialized skills. The results? According to this New York Times article:

Although the program has started small, senior commanders have praised it as an exceptional success. Recruiting officials said it had attracted a large number of unusually qualified candidates, including doctors, dentists and native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Korean and other languages from strategic regions where United States forces are operating.

“We don’t see this normally; the quality for this population is off the charts,” said Lt. Col. Pete Badoian, a strategic planner at the Army Accessions Command, the recruiting branch of the Army….

The immigrants who have joined the Army through the program scored, on average, about 20 points higher (on a scale of 100) than other recruits on basic armed forces entry tests, and they had three to five years more education, Colonel Badoian said. One-third of the recruits have a master’s degree or higher.

That’s pretty much what I expected. Yet now the program has been suspended pending an internal Pentagon review—even as hundreds of immigrants petition to sign up. No doubt the review has been slowed down by concern following Major Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree at Fort Hood. But keep in mind that Hasan was no immigrant; he was born in Virginia and graduated from Virginia Tech. Obviously military officials need to do a better job of monitoring such Islamist radicals within the ranks but that scrutiny should be applied equally to the foreign-born and the native-born; it should not stop this highly successful program of immigrant recruiting.

In fact the program needs to be expanded to recruit a much higher number of personnel and not only for the Army but for all the services—and by civilian agencies such as the CIA, State Department, and USAID as well. Only in this way can we address the pervasive, crippling lack of knowledge of foreign languages and cultures within our government, which constitutes a major strategic liability. As an army recruiting official told the Times: “We send people to language school, but it is tough to get a non-native speaker to the level of these folks.”

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The Need for Getting Good at Nation Building

Fred Kagan and Christopher Harnisch make a good point in this Wall Street Journal article about the need to build up the state in Yemen and to help it defeat secessionist rebels — not just al-Qaeda. They suggest setting up an inter-agency task force to accomplish this mission. That’s a good idea. Problem is, the U.S. government still lacks the right resources and structures to tackle effectively the difficult task of state-building (or, as it is popularly known, “nation building”) in the Third World.

This is not exactly a new problem. Back in July 2003 I was writing about the need for Washington to create a “Colonial Office.” That was simply a cheeky way of getting attention for the idea of boosting our nation-building capacity — to create what I later suggested should be called a Department of Peace. Whatever you call it, we need to boost our capacity to build up foreign law-enforcement and military capacity along with electricity, sewage treatment, medical care, and the myriad other tasks that states need to perform in order to enjoy legitimacy with their own citizens and control their own borders.

This isn’t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance — especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations — can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have become much more adept at counterinsurgency since 2003, which, they have realized, includes a large nation-building element that would enable our local allies to carry on in the future with decreasing degrees of assistance from us. But the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies? They have shown only marginal improvements since 2003. Their capacities remain far too small and they are far too dependant on contractors of mixed reliability and worth.

A lot of this, admittedly, is not their fault; Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakers’ knee-jerk revulsion against “nation building.” They seem to imagine that if we don’t develop these capacities we won’t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well. We have chosen to do it badly and will continue to pay a high price if we persist in our blindness.

Fred Kagan and Christopher Harnisch make a good point in this Wall Street Journal article about the need to build up the state in Yemen and to help it defeat secessionist rebels — not just al-Qaeda. They suggest setting up an inter-agency task force to accomplish this mission. That’s a good idea. Problem is, the U.S. government still lacks the right resources and structures to tackle effectively the difficult task of state-building (or, as it is popularly known, “nation building”) in the Third World.

This is not exactly a new problem. Back in July 2003 I was writing about the need for Washington to create a “Colonial Office.” That was simply a cheeky way of getting attention for the idea of boosting our nation-building capacity — to create what I later suggested should be called a Department of Peace. Whatever you call it, we need to boost our capacity to build up foreign law-enforcement and military capacity along with electricity, sewage treatment, medical care, and the myriad other tasks that states need to perform in order to enjoy legitimacy with their own citizens and control their own borders.

This isn’t a matter of do-goodism run rampant; it’s a matter of self-preservation. Because as we are now seeing in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, among others, countries lacking effective governance — especially countries of large, discontented Muslim populations — can pose a direct national-security threat to the United States. After the early setbacks in Iraq, it was generally acknowledged that there was a need to boost our capacity in this regard but remarkably little has been accomplished outside the military.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps have become much more adept at counterinsurgency since 2003, which, they have realized, includes a large nation-building element that would enable our local allies to carry on in the future with decreasing degrees of assistance from us. But the State Department, USAID, and other civilian agencies? They have shown only marginal improvements since 2003. Their capacities remain far too small and they are far too dependant on contractors of mixed reliability and worth.

A lot of this, admittedly, is not their fault; Congress deserves a fair share of the blame for not adequately funding these desperately needed capacities and for yielding to lawmakers’ knee-jerk revulsion against “nation building.” They seem to imagine that if we don’t develop these capacities we won’t be called upon to undertake missions that are never popular on the home front. Unfortunately, as events from Haiti to Yemen show, there is and will continue to be a high demand for the U.S. government to provide these services. The only choice we have is whether we will perform nation-building badly or well. We have chosen to do it badly and will continue to pay a high price if we persist in our blindness.

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Re: Re: Re: In Praise of “Disrespect”

Abe, the State Department statement in question doesn’t constitute meaningful public diplomacy for two key reasons.

First, the essence of public diplomacy is that it defends one country’s foreign policy to a foreign public as directly as possible. Yet this statement was merely posted on the State Department’s website—a very indirect mode of communication. This illustrates how the Bush administration hoped to avoid Hamas’ election: by appearing as uninvolved in shaping the outcome of the elections as possible, and thereby doing nothing to encourage Palestinians to protest U.S. involvement by electing Hamas. In this vein, the U.S. quietly gave $2 million to the Palestinian Authority for public works projects intended to boost Fatah, with the typical USAID insignia conspicuously absent.

Second, the statement is hardly explicit regarding how the election of Hamas will affect U.S.-Palestinian relations. It merely says that a group that doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist cannot participate in the peace process—a position that is logically obvious and thus hardly a meaningful statement of policy. Put another way, the threat of being excluded from the peace process wasn’t menacing to Hamas or its supporters; but the promise to cut ties with the Palestinian government if Hamas were elected would have been. Palestinians might have still elected Hamas, but they would have done so with more realistic expectations.

Among Palestinians, the cult of helpless victimhood is a dominant theme. By stating that the outcome of their elections could have consequences—which it clearly did—the Bush administration might have finally given the Palestinian people some tangible responsibility for ending the Middle East conflict. This is not disrespectful, but empowering—which was the point of pushing for elections in the first place.

Only a serious attempt at public diplomacy could explain this rationale. When we read that Muslim publics still feel “disrespected” on account of the ongoing western boycott of Hamas, it becomes clear that we have failed to communicate our policies effectively. I would argue that we’ve barely tried.

Abe, the State Department statement in question doesn’t constitute meaningful public diplomacy for two key reasons.

First, the essence of public diplomacy is that it defends one country’s foreign policy to a foreign public as directly as possible. Yet this statement was merely posted on the State Department’s website—a very indirect mode of communication. This illustrates how the Bush administration hoped to avoid Hamas’ election: by appearing as uninvolved in shaping the outcome of the elections as possible, and thereby doing nothing to encourage Palestinians to protest U.S. involvement by electing Hamas. In this vein, the U.S. quietly gave $2 million to the Palestinian Authority for public works projects intended to boost Fatah, with the typical USAID insignia conspicuously absent.

Second, the statement is hardly explicit regarding how the election of Hamas will affect U.S.-Palestinian relations. It merely says that a group that doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist cannot participate in the peace process—a position that is logically obvious and thus hardly a meaningful statement of policy. Put another way, the threat of being excluded from the peace process wasn’t menacing to Hamas or its supporters; but the promise to cut ties with the Palestinian government if Hamas were elected would have been. Palestinians might have still elected Hamas, but they would have done so with more realistic expectations.

Among Palestinians, the cult of helpless victimhood is a dominant theme. By stating that the outcome of their elections could have consequences—which it clearly did—the Bush administration might have finally given the Palestinian people some tangible responsibility for ending the Middle East conflict. This is not disrespectful, but empowering—which was the point of pushing for elections in the first place.

Only a serious attempt at public diplomacy could explain this rationale. When we read that Muslim publics still feel “disrespected” on account of the ongoing western boycott of Hamas, it becomes clear that we have failed to communicate our policies effectively. I would argue that we’ve barely tried.

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The Future of COIN

RAND has just come out with an important study of what the U.S. government needs to do to reorient itself for the challenges of waging a global counterinsurgency against Islamist radicals. (For a brief summary, click here.) The abstract lays out the problem succinctly:

“Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed serious shortfalls in the capabilities of the United States to counter insurgency in the Muslim world. Instead of relying predominantly on military occupation, the United States must become more able to bolster the ability of threatened states to win the contest for the support of their people.”

The study has many interesting recommendations for how we can redress existing shortcomings. The bottom line is that the U.S. needs more civilians and more dollars devoted to counterinsurgency. The authors write that “the United States would need to triple its total current deployed USAID staff (of about 1,500) and double its annual foreign-development aid budget (of about $25 billion)” in order to handle major counterinsurgency efforts in two mid-sized countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, while also conducting “smaller-scale preventive efforts” in several other countries.

While rightly stressing a preference for local forces doing the bulk of counterinsurgency work, the RAND study calls for American forces to be better trained and equipped for such missions in places where local assistance can’t be counted on. The study also calls for enhancing efforts at psychological operations and other aspects of information warfare, such as countering jihadist propaganda online. “In Iraq and Afghanistan,” the study finds, “needed information moves too slowly among U.S. military, intelligence, civilian, and allied units. A fixation on information security denies access to local forces and excludes the most valuable source of all, the local population. ”

The study also makes an important recommendation (long pushed by experts such as Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies) for how to reorient American strategic communications efforts: “the United States should discard ‘pro-America’ themes in favor of strengthening the image of local government, while also highlighting growing evidence that jihadists, when in power, fail utterly to provide for the material needs of ordinary people.”

Finally the study also calls for “close consideration” of some possible reorganization plans, such as the formation of a civilian agency to guide counterinsurgency efforts across the government—something I’ve been advocating for a while.

This study is by no means the final word on the subject but it is a serious, in-depth effort that deserves serious consideration from administration officials and lawmakers interested in avoiding “another Iraq.”

RAND has just come out with an important study of what the U.S. government needs to do to reorient itself for the challenges of waging a global counterinsurgency against Islamist radicals. (For a brief summary, click here.) The abstract lays out the problem succinctly:

“Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed serious shortfalls in the capabilities of the United States to counter insurgency in the Muslim world. Instead of relying predominantly on military occupation, the United States must become more able to bolster the ability of threatened states to win the contest for the support of their people.”

The study has many interesting recommendations for how we can redress existing shortcomings. The bottom line is that the U.S. needs more civilians and more dollars devoted to counterinsurgency. The authors write that “the United States would need to triple its total current deployed USAID staff (of about 1,500) and double its annual foreign-development aid budget (of about $25 billion)” in order to handle major counterinsurgency efforts in two mid-sized countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, while also conducting “smaller-scale preventive efforts” in several other countries.

While rightly stressing a preference for local forces doing the bulk of counterinsurgency work, the RAND study calls for American forces to be better trained and equipped for such missions in places where local assistance can’t be counted on. The study also calls for enhancing efforts at psychological operations and other aspects of information warfare, such as countering jihadist propaganda online. “In Iraq and Afghanistan,” the study finds, “needed information moves too slowly among U.S. military, intelligence, civilian, and allied units. A fixation on information security denies access to local forces and excludes the most valuable source of all, the local population. ”

The study also makes an important recommendation (long pushed by experts such as Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies) for how to reorient American strategic communications efforts: “the United States should discard ‘pro-America’ themes in favor of strengthening the image of local government, while also highlighting growing evidence that jihadists, when in power, fail utterly to provide for the material needs of ordinary people.”

Finally the study also calls for “close consideration” of some possible reorganization plans, such as the formation of a civilian agency to guide counterinsurgency efforts across the government—something I’ve been advocating for a while.

This study is by no means the final word on the subject but it is a serious, in-depth effort that deserves serious consideration from administration officials and lawmakers interested in avoiding “another Iraq.”

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More News from Ramadi

You don’t hear much about Anbar Province anymore. That’s because this area, once the scene of the heaviest fighting in Iraq, has turned remarkably quiet of late. Attacks are down 80 percent since last year. If there is any cause for optimism in Iraq this is it: If an area as troubled as Anbar could be turned around so quickly, then no part of Iraq can truly be said to be hopeless. Yet much hard work remains to be done to consolidate the gains that have recently been made. I asked Colonel John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, whom I visited in April, to provide an update for contentions readers on what is happening in the provincial capital, Ramadi. His emailed response follows:

Read More

You don’t hear much about Anbar Province anymore. That’s because this area, once the scene of the heaviest fighting in Iraq, has turned remarkably quiet of late. Attacks are down 80 percent since last year. If there is any cause for optimism in Iraq this is it: If an area as troubled as Anbar could be turned around so quickly, then no part of Iraq can truly be said to be hopeless. Yet much hard work remains to be done to consolidate the gains that have recently been made. I asked Colonel John Charlton, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, whom I visited in April, to provide an update for contentions readers on what is happening in the provincial capital, Ramadi. His emailed response follows:

Max,

As requested, progress report from Ramadi:

Security here in Ramadi continues to improve as the Iraqi police and army forces work daily to keep the population safe. When we arrived in February, we were averaging 30 – 35 attacks per day in our area of responsibility. Now our average is one attack per day or less. We had an entire week with no attacks in our area and have a total of over 65 days with no attacks. I attribute this success to our close relationship with the Iraqi security forces and the support those forces receive from the civilian population. The Iraqi police and army forces have uncovered hundreds of munitions caches and get intelligence tips from the local population every day.

Our biggest challenge with the Iraqi police is getting them fully equipped, paid, and consolidated in police stations. The support system that begins with the MOI [Ministry of the Interior], and extends through the provincial police chief, is still a work in progress. As a result, the Iraqi police still rely heavily on coalition logistics and support. We expect the equipment issue to improve soon, and we are working hard to get their logistics and command and control systems in place. One thing that is not lacking is the courage and the dedication of the Iraqi police in al Anbar. For them, this fight is personal. They know that al Qaeda is targeting them, their families and their tribes.

Some of our most recent successes have been in the areas of reconstruction and governance. The city government didn’t exist before April of this year, but has grown steadily over the past few months, and is now providing essential services to the population. In areas that were battlefields only a few months ago, city electrical employees are now repairing transformers and power lines. Sanitation workers are fixing sewer leaks caused by hundreds of buried IED’s [improvised explosive devices]. The Iraqis now have repaired the electrical grid in about 80 percent of the city and about 50 percent of the rubble has been removed. We expect to have all rubble removed in the next 90 – 120 days, which will allow for many parts of the city to start rebuilding.

We now have our Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (EPRT) and they are working hard to help build the municipal government in Ramadi. The EPRT is composed of personnel from the U.S. State Department, USAID, and other experts in various areas of government. We have partnered the EPRT with officials from the municipal government in much the same way that we partner Soldiers and Marines with Iraqi police. The EPRT works every day with the city government helping them with budgeting, planning, and delivering services to the public. The EPRT is a critical capability that we never had before, and I’m confident that it is going to make a big difference in building stability here in Ramadi.

We have been working closely with the chief judge of the province to rebuild the judicial system in Ramadi and throughout al Anbar province. Four months ago, there were no attorneys, judges, or investigators because of the threat from al Qaeda. Now that we have greatly increased security, these legal professionals are coming forward, and we are helping them reestablish the rule of law. Investigative judges are reviewing case files for prisoners in Iraqi jails. They have released many of these prisoners because of lack of evidence, but have also prepared over 100 files for prosecution. We established a detectives course in our police training center to help the Iraqi police do better investigations and evidence collection. We expect to have criminal courts beginning here in Ramadi in August—pretty good progress considering there was no rule of law here four months ago.

We are also making good progress on economic development by focusing on low-level economic stimulation. Once we had completed our large-scale offensive operations in February and March, we realized we needed to provide a massive and quick economic stimulus in order to stabilize the communities within the city. Because of the fighting in the city, the economy was in ruins, and it was clear that it would take some time to get businesses back in operation. We started day labor programs throughout the city to help clear trash and rubble, as well as provide an economic shot-in-the-arm to these devastated communities. These day-labor programs were all planned and executed by company commanders, and their effect was dramatic. We have funneled over $5 million in aid to these programs and have employed over 15,000 Iraqis. All this happened in about three months. This decentralized economic development program only used about 10 percent of my reconstruction funds, but has accounted for over 70 percent of new employment in Ramadi. These programs have cleaned neighborhoods, uncovered caches of munitions, and have restored hope and pride to the citizens of Ramadi.

We have joined efforts with organizations like the Iraqi/American Chamber of Commerce (IACC) to help revitalize small business in Ramadi. Company commanders went through every neighborhood and conducted assessments on all small businesses so we could help jump-start the small business grant program. We collected over 500 assessments, which helped the IACC begin its grant operations. This is the same technique we use with all non-military organizations—we use our presence in the city and access to the population to facilitate their operations. Revitalizing small businesses in Ramadi will lead to more stable communities, which helps us maintain overall security in the area.

We have a great relationship with another non-governmental organization called International Relief and Development (IRD). IRD focuses on programs for community stabilization just like we do, and it provides help in ways the military can’t. For example, IRD helped us fund a city-wide soccer league, providing equipment and uniforms to hundreds of young Iraqis. The organization has also helped us form women’s outreach groups that focus on adult literacy, health, and education issues. Forming relationships with NGOs like IRD is essential in a counterinsurgency campaign, and complements our efforts to improve security.

I’ve mentioned several times our focus on stabilizing communities, and I believe this is a fundamental aspect of a successful counterinsurgency campaign. Counterinsurgencies are fought neighborhood by neighborhood with the focus on protecting the population and improving conditions in the community. After clearing an area of terrorists (we do this by conducting large-scale offensive operations), our focus shifts to establishing a permanent security presence with coalition forces and ISF. That is the purpose of the Joint Security Station (JSS). The JSS helps secure and stabilize a community by proving an overt security presence, which establishes a perception of security in the minds of the population. Once they feel safe, they begin to provide intelligence to the police, and security improves steadily. This also helps insulate the community from terrorist attempts to move back into the neighborhood. We then shift our focus on non-lethal efforts to stabilize the community. This is done through day-labor programs, small business development, engagement with local sheikhs and Imams and information operations focused on the community.

Despite all the progress we have made with the Iraqis here in Ramadi, the area remains very dangerous. We recently received intelligence reports that terrorists were attempting to stage attacks from an area south of the city. We increased our offensive operations in that area and made contact with a large group of al Qaeda terrorists that were attempting to infiltrate into Ramadi. There were about 50 well-equipped and well-trained terrorists who were moving toward the city in two large trucks. They all had new equipment, weapons, and explosive belts. Their targets were the tribal leaders in Ramadi (we know this from propaganda videos taken off the terrorists). We attacked these terrorists using ground forces and attack helicopters, resulting in 40 enemy killed and three captured. If this force had made it into the city, it would have been a tremendous victory for al Qaeda. We successfully defeated their attack, but we know they will try again in the future. We continue to receive truck bomb attacks, but have been successful in keeping them out of the city and other populated areas. Al Qaeda has not given up on their desire to retake Ramadi and al Anbar, so we can’t let up in our efforts to stop them. The good news is that the people of al Anbar and Ramadi are united in their stand against al Qaeda.

Rock of the Marne!
John W. Charlton
COL, Infantry Commanding Camp
Ar Ramadi, Iraq

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