On December 5th, 2013 – NDN’s Middle East and North Africa Initiative hosted a discussion with Rep. Adam Smith, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee. Topics covered include economic and diplomatic engagement, Iran, Egypt, Syria, military aid, and a broader regional strategy. Full video of the event is available below.
As part of the agreement to re-open the government, the House and Senate have finally agreed to form a budget conference committee and pass actual appropriations bills for the next fiscal year. While the top-line funding numbers are important, the details of how the foreign affairs budget is reconciled are also critical. The foreign operations bill provides funding for nearly all of the non-defense functions of U.S. foreign engagement. The need for American leadership is as urgent as ever, but the version that came out of the House Committee earlier this year made deep and dangerous cuts to our diplomatic toolkit while sequestration is systematically starving key programs. Legislators who understand the vital role of American leadership need to fight hard for robust and funding in the coming weeks and months as critical accounts like the Middle East Partnership Initiative and the MENA Incentive Fund hang in the balance.
Programs like these need to be protected and grown because they represent the best and most effective approaches to international support. We need to be doubling down on region-wide and flexible mechanisms that leverage partnerships with NGOs and the private sector in order to help our policy become less reactionary, invest in long-term U.S. interests, and help build up the capacity of populations through health, education, economic growth, and active civil society.
This type of assistance is not simply foreign charity; it is a vital component of American leadership and economic growth. Then- Secretary Clinton laid out the basic ingredients earlier this year, encouraging governments to “ view civil society not as a threat but as an asset. A genuine democracy is like a three-legged stool. One leg is responsive, accountable government; the second leg a dynamic, job-creating private sector; and the third leg is a robust and vibrant civil society.” The U.S. has the tools and expertise to help developing countries construct this three-legged stool, but our diplomats and partners can’t do that work while being forced into robbing Peter to pay Paul. The importance of maintaining a strong defense is without questions, but the country is weaker if we allow our military to be our primary actor on the global stage. If we wish to see a world comprised of more modern, inclusive, and open countries – we need to invest in strategy designed to do just that.
Too many politicians believe their constituents are too shortsighted or un-engaged to see the value of these investments, but that is simply not the case. After hearing that foreign assistance makes up merely 1% of the Federal budget, only 24% of Americans believe we spend too much while 36% believe that we don’t spend enough. With another 30% saying that 1% is about right, the last thing we should be doing is cutting back. The Better World Campaign recently commissioned a nationwide survey finding that over 85% of Americans support funding programs which help women and girls in foreign countries achieve better health, education, and economic opportunity as well as being overwhelmingly supportive of efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger around the world. When it comes to fully funding the foreign operations budget, politicians have a much easier case to make than many of them think.
 Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State (Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society 2012 Summit, Washington DC: US Department of State)
 Kaiser Family Foundation Survey. May 2012
“Where we missed an opportunity over the past year and a half in dealing with Egypt is not that we supported the wrong people, but that we missed an opportunity to support institutions and to really apply pressure where we had it,” said Bradley Bosserman, director of the Middle East and North Africa initiative at the New Policy Institute.
“We need be much more outspoken going forward to make sure that there’s actual, legitimate processes and institutions for people to voice their opinion. We can do all of that while recognizing that the Egyptian people are going to vote for who they want,” he said.
Bosserman said Congress is part of the problem. He said Obama laid out a path forward for the Middle East in his 2009 Cairo speech but failed to follow through with specific incentives, in part because Congress has blocked efforts to approve his $770 million incentive fund designed to advance democratic and economic reforms in Arab Spring countries.
Read the full article here
Bradley Bosserman hosted an interactive webcast on framing a more robust Middle East strategy. This previously unpublished briefing deck highlights some of the latest market research and polling from the United States and abroad, detailing political opportunities and framing mechanics that can successfully support a strategy of broader economic engagement with the Middle East and North Africa.
I published an essay today analyzing the pockets of resistance to Chuck Hagel’s nomination to serve as Secretary of Defense. Later this week he will make his case to his former colleagues on the Hill while a handful of shadowy groups make big ad buys attempting to smear him. In this essay, which originally appeared at PolicyMic, I tackle some of the context.
Long-time Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is set to testify before his former colleagues this week in order to secure their consent to serve as President Obama’s new secretary of defense. Despite Hagel’s long tenure as a respected voice on national security issues and his credentials as a decorated war hero, his nomination has not been without controversy. Shortly after his name was leaked, he was attacked for being insufficiently supportive of Israel, too soft on Iran, and too supportive of constraining the defense budget.
The Israel hawks on the Democratic side of the aisle are likely to fall in line after Senator Schumer offered his seal of approval and AIPAC decided to take a back seat. But some Republicans — both naked partisans and neoconservative ideologues — have decided to saddle up and go to war over Hagel’s nomination.
A shadowy but well heeled group called Americans for a Strong Defense has recently been formed and has declared their intention to make a major ad buy in at least five states indicting Hagel’s “out-of-the-mainstream” views and calling on the Senators in those states to reject his nomination. Hagel’s views, though, are eminently mainstream, as judged by the opinions of both the public and the foreign affairs establishment. What’s really happening is that opposition is coming largely from a small but vocal group of right-wing neoconservatives, whose rise and subsequent fall after the last Bush administration have left them terrified of becoming permanently marginalized.
Polling indicates that a plurality of Americans believe that the current level and nature of U.S. support for Israel is appropriate. Hagel’s reticence about pursuing an unnecessary military confrontation with Iran is a view shared by the American people in addition to the Israeli defense and intelligence community. And as for the defense budget? The public, the Joint Chiefs, and the majority of the foreign policy establishment all publicly share his and the president’s opinion that real and reasonable reductions in the growth of Pentagon spending can be achieved without compromising U.S. national security.
In many ways, the most bipartisan and popular foreign policy position in America today is support for Obama’s campaign to unwind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a patent rejection of the two enterprises which now stand as the most high-profile symbols of modern neoconservative adventurism. The attacks on Chuck Hagel are not coming from people who believe he is outside of the mainstream. They are coming from neocons who fear that his nomination lays bare the shortsightedness of their neoconservative ideology and threatens their monopoly on defining strong national security strategy. It is Americans for a Strong Defense who are now outside the mainstream, not Chuck Hagel. And they are absolutely terrified of obsolescence.
Bradley Bosserman is a foreign policy analyst at NDN and the New Policy Institute where he Directs the Middle East and North Africa Initiative. He lives on twitter as @BradEEB
I appeared on Mike Sacks’ show this morning to discuss the Congressional hearings investigating the Benghazi consulate attack. I think these closed-door hearings are a good idea and should be used as an opportunity to analyze the bureaucratic and strategic decisions that were made in the days and months prior to the attack, in hopes of improving our processes. If mistakes were made, they should be addressed in a forthright and non-political way. Though Congress has often chosen to abrogate its foreign policy oversight functions, I welcome the renewed interest as long as its constructive and policy-driven. While there is always a desire by the press to know more details, much of the substance of these hearings will center on or involve diplomatic security procedures, military and intelligence assets, ongoing counter-terrorism operations, and covert actions. These are all topics that are classified for very good reason, and should remain behind closed doors. I’ll also note that front-line diplomatic work in unstable environments is inherently dangerous. Our diplomats understand that. And while we have a responsibility to take all reasonable security precautions, the fact that something horrible happened does not necessarily mean that someone screwed up.
Click the image below to view the segment.
It was very disappointing to read the letter sent to House leadership by Rep. Joe Walsh and 34 other Republican Congressmen encouraging the withdrawal of financial support from the nascent democracy in Egypt. While it is prudent to rebalance American aid in favor of development rather than arms, this rush to abandon an entire people because of the historical affiliation of their freely elected president is exactly the type of reactionary, short-sighted policy that the U.S. needs to avoid. Millions of people throughout the Middle East and North Africa have been inspired to finally throw off the shackles of authoritarianism, and American policymakers need to step up as partners and judge these new leaders by their actions instead of vague statements and innuendo.
Withdrawing funding would have very real, negative effects on U.S. relations with these young governments, and these Congressional critics seem inclined to pull that plug based not on any actual policy decisions that Morsi has made, but merely on some hypothetical scenario.
If Rep. Walsh and his colleagues believe in the democratic system, they have to trust that empowering individuals through the democratic process — along with taking steps to promote the development of civil society and economic growth — is the only path that will lead to a stable and prosperous Middle East.
Rep. Walsh correctly identified the stakes, even while coming to the wrong conclusion. He suggests that the newly-elected President Morsi “favors normalizing relations with Iran, including expanding areas of political and economic cooperation in order to create a balance of pressure in the region.” The question is, would the withdrawal of American support and partnership make it more or less likely that the Egyptian government would be driven to embrace Iran? The Arab Spring has created a powerful window of opportunity for America as new governments and young Arabs are reassessing their relationships to the West, but if Congress chooses to close their door and leave them out in the cold — governments like Iran, Russia, and China will be more than happy to welcome them in. If this group of Congressmen truly believes in promoting American interests in the region, the policy they are advocating is exactly backwards.