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May 08, 2005

Help State Help the Army
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

This past week, the House and -Senate agreed to the FY 2005 SUPPLEMENTAL CONFERENCE REPORT.

The final bill provides nearly $76 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The funding for the State Department's new office for the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization ended up a disappointing $7.7 million, down from an initial request of $17 million. The final bill also funds international peacekeeping activities at $680 million, $100 million less than the President's request of $780 million. See a final summary on the appropriations website.

From these numbers, its obvious that most Members of Congress don't see foreign policy and defense as integrated concepts yet, despite all of our post Cold War experiences illustrating that they are. The need for a reconfigured division of labor in our national security apparatus should be obvious to any elected leader who is paying attention to the news for the past three years or even talking to a few returned soldiers back home in the district.

Creating a fully coordinated capacity for reconstruction and stabilization is perhaps the single most important step our government could take to lessen the load of our beleagured armed forces. In order to do this collaboration, we need parallel structures in Defense and State –which we don't have. Yet Congress allocates chump change to that end when it comes to setting priorities in the budgeting process. 

The under funding of capacity for civilian stabilization and reconstruction presents one of those moments when we all need to remind ourselves that there is no such thing as the word "should" on on Capitol Hill.  How could this have happened?

1. The Administration didn't really go to bat for the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization. The White House could have rounded up the full funding with one or two phone calls to the Hill.

2. Which leads me to suspect that recent proclamations in support of democracy as a sort of new Grand Strategy is passive, not active. In other words, nobody actively disagrees, but there is no active nor identifiable political constituency to push it through.  Congress follows the path of least resistance and without strong support from the Executive Branch, it gets triaged out.

3. The people with the best stories to tell about the vastly changed needs on the ground. i.e. the Army and Marine Corps. are not political advocates.  They also don't have relationships with the progressive members of Congress who would take up this cause and fight for it.  Until recently, there has been no real concerted education effort to bring Congress--much less the progressives-- up to speed and to help them be effective on content and message.

4. Congress (Members and staff) are skeptical of new offices/bureaucracies in general, nothing personal against S/CRS. Most Members and staff know very little about post conflict reconstruction and many are generally anti-participation. (Yes, despite the fact that our Army is doing it anyway!)

5. There is resistance within State to S/CRS, and that resistance is known to Congress, thus inhibiting support.  This is partly territorial, partly resource protection, partly skepticism that S/CRS can do anything worthwhile.

There are some pieces of legislation floating around Congress right now that address the problem of civilian capacity. Senators Lugar and Biden have reintroduced their bill.  In the House, David Dreier (CA) (formerly only lukewarm on the issue) has introduced another. Here is a list of all the initiatives ongoing. My favorite comprehensive package is  Lynn Woolsey's (CA), bill called SMART  security.

One key challenge at the moment is to build a much broader citizen-based political constituency for conflict resolution in foreign policy.  This must happen before Congress will truly respond to the pressing need for change. Maybe the first step would be to make yellow ribbonbumper stickers that say "we support our troops AND our diplomats."


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For anyone who misses it, a May 9 Times editorial looks at cuts in US to Palestinian funding here

Perhaps not techincally a post-conflict or failed state, it makes sense to look at Palestine as one, especially the refugee camps. Regardless of the final status, meeting human needs, promoting transparent government and working toward economic stability would be useful.

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