Obama Budget Proposal includes Diplomacy and Assistance Cuts for FY2012, While Congress Continues Work on Cuts for This Year [Updated]

It seems that the Obama administration by leading with a budget proposal that recommends modest cuts, is laying the groundwork for negotiations with Republicans in Congress over somewhat bigger cuts at the end of the day, if in fact a budget is to be passed and signed into law for the new fiscal year. In the big picture, the overall goal of rebuilding USAID and generally elevating Diplomacy and Development as part of an overall “national security strategy” is at least deferred until some years down the road when the fiscal tradeoffs might seem easier or less politically expensive. On the other hand, we see here “American incrementalism” at its finest on both sides. We don’t spend a lot on foreign assistance, relatively speaking now, and we will keep doing most of things we are doing now in the same basic way we are doing them, with a very few programs eliminated and overall budgets squeezed some.

Regarding the current fiscal year, now almost half over, Josh Rogin writes at The Cable blog at Foreign Policy:

Of course, nobody knows what the fiscal 2011 funding levels will be, because congressional Democrats failed to pass an appropriations bill before the fiscal year began on Oct. 1. The House Republican leadership released its overall allocations for the next CR on Feb. 11, which would provide a total of $44.9 billion for the State Department and foreign operations for fiscal 2011.

A news release by House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-Texas) praised the $44.9 billion number and said it was a reduction of $3.8 billion, or 8 percent from total 2010 appropriations and a reduction of $11.7 billion, or 21 percent, from the president’s 2011 budget request. Granger and GOP congressional leaders are promising to cut Obama’s 2012 request even further.

“The reductions made to my section of the bill are a good start. As long as I am Chairwoman of the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, I will ensure that our foreign aid is not used as a stimulus bill for foreign countries. This bill is about our national security and the funding levels reflect that,” Granger’s statement read.

The new continuing resolution still has a long way to go before it becomes law. But if enacted as the House GOP leadership wants, it would slash U.S. funding for international financial institutions, eliminate U.S. contributions to several international funds, and cut allocations for global health and childhood survival programs by $784 million compared with fiscal 2010. USAID would also face a $121 million cut to its operating budget as compared with fiscal 2010 under the current House GOP plan.

Funding for international financial institutions was hit especially hard in the GOP bill, with a cut of $892 million from fiscal year 2010 levels. Funding for global health and childhood survival programs also took a hit, losing $784 million compared with 2010.

“Targeted cuts to the bill were partially made by rescinding funds from appropriations that remain unspent, freezing federal employee pay raises at the State Department, not funding programs that require authorizations, scaling back contributions to the United Nations and other international organizations, and eliminating wasteful, duplicative and ineffective programs,” Granger said.

The lawmakers proposed keeping aid to Egypt and Israel intact. However, the continuing resolution would cut off foreign aid to the Lebanese armed forces unless Secretary of State Hillary Clinton certifies such funding is in the United States’ national security interest.

Update: Here is the link from today’s special briefing on the State Department’s 2012 Budget Request with Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides.. One of the more interesting things here is the innovation of splitting the State Department budget into a $47B “core budget” and “[f]or the first time, OMB is presenting our war funding as they do with the Department of Defense, in a separate account called OCO, Overseas Contingency Operations. This will allow for a full transparency and a unified approach for the costs we believe are not part of our core budget. The State and USAID OCO request for 2012 is $8.7 billion . . . “

Millennium Challenge Corporation releases country scores for FY 2011 eligibility determinations

The MCC Board is to make decisions on eligibility of individual countries for Compact or Threshold status on December 15. The MCC uses 17 indicators in three categories to rate the performance of eligible countries against their peers as a key input in the selection process. Here are links to the scorecards for East Africa and the overall "Scorebook" with more information.

Kenya Scorecard

Uganda

Rwanda

Ethiopia

Tanzania

MCC 2011 Scorebook

Congressman continues to probe USAID political spending on Kenyan referendum

A pro-life news service has comments from Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) indicating that he remains dissatisfied after the Inspector General’s review of spending by USAID on the Kenyan referendum.Apparently USAID did not include on a timely basis the contract clause barring use of US Government funds for lobbying or advocacy of abortion in its contracts with democracy support NGOs and others working in relation to the Referendum.

The Obama administration has repeatedly come under fire from pro-life Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who leads the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.

Smith has been concerned about a USAID report indicating the Obama administration spent $61.2 million related to the vote on the August vote on the new Kenya constitution. The report shows 12.6 million going to efforts to directly promote the pro-abortion constitution.

The constitution Kenyans adopted contained a clause making it so abortions would be legalized in any case in which medical professionals say it is somehow necessary for women.

As a result, the funding of groups promoting it appears to violate the Siljander Amendment — a federal law Congress approved decades ago that prevents the federal government from spending taxpayer funds promoting abortions in other nations.

Before the mid-term elections, Congressman Smith told LifeNews.com one of the consequences of Republicans taking over the House is the ability of pro-life advocates leading committees and subcommittees to the their powers to hold the Obama administration accountable on subject like this. He said the “investigatory and subpoena powers” the committees have would be useful in following up on the question of whether the Obama administration broke the law in funding the pro-constitution and pro-abortion groups.

Last week, he said the elections resulted in the victory of many new pro-life lawmakers who can support a potential investigation.

I have written previously that it is hard for me to see illegal lobbying for abortion in supporting the Kenyan constitution, but I have also noted that the Inspector General’s report indicates non-neutral spending to advocate for a “Yes” vote on the referendum. Aside from the disputed abortion language, this means that we did arguably interfere in the campaign and that we were, at best, less than straightforward about it. Congress should exercise its oversight authority to make sure that the American people do know what our government did in both the referendum campaign and in the 2007 presidential campaign.

Transparency is much needed in Kenya, and we need to teach by example rather than contradicting ourselves through our own practices.

“The President’s New Development Policy”–It’s Anti-Socialist, so can Republicans Find Common Ground?

 

I’m overdue to write more about President Obama’s “new development policy”, following my participation in a “bloggers’ roundtable” on the subject at the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

There are lots of people with much more knowledge and experience writing well about this, including especially at the Center for Global Development on my blogroll. “Value added” from me here might be to emphasize that the President has embraced notions of aid effectiveness, prioritization and bi-lateral relationships, as well as focus on private sector growth as THE way to reduce poverty, as reflected in the operating model of the Millennium Challenge Corporation. In other words, Obama has taken an experimental innovation from the G.W. Bush administration and sought to apply this as a policy framework across the broader scope of foreign aid in general.

This leads us to an interesting insight from a piece in The Root last week, “How Barack Obama became a Republican”: Obama can best be understood as an old fashioned establishment Republican–a “Mastodon” if you will–with policies largely what one would have seen from a Gerald Ford confronted with similar circumstances. This is a more conservative era, and Obama’s new development approach is more narrowly market focused presumably than what you would expect from a Nixon or Ford, but I think in broad terms this observation makes sense. Granted that the President doesn’t LOOK that much like Gerald Ford, but policy-wise I do think this is a better template than the Dinesh D’Souza “Luo tribesman”.

Of course, many in the right within the GOP have always hated moderate or liberal Republicans with a special passion–and post-midterms many in the “Tea Party” are itching to carry on the fight after eclipsing dealmaking “Reagan Republicans” like Trent Lott and other more center-right figures. I am not sure why we should assume that these are not people who are fully serious about “ending not mending” foreign assistance.

The conventional discourse has been about how, not whether to address poverty. Perhaps this is now a question that is no longer a given. At some level, poverty is just an extreme case of inequality. Perhaps we now embrace inequality as reflected in Nicholas Kristof’s latest: “Our Banana Republic”. Are there “Reagan Republicans” left who will deal with the Democrats and Obama for a more “conservative” or “right looking” foreign assistance program, or will they be cowed by the fear of primary challenges to come?

 

Obama, the Midterms and Africa–some thoughts from the hinterlands

G. Pascal Zachary has a very interesting take at Africa Works on the possible impact of the US midterm elections for Africa: “For Africans, an Obama defeat at polls can bring help”:

For Africa, an Obama presidency has been a disappointment. Rather than pay attention to the sub-Saharan because of his Kenyan heritage, Barack Obama has gone the other way: giving less attention to Africa than any other region of the world. Partly Obama’s inattention to African affairs reflects the crises of his presidency. Urgent problems are elsewhere. But the situation may be about to change and because of an unlikely reason: the defeat of Obama’s Democratic Party allies in Congress.

Next Tuesday’s polls could deliver a big setback to Obama: loss of control by the Democrats of at least one house of Congress. With the Republicans back in command, Obama will face new pressure on his administration to intervene directly in African affairs, and in ways the president has so far avoided.

A glimpse of the future direction of U.S. policy towards Africa can be seen by looking backwards — to the policies of former President George Bush. For complex reasons, the Bush administration engineered an increase in financial assistance to Africa, chiefly in the form of an enormous outlay — an estimated $80 billion over 10 years — to cover the cost of treating Africans with HIV-AIDs. In addition, President Bush engineered a peace deal in Sudan that effectively brought an end to one of the region’s oldest civil wars.

Much of the impetus for Bush’s activism in Africa came from the Christian right, which saw the Sudanese conflict through the prism of religious freedom; the conflict to Republicans was between a militant Islam and a persecuted Christian minority. Evangelicals flocked to the defense of south Sudan and, even now, are among the loudest advocates for legal partition of the country — and a more muscular U.S. role in overseeing a planned election next year that could lead to the creation of Africa’s newest nation.

Obama’s studied restraint towards African issues has permitted him to ignore the liberal wing of his own Democratic party, which would like his administration to push Sudan on the thorny question of the Darfur region as well as the country’s Christian south. With Republicans in control of the House, for instance, pressure for dramatic action will grow.

Nigeria is another large, troubled country that Obama has essentially ignored but his critics say he has done so to the detriment of long-term U.S. interests. Nigeria is the fifth largest source of foreign oil for the U.S., and the country of origin for the largest group of African immigrants in America. As most populous country in Africa, Nigeria has an economic weight that warrants American attention. But the country also contains the largest number of Muslims in any African country. And one of those Muslims last December was caught trying to blow up a plane, raising the profile of militant Islamic groups in Nigeria — and their potential connections with anti-American factions throughout the Muslim world.

President Obama has done little thinking about how to support the progessive in Nigeria. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has repeatedly warned that Nigeria’s government is dangerously derelict, but she’s offered no concrete proposals on aidiing the country, whose presidential election is only months away.

Thus, the possibility exists that Obama will face two African crises — in Sudan and Nigeria — and a Congress who wants his administration to take an active role in engaging the continent. Africans, frustrated privately with the president’s lack of attention to their region, likely will welcome a new approach, even if the approach comes in the wake of Obama’s political retreat.

While what Zachary says is accurate as far as it goes, it seems to me that African expectations for Obama were always misplaced and failed to account for both Obama’s main focus as a politician and the realities of the American political system and the American electorate.

In particular, in Kenya, I never thought that Obama’s decision to make a quick visit to Ghana rather than to Kenya should be seen so much as a criticism of Kenya’s political failings as a reflection of Obama’s needs as President of the US. Obama has been under vigorous, and quite effective, attack since the early part of his campaign from the right in the US for being too “Kenyan” and too much associated with Islam–and of course as actually both Kenyan and Muslim rather than American and Christian. This has only gotten worse as it has crawled out of the e-mail networks and blogosphere and into open discussion by current and former elected officials, the cover of Forbes and Glenn Beck. A state visit to Kenya with a riotous outpouring of welcome from Kenyans has always been the last thing he has needed in America, and has become more and more politically untenable as his popularity has slipped.

Beyond that, while Obama obviously has a personal connection to his African heritage, it has simply not been a big part of his direction as a politician. In general, Obama has been more involved and identified with domestic issues, working as a “community” poverty activist in Chicago and then going to law school to come back to Chicago to go into politics there. He was an American law professor teaching US Constitutional law and a lawyer working in civil rights areas. Aside from having little record in foreign policy in general, he did not chose to spend any length of time visiting, much less living, in Kenya or anywhere else in Africa.

There are a lot of American politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, who have been more engaged over a period of years in African affairs and American policy in Africa. Even though his first foray into politics was in speaking in favor of divestment as a tool against South African apartheid as a student at Columbia this was not a deep engagement or a primary path he followed subsequently. Continue reading

Election Observation–Diplomacy or Assistance?

At the suggestion of a Kenyan blogger active in democracy issues whom I have long followed and admired, I am going to raise some discussion here about the funding of election observations, who “pays the piper” and how that may matter in practice from my experience.

This will be an ongoing process and I will appreciate any feedback and discussion. One of the things that makes this difficult for me is that I submitted complaints about how the U.S. Ambassador interacted with the 2007 Kenyan Election Observation and Exit Poll programs that I was managing for IRI with USAID funding to the “hotlines” for the Inspectors General of the State Department and USAID, but no substantive action resulted and much of what I have been concerned about has not seen print anywhere. And the same Ambassador is still running my country’s governmental presence in Kenya. So, given that my reason and intention for going to Kenya and getting involved in these things was to be helpful (to Kenyans) what is helpful to say now, recognizing that the past cannot be undone?

Let me start by fleshing out a distinction between types of observations: “diplomatic” observations and “assistance” observations. The goal of a diplomat of course is to represent his country and advance its interests as determined by policy makers. On the other hand, the immediate goal of “foreign assistance”, including “democracy promotion” or “democracy support” is presumably to help others, even though this may be done for any number of reasons involving self-interest. The fundamental problem we had with the IRI observation for Kenya in 2007 was that the Ambassador viewed the observation as a direct part of his endeavors as the controlling diplomat for the U.S. in Kenya in the lead up to the election, whereas IRI, prior to the election, viewed the effort as within an established practice for observations conducted by non-governmental organizations, with funding provided as a matter of foreign assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development. IRI, like NDI and the Carter Center, is party to a formal international agreement and accompanying code of conduct governing international election observation missions which is intended to provide for independence and objectivity.

It is important not to underestimate the significance of the reorganization of U.S. foreign assistance during the Clinton and Bush Administration, and now continued under the Obama Administration, which places USAID directly inside the State Department [for budget and planning purposes rather than as a matter of formal structure]. As a matter of bureaucratic and political reality, this may make any clear distinction between diplomacy and assistance impossible, especially in the field where an ambassador has largely unchecked powers. When you are dealing with feeding people, or providing health care or regular security training, for example, there may not be immediate tension once you set priorities in allocating resources, but in the case of an election observation mission, you are either committed to the election process in a neutral and objective way or you are not. So if people in the State Department at the level of Ambassador or higher, have the view that diplomatic interests are served by things other than strict neutrality and objectivity in an election campaign, and the State Department controls foreign assistance programs through USAID that provide election support, then as a practical matter there will be tension unless the Ambassador is truly committed to “playing by the rules”.

In Kenya in 2007 the Ambassador was directly sending out large numbers of U.S. government employees as “observers” of the election. I had been warned by USAID staff that the Ambassador considered the IRI international observation mission to be essentially part of his program, to my surprise. Subsequently he told me this was his view himself on one of his after hours cell calls to me to try to micromanage the selection of election observation delegates. Further to my surprise, I was told that higher levels of management at USAID were not in agreement with IRI on our need for independence.

This leads into discussion of another distinction: “national” versus “international”. IRI is a U.S. organization which gets almost all its funding from a combination of the State Department (including USAID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), and works internationally. Notionally, IRI is a “core institution” established under NED, along with its sister organizations NDI, CIPE (the Center for International Private Enterprise, affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and the Solidarity Center (affiliated with the AFL-CIO union organization), but the lion’s share of the overall dollars now come from the State Department rather than from NED. For election observations, IRI will normally include non-U.S. delegates. In the case of Kenya in 2007 there were no other NGOs working internationally that had formal election observation missions to my knowledge, but there were a variety of African organizations, and there was an international observation mission from the Commonwealth. The EU is something of a special case. The EU of course is regional and inter-governmental, but operates an election observation program with professional staffing and that is intended to operate independently.

Backing up a bit to give more context, when I arrived in Kenya at the beginning of June 2007, USAID had no plans for an election observation mission for Kenya–likewise, IRI’s Washington office did not have any desire to seek one. The Ambassador told me early on that he wanted one, and had a list of people he had in mind as delegates, but there was still no plan from USAID to fund it until later when USAID said they would “move heaven and earth” to try to meet the Ambassador’s wishes. On the last day of the fiscal year (September 30) a request for proposals was released by USAID to CEPPS, a consortium of IRI, NDI and IFES, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Both NDI and IFES were also already doing USAID work in Kenya for the elections, but the RFP was clearly written in such a way that it was intended for IRI rather than NDI or IFES. A small amount of money had apparently been found for the effort ($270,000) as opposed to several million that the EU spent for their observation. The RFP proposed an international election observation mission with USAID’s involvement to be the approval of the observing organization’s “key personnel”, specified as the chief delegate. Examples of other suggested delegates were given to correspond to the Ambassador’s list, but there was no contractual assertion of a right of government approval except as to the one position.

The Ambassador wanted the lead delegate to be either Connie Newman or Chester Crocker, both former Assistant Secretaries of State for African Affairs with whom he had worked closely. IRI invited both–Crocker declined due to a conflict and Newman, also an IRI board member, accepted. Nonetheless, it was IRI’s position that it was not appropriate for USAID to claim a contractual approval right over the selection of the head of the observation delegation, as opposed to IRI’s own staff. IRI submitted me and the IRI Vice President from Washington that would be the senior IRI staff person coming for the election instead, but USAID refused to accept this. As of the time of the election this was a standoff that had never been formally resolved.

The more substantive dispute was over former Ambassador to Kenya Mark Bellamy. When I mentioned Bellamy in one of the Ambassador’s calls to me regarding the delegates, he said Bellamy would be a bad choice because he was perceived as “anti-government” (i.e., critical of the Kibaki administration). Ultimately when Ranneberger got what was intended to be our final delegate list (I faxed it to him at USAID’s request two weeks before the election) he called me and gave me the full “treatment” to get Bellamy dropped, including saying that he would cancel the funding for the observation otherwise. When I passed this along to my office in Washington, IRI’s president called Jendayi Frazer on his way to the airport for a trip to Thailand over Christmas and then called the Ambassador when he got there. I got the message back that it was agreed that we would nix Bellamy but that I was to accept “no more b.s.” from the Ambassador.

In a nutshell, it was my understanding that there was complete agreement between myself and the senior IRI leadership in Washington going into the election that it was essential that we actively resist further intrusion by the Ambassador on our independence–with a common recognition that the Ambassador was attempting to involve us in things that we could not agree to. Unfortunately, once Ms. Newman arrived in Nairobi the weekend before the election she was the ranking person as an IRI board member as well as retired senior diplomat and the plans to make sure she kept her distance from the Ambassador were not effectuated and it was obvious that she was closely collaborating with him.

There was clear recognition within IRI of the need to maintain independence of the election observation function from the Ambassador’s other agenda, and a clearly expressed intention to do what needed to be done–but we failed. On balance, I don’t think we made the situation worse than it would have been if we had not done an observation at all, but we failed to help and thus wasted some money and a lot of hard work, and as Alex Halperin wrote in Slate in the first story published on our exit poll results, missed an opportunity to advance the interests of democracy.

So the lesson learned from the U.S. perspective should be, in my opinion, that U.S. policy makers need to make clear choices about whether to have “assistance” observations or “diplomatic” observations and recognize that allowing an Ambassador to call the shots makes an observation a diplomatic exercise rather than a bona-fide assistance program. There are in fact rules and regulations that are intended not to allow the Ambassador to override the process, but we have the same Ambassador getting into controversy about election assistance two years later in a new administration, so obviously the problem has not been given a high priority.

[Regarding the Slate article, I had been instructed by our press secretary in Washington not to return Mr. Halperin’s call on the exit poll, but he caught me on the cell on January 2 during the post-election violence and I said that I couldn’t confirm or deny the two reports he had regarding the results of the exit poll. He asked why we would do an exit poll and not release it and I explained that the poll included a great deal of information besides the presidential election results that was part of research that would be published so he should not assume we were trying to hide anything. (My superior in Washington later e-mailed that UCSD would not be able to publish the results under the circumstances, but they did go ahead anyway after the expiration of IRI’s six month exclusive right of publicity, as discussed in the NYTimes coverage.) I e-mailed Washington to report the conversation and noted the irony that when the story hit I was the one who was identified in the international media in defense of a decision that I disagreed with in not releasing the preliminary presidential results, or even making any statement at all about what our plans and intentions were in regard to the exit poll. A Kenyan blogger wrote that I should be subpoenaed to force IRI to disclose the results. ]