Back to the Budget

June 20, 2011 By Mac Stoddard

Both houses of Congress are in session this week as negotiations over a long-term spending agreement intensify. Vice President Biden’s bipartisan budget working group meets three times this week, with an additional meeting possibly on Friday. Negotiators would like to reach a deal by the end of next week in order to have enough time to present the deal to members of Congress and pass it before early August. Also this week, the House will be debating the Defense appropriations bill on the floor. Secretary Clinton is scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Afghanistan and Pakistan on Thursday. CIA Director Leon Panetta is expected to be confirmed by the Senate to replace Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense tomorrow, and General David Petraeus has a confirmation hearing with the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.  First Lady Michelle Obama arrives in South Africa today to highlight education and youth leadership programs.  She will also visit Botswana later in the week.

Must Reads

Who’s In the News

McCain warns GOP against isolationism (The Hill, Eric Wasson)

“I do want to send a message, and that is that we cannot move into an isolationist party. We cannot repeat the lessons of the 1930s, when the United States of America stood by while bad things happened in the world. We are the lead nation in the world, and America matters, and we must lead. But sometimes that leadership entails sacrifice, sadly,” he said.

There Is No Going Back in Syria (Op-Ed, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton)

In his May 19 speech, President Obama echoed demonstrators’ basic and legitimate demands: the Assad government must stop shooting demonstrators, allow peaceful protest, release political prisoners, stop unjust arrests, give access to human rights monitors, and start an inclusive dialogue to advance a democratic transition. President Assad, he said, could either lead that transition or get out of the way.

First Lady Heads To South Africa (Wall Street Journal, Jackie Bischof)

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama is expected to arrive in South Africa on Monday to meet with women’s groups, speak about the importance of education and youth leadership, as well as take in the sights.  Yet many say there’s another unstated aspect of the trip: soothing prickly ties between the U.S. and South Africa.

Smart Power

A food security strategy we can’t afford not to fund (Guardian, Lisa Brainard)

In countries like Liberia, greater food security for the rural poor means small-holder yields must go up. To increase productivity, farmers need access to technology; to protect and preserve their crops, farmers need storage infrastructure; to sell their surplus, farmers need roads that link to markets. The solutions are well-known but they require sustained investments. And these investments have to be channeled in a smart way, as they are through this fund.

Politics/Foreign Policy

Money May Change U.S. Calculations Abroad (NPR, Alan Greenblatt)

As budget concerns multiply, money worries have entered the debate over foreign policy strategy. A Bloomberg National Poll in March suggested that more than 70 percent of Americans believe slashing foreign aid and pulling troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan would make a substantial dent in the deficit. Fewer than half believed the same thing about cutting Medicare or Social Security benefits, which make up a far larger share of the federal budget.

Berman and friends unveil bill to cut foreign aid to Lebanon (Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin)

Congress has gone back and forth over whether to keep sending cash and equipment to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), particularly following a clash between the Israeli army and the LAF along the Israel-Lebanon border in August 2010 that left five people dead. Now Howard Berman (D-CA), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is pushing a bill to end almost all U.S. assistance to Lebanon. He’s joined by the top Lebanese-Americans in Congress, including Darrell Issa (R-CA), Charles Boustany (R-LA), and Nick Rahall (D-WV).

Arab Spring: In Foreign Aid to Egypt and Tunisia, Questions Loom (International Business Times, Jeremy B. White)

As the international community prepares to deploy aid for Egypt and Tunisia’s ailing economies, it faces the daunting question of how to do so without perpetuating the endemic corruption and government monopolization that helped to spark the Arab Spring.

Afghanistan’s Last Locavores (New York Times, Patricia McArdle)

Sustainable development in Afghanistan has taken a back seat to “quick wins” that can be reported to Congress as indicators of success: tractors that farmers can’t repair and that require diesel fuel they can’t afford; cheaply built schools; and smooth but wafer-thin asphalt, which will never stand up to Afghanistan’s punishing climate without costly annual maintenance. If donor nations dismiss Afghans’ centuries of experience in sustainability and continue to support the exploitation of fossil fuels over renewable energy, future generations of rural Afghans will be forced to watch in frustrated silence as the construction of pipelines, oil rigs and enormous power grids further degrades their fragile and beautiful land while doing little to improve their lives.

Why is Obama so tough on Israel and timid on Syria? (Washington Post, Jackson Diehl)

What’s extraordinary about Obama’s initiative is not its details, which don’t differ meaningfully from the ideas of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or, for that matter, several of Netanyahu’s predecessors as prime minister. It is, rather, its superpower chutzpah — the brazen disregard for the views and political posture of this Israeli government, and the fecklessness and disarray of the current Palestinian leadership. Never mind, goes the implicit Euro-American line: We will make this happen.