Who’s In the News
Four House GOP figures who could be crucial to foreign policy (Josh Rogin – Washington Post)
Congress may not be in charge of making foreign policy, but it sure can influence its implementation. Since taking office in January 2009, members of Congress – drawn primarily but not exclusively from the ranks of the GOP – have slowed the Obama administration’s efforts to advance its strategy for dealing with Russia, Syria, Israel, Cuba and a host of other countries. And the midterm elections won’t be making things any easier for President Obama. Republican lawmakers stand to play a huge role in debates next year about the promised July 2011 drawdown of troops in Afghanistan, whether to maintain or increase U.S. foreign assistance packages, and how strongly to press countries such as Russia and China to implement new sanctions against Iran.
A Tectonic Shift at State and USAID? (Tara Sonenshine and Beth Cole – Huffington Post)
The time is ripe for this renewed commitment to a coordinated, comprehensive and coherent partnership between the agencies of the U.S. government to build stronger, more robust societies that are able to withstand the temptation to resort to violence to settle disputes over religion, identity, resources and culture. Best practices are out there, in the private sector, the humanitarian sector, the academic literature, and the experiences of soldiers and civilians. If the QDDR builds on these best practices and delivers this renewed commitment to coordination, the nation will be well-served.
The special inspector general’s office for Afghanistan reconstruction talked of a “confusing labyrinth” of spending. It said some 7,000 contractors received $17.7bn from 2007-09 but data prior to 2007 was too poor to be analysed. It is the first comprehensive audit of US spending in Afghanistan since US-led troops ousted the Taliban in 2001. According to the report, US government agencies are not tracking Afghan contracts in a shared database and cannot easily show where the money went. The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Kabul says record-keeping has been so poor that most of the money has not been properly recorded. The Pentagon, state department and USAID “are unable to readily report on how much money they spend on contracting for reconstruction activities in Afghanistan”, said the report from the special inspector general’s office, which was set up by Congress.
Obama waiver allows U.S. aid to 4 countries using child soldiers (Mary Beth Sheridan – Washington Post)
Administration officials said cutting off aid would cause more damage than good in countries where the U.S. military is trying to fight terrorism and reform abusive armies. Obama sent a memo to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, dated Monday, saying that it was “in the national interest” to waive a cutoff of military assistance for Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Yemen. Those countries would have been penalized under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush shortly before he left office. The law took effect this year, after the State Department identified six countries that used government soldiers – including Somalia and Burma. Senior U.S. officials said Wednesday that Yemen was exempted because ending military aid would jeopardize the country’s ability to fight al-Qaeda.
White House prepares for foreign policy challenges — from Congress (Paul Richter and Christi Parsons – Los Angeles Times)
With voters focused on the U.S. economy, President Obama‘s foreign policy agenda has been largely overlooked in the midterm campaigns, but it will come under harsh scrutiny in the Congress that emerges after election day, say Republican and Democratic strategists.
Republicans, considered likely to win control of the House and to pick up seats in the Senate on Tuesday, are expected to challenge the White House on its policies involving Afghanistan, nuclear arms control, Russia, China and foreign aid spending, to name a few. Though the GOP won’t have enough leverage to entirely block the administration on key issues, it will be able to complicate the White House’s plans and inflict political damage as the 2012 presidential campaign election launches, analysts say.
AIPAC defends foreign aid (Ben Smith – Politico)
Eric Cantor’s suggestion that aid to Israel be removed from the foreign aid budget, driven by broader Republican opposition to much foreign operations spending, is drawing a rare, if gentle, rebuke from the high-powered pro-Israel group AIPAC. “For decades, annual U.S. foreign assistance to Israel has been one of the most tangible expressions of American support for Israel and our country’s national security interests. A robust foreign aid budget is a strong signal of U.S. leadership around the globe,” said AIPAC spokesman Darren Mackoff. “Congressman Cantor has always been, and continues to be a strong leader on the vital issues surrounding the United States and Israel, as well as an ardent supporter of U.S. foreign aid.” AIPAC has traditionally been a major force in lobbying for aid to Israel, Egypt, and for foreign aid in general. Democratic members of Congress and the liberal group J Street have sharply criticized Cantor for the suggestion.
Karzai Delays Order to Ban Private Security Companies (Alissa Rubin – New York times)
Under intense pressure, the government of President Hamid Karzai announced Wednesday that it would extend, if briefly, a contentious deadline for banning most private security companies in Afghanistan. The announcement came after heavy lobbying from the countries spending billions of dollars to develop Afghanistan’s infrastructure and sending thousands of troops to fight the Taliban insurgency. Diplomats here, including those from the United States, argued that Mr. Karzai’s original schedule to phase out private contractors did not leave enough time for an orderly transition and that it was endangering important aid projects. A presidential decree issued in August had required that private security companies cease operations by Dec. 17 and transfer protection responsibilities to the Afghan police.