Their exchange highlights the need for both “soft” and “hard” tools of assistance–for scholarships and security assistance in this strategic region. Young people throughout the Middle East and North Africa have been at the forefront of the Arab Spring movements, protesting a lack of economic, educational, and political opportunities. Civilian programs that target civil society and young Arabs can help create catalysts for progress and peace. Yet the military-to-military relationships nurtured through foreign military financing also played an important role in the Arab Spring. During the protests in Tahrir Square in Egypt, then-Secretary of Defense Bob Gates noted the channels of influence the United States had from its military-to-military exchange programs may have helped prevent violence against unarmed protesters.
Development programs (like this one in Lebanon) help build strong citizens while fostering goodwill toward the United States, which may reverberate in these societies beyond those who participate. These programs build up a stronger workforce, engage young leaders, and strengthen civil society, which in turn help communities flourish and encourages democratic and economic progress.
Andrew Exum noted funding for both of these programs come from the International Affairs Budget. At just one percent of the federal budget, these programs have a critical role in U.S. national security—promoting stability and economic growth in the region, monitoring elections, and establishing outlets for citizens throughout the Middle East to have a say in their governance.
So both the humanitarian and military tools are important. Looking forward, the next steps in this diverse region will require an American response that uses all of our tools of foreign policy—development, diplomacy, and defense.