Sunday, March 29, 2009

Smart Power and Dumb Budgeting by Michael B. Kraft

“Smart Power” is the current buzzword for the best way to counter a wide variety of national security threats, but dumb budgeting procedures remain a major obstacle.

Congress already is slicing away at the Obama administration’s Foreign Affairs

Fiscal Year 2010 budget containing increases in foreign assistance programs to improve economic and social conditions in countries that are breeding grounds for violence and terrorism.

Meanwhile on the home front, the FBI testified to Congress that it is continuing its emphasis on countering terrorism threat that began after 9/11. But officials acknowledged that the FBI needs more agents to combat corporate and financial fraud and drug trafficking.

These developments reflecting the tugs and pulls of contradictory pressures and competition for resources were illustrated this week as the Congressional budget committees acted on the Obama Administration’s budget proposals, imposing cuts in the foreign assistance programs with their smart power components.

The House Budget Committee on Wednesday recommended a budget that would cut $5.5 billion from the administration’s $53.8 billion request. The Senate Budget Committee followed the next day although it made a lighter cuts — $4 billion.

While these cuts were made from a request that was initially a $5.8 billion 13.6% increase from the FY 2009 levels, this does not reflect the whole picture according to Dr. Gordon Adams, a former associate OMB director for national security and international affairs who is now a fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center. He said that if the second FY 2009 supplemental is enacted by Congress, the overall 2010 budget for State, USAID and foreign affairs agencies as proposed by the House Committee would end up a billion dollars lower than in 2009. If the Senate figures prevail, there would be no increase over FY 2009.

This is at a time when virtually the entire foreign affairs establishment, led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates with his November 26, 2007 speech, is calling for allocating more resources for “smart power” foreign assistance and civil affairs activities in Afghanistan, Iraq and other trouble spots. He and many military men have said that that the military cannot do the job alone.

President Obama, in announcing his Afghanistan strategy Friday, said the United States would send hundreds of additional civilians and diplomats to Afghanistan to help improve that country's governance and economy. This would be in addition to the 4,000 additional troops he announced would be deployed to help train and advise the Afghan army.

Various non-government groups have pushed for increased funding for Smart Power, including the Center for U.S. Global Engagement, a bi-partisan group which on March 4 held a major event with speakers including former Secretary of State Powell and Sen. Robert Martinez (D-New Jersey) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and other former officials of bioth parties. The Center released a “Report on Reports” summarizing 20 reports by a diverse groups of institutions and experts who support the use of enhanced non-military tools to help deal with weak and failing states. Conferences and seminars on smart power are regular events in Washington, including one held Tuesday at Ft. Meyer that featured several retired generals as speakers and included a panel with Andy Cochran, founder of this counterterrorism blog and Matt Levitt, a regular contributor, that discussed integrating and balancing soft and kinetic power.

Despite these efforts, as Dr. Adams noted, it is widely perceived that “International Affairs budgets do not have the strong constituency supporting defense, and as a result are vulnerable to these cuts.” The Defense Department’s full $533.7 billion request was approved. Dr. Adams said in a statement following the House Budget Committee action that the foreign affairs budget cuts reflect “the Committee and the Congress’ reluctance to consider all elements of national security spending together, as part of U.S. national security strategy. The result of such cuts could be a further weakening of the civilian tool of American statecraft.”

(Following the Senate Budget Committee's Actions, Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Richard Lugar (R-Indiana), the senior Republican member, said they will offer a Senae floor amendment to restore the $4 billion cut by the Senate Banking Committee. The U.S. Global Leadership Campaign, in emails urging support for the amendment, said "Anything less than the request level of $53.8 billion will greatly hamper the Administration's effort to implement a "smart power" strategy to elevate diplomacy and development in U.S. global engagement.")

By dumb budgeting, I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the Budget Committees –they have a tough job. But the whole process, involving a great amount of detail, lends itself to making across the board cuts, based on percentages compared to previous year budgets, instead of a close examination of the needs for individual programs. The prolonged use of continuing resolutions to extend funding at the previous fiscal year’s level for a few months at a time because Congress has not passed the appropriations bills on time greatly complicates the planning, scheduling and implementation of foreign assistance and training programs.

The Budget Committees set the overall spending ceiling for the administration’s budget request. A conference committee will work out the differences between the higher Senate version and the deeper House cuts. The authorizing committees also make their recommendations but it has been many years since Senate Foreign Relations Committees and House Foreign Affairs Committees have been able to pass authorizing bills. This is partly because members have been reluctant to vote twice on foreign assistance funding – opening themselves up to campaign opponents who might criticize them for “foreign giveaways.”

Consequently, the real power has shifted to the Appropriations Committees which will then consider the details, authorize on appropriations bills – formerly a no-- no-- and make their recommendations to the full House and Senate. However with the Budget committee allocations squeezing down from the top and the Appropriations subcommittees and full committee often making additional cuts in the foreign assistance program, it is likely that additional cuts will be made in the overall foreign affairs account and individual programs.

At stake could be such important but relatively small counterterrorism programs such as the State Department’s Antiterrorism Training Assistance Program (ATA), which improves the counterterrorism capabilities of civilian officials of friendly countries. The FY 2009 request was $141.5 million but about $17 million is earmarked for Afghanistan includes protection for the President of Afghanistan. The figures for 2010 will, like the rest of the budget, not be available until April but officials have indicated that they hope for some increases to meet the growing needs as Al Qaeda inspired terrorists continue to pop up in many countries. For more details, see the link to the discussion we held for the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month.

Senate Judiciary Committee

Meanwhile during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, FBI Director Mueller said that countering the terrorism threat was still the number one priority although the focus left fewer agents to counter non-terrorism crime.

The New York Times interpreted this as the Obama administration “moving to solidify one of the most significant shifts of resources put into place under President Bush: the transformation of the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation into agencies where the top priority is counterterrorism rather than conventional law enforcement.”

On another terrorism-related issue Mueller urged Congress to renew portions of the USA PATRIOT Act that have sunset provisions and are scheduled to expire in December unless renewed by Congress.

A key provision is the so-called “roving wiretaps” that allows federal officials to seek wiretaps on all the communications devices utilized by a terrorist suspect, instead of seeking a separate warrant for each blackberry, cell phone or regular phone. Such authority was originally allowed in Mafia and other racketeering cases and was later extended to terrorism cases. The American Civil Liberty Union has opposed the Patriot Act as a “disastrous violation for Americans’ rights. But this roving wiretap act is one provision that should clearly be maintained to avoid unnecessary delays every time a terrorists suspect changes phones.

It is important that a balance be maintained between with civil liberties and security concerns and of course it is appropriate to review the sunset legislation in an objective matter. At the same time those who advocate and accept the ACLU’s opposition to these issues should understand that it should also be one’s civil liberty to be able to fly on an airliner or work in a landmark office building without being blown up.

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