Sunday, June 5, 2011

AEI Scholar: "U.S. Institute of Peace Is Target in Spending War"

Norm Ornstein's post on USIP in Roll Call is a must read: U.S. Institute of Peace Is Target in Spending War

U.S. Institute of Peace Is Target in Spending War

It is time for another award — unfortunately of the dubious distinction variety. This one, for Most Head-in-the-Sand Neanderthal Effort of the Year, goes hands down to Reps. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) for their amendment to the Defense Authorization Act to eliminate — not just by defunding but by revoking its federal charter — the U.S. Institute of Peace.
USIP was created by an act of Congress in 1984 and was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. It has enjoyed broad bipartisan support since. Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz recently said, “As the context of conflict has changed, so too must the tools of diplomacy and peace-building. ... The challenge is met by the independent, nonpartisan Institute of Peace.” President George W. Bush echoed Shultz’s praise — as do virtually all current and former top military leaders, including Gen. David Petraeus.
Why? Because this is not some collection of pointy-headed peaceniks — USIP has been engaged in serious and risky work, hand in hand with our military, in Iraq, Afghanistan and other trouble spots. It is engaged in mediation, nation building and other efforts to reduce conflict and save lives.
Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni wrote the following about USIP in Iraq: “In 2007, when the Army’s 10th Mountain Division arrived in Mahmudiya, a city of half a million in the ‘triangle of death’ dominated by Al Qaeda south of Baghdad, officers asked the institute to mediate between Shiite civil authorities and the Sunni sheiks who controlled the area. Institute-trained negotiators convened warring Iraqis to consolidate security, restore services, develop the local economy, enhance local governance and improve the rule of law. Gen. David H. Petraeus called it a turning point in the war.”
In Afghanistan, USIP has helped save lives and reduce the need for a heavy U.S. military presence, working to reduce tribal conflicts and prevent vacuums that the Taliban would readily fill.
USIP is deeply involved in Pakistan, trying to reduce Islamic fundamentalism taught through madrassas; in Colombia, in the Philippines, in the Niger Delta and all around the world; and engaged in vital efforts (such as the Iraq Study Group) in Washington as well.
People with some experience in the world remember the classic Fram oil filter commercial, where a mechanic says a $3 oil filter change can prevent a hugely expensive valve and ring job: “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later,” he says. That admonition animates the likes of Petraeus, Zinni, Wes Clark, Mike Mullen and Bob Gates. They know that the comparative pittance we spend on organizations such as USIP now save lives and huge sums of money later.
We are engaged in two wars, with American troops in danger every day. USIP workers are also in danger — as they work to reduce the chances that more of our brave men and women will end up dead or gravely wounded.  As I watched the stirring concert on the Mall on Memorial Day, I thought, “Who would you trust on these matters: Ronald Reagan, George Shultz and David Petraeus — or Chip Cravaack and Jason Chaffetz?”
The battle over USIP is only one of many skirmishes in a larger war, as House Members try to use both appropriations and authorizations to take a meat ax to government, with little consideration or debate about costs and benefits. The political war is about the size and scope of government. If it were about fiscal discipline, the first steps taken by Congress and the president would be to ameliorate the problems that caused the ballooning debt in the first place: deep tax cuts that have drained revenue, two wars and a Medicare prescription drug program unpaid for that account for up to four-fifths of the plunge from trillions in surplus in the late 1990s to double-digit trillions in deficits in this decade. The one trigger mechanism that actually brought a measure of fiscal discipline, pay-as-you-go rules, was eliminated this year.
That makes the special election in New York especially interesting. Make no mistake about it — Medicare drove the vote, enabling a Democrat to win 48 percent in a three-way race in a strongly Republican district. It is not just Democrats who say Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget ends Medicare as we know it; Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said the same thing. And Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain called the plan not “premium support” but a voucher system.
For Republicans, the best way to get out from under their Medicare (and soon-to-be Medicaid) problem is to find a broader budget deal that includes, of necessity, some measure of entitlement reform and cutbacks in the future growth of Medicare and Medicaid that both parties buy into. But that will mean embracing many elements of the Affordable Care Act that they are trying to repeal and accepting a serious measure of tax increases.
Will Democrats take the opportunity for a compromise with embattled Republicans when the temptation to demagogue Medicare to the limit is so great? Can Republicans take on Grover Norquist for a higher purpose? Any debt limit compromise will have to include a credible trigger; can we achieve a version of PAYGO? These are the big questions ahead.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Another Continuing Resolution: A Real Life Fairy Tale in Washington

Read the full story on the Huffington Post!

Another Continuing Resolution: A Real Life Fairy Tale in Washington

At the stroke of midnight tonight -- Friday, March 18th, Cindarella's coach might have turned back into a pumpkin and the White House could have shut down the government. But fairy tales are true to form, and so we have a Continuing Resolution that lets everyone live happily ever after -- at least for 3 weeks.

Regardless of how this next chapter of the budget morality tale ends, the moral of the story is the same: we all need a bit of magic in our lives or a handsome prince with a glass slipper. Reality is just too hard. Watching Washington wrestle with how to cut another swatch from the national budget cloth is getting darn depressing.

All this debate makes you hate conflict when, truthfully, conflict is not inherently bad. In fact, "conflict' is inherent in the human condition and can be good when it leads to civil discourse, friendly competition, healthy argumentation, and an enriched democracy. Where it gets ugly is when it leads to seemingly contradictory states of paralysis and panic, which is where we are today. What is sad about this real life story of fiscal fighting in the nation's capital is that some very good things are getting lost in the shuffle.

Like peace.

Ironically, one of the casualties of the Congressional financial conflict may be the United States Institute of Peace -- (USIP) an organization that works to prevent the escalation of conflicts overseas where disputes often become violently unmanageable and the parties cannot reconcile differences. The House of Representatives actually voted to de-fund the institute.

The twist on this tale is that USIP often steps in to bring about reconciliation in conflict zones overseas through the art and science of managing even deeply embedded conflicts with long histories. Such skills in mediation, conflict resolution, and peace-building are now taught by USIP in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan and throughout the Middle East. The work takes time, effort and perseverance. Often the parties to a conflict reach a state of peace -- only to fall back into old grievances that reignite tensions. The Institute returns, again and again, to these conflict zones because the alternatives to solving these problems are far worse in terms of loss of life.

People often ask why we don't hear more about the United States Institute of Peace. The answer is that success stories that prevent war never make front page news; peace is hardly worth a picture. It is hard, with conflict prevention, to prove a negative -- that you stopped something bad from happening. Like disease, you don't worry until it comes calling. Like good health, we take peace for granted.

So back in Washington, our nation is in the midst of an ugly conflict and it is not clear who can bring about reconciliation. America may continue to fight this huge budget battle in Congress with no good outcome. We may lose our "sense" just to save a few "cents."

It would be more than unfortunate if peace becomes a casualty of a domestic war. And it would be expensive in the long-term. Wars cost money and lives. If we don't stop wars overseas, we pay for them at home. We have to look beyond the heat of the moment and not sacrifice what is truly significant. That is, if we believe in happy endings.

Tara Sonenshine is Executive Vice President of the United States Institute of Peace.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Gen. Zinni in NYT: USIP "behind practically every American success in Iraq and Afghanistan."

In today's NYT Zinni calls USIP the "special forces for foreign affairs and peace-building."  Read the full article on NYT!

March 7, 2011

Peace-Building That Pays Off

Williamsburg, Va.
IN voting last month to eliminate financing for the United States Institute of Peace, members of the House of Representatives did not do their research. You will find the institute’s competent work behind practically every American success in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has undertaken missions from the Balkans and Sudan to the Philippines and Somalia, where I supported the institute’s efforts to mediate conflicts, promote the rule of law and encourage democracy.
This week, as the Senate considers alternatives to the House budget bill, we should remember that the stakes for national security and peace-building are high. The institute was created in 1984, when the cold war was still at its height. Congressional leaders guided by Senator Spark M. Matsunaga, a Hawaii Democrat, saw the need for an institution that would strengthen the nation’s ability to limit international violence and manage global conflict. President Ronald Reagan signed the act creating the institute. A bipartisan majority of Congress has supported it since — until now.
The Institute of Peace is like the Marine Corps or special forces for foreign affairs and peace-building. When others are fleeing conflict around the world, you’ll usually find institute staff members going in. They were working in Afghanistan before 9/11 and were among the first nonmilitary personnel on the ground after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The institute’s headquarters in Baghdad has twice been damaged by rocket and mortar attacks. At the height of the Iraq insurgency, when virtually every other American and international group pulled out their personnel, the State and Defense Departments requested that the institute stay. Under fire regularly, it was the only United States organization outside of those departments that did not flee Baghdad.
But the institute’s value goes beyond the bravery and commitment of its staff. In 2007, when the Army’s 10th Mountain Division arrived in Mahmudiya, a city of half a million in the “triangle of death” dominated by Al Qaeda south of Baghdad, officers asked the institute to mediate between Shiite civil authorities and the Sunni sheiks who controlled the area. Institute-trained negotiators convened warring Iraqis to consolidate security, restore services, develop the local economy, enhance local governance and improve the rule of law. Gen. David H. Petraeus called it a turning point in the war.
In the six months before the institute’s intervention, there had been 93 attacks on American forces in the area with homemade bombs; in the six months after, just one. Mahmudiya became a cornerstone of peace in the district, allowing the Army to reduce its strength from a brigade combat team of 3,500 soldiers to a battalion of 650, with corresponding savings and reductions in casualties.
In Afghanistan, the institute conducts mediations on issues from refugees to property and water disputes. In the last year, these operations have resolved 18 tribal disputes throughout the country, mostly involving the abuse of women, and included 30 training programs for government officials, lawyers, mullahs, tribal councils and community leaders. The network is even supporting dialogue along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the earth’s most dangerous frontier — home to Taliban and Qaeda attacks and a wellspring of religious and political extremism.
Congress would be hard-pressed to find an agency that does more with less. The institute’s entire budget would not pay for the Afghan war for three hours, is less than the cost of a fighter plane, and wouldn’t sustain even 40 American troops in Afghanistan for a year. Within the budget, peace-building is financed as part of national security programs, and is recognized as an important adjunct to conventional defense spending and diplomacy. The institute’s share of the proposed international affairs budget, $43 million, is minuscule: less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the State Department’s budget, and one-hundredth of 1 percent of the Pentagon’s.
The idea that eliminating the United States Institute of Peace would benefit taxpayers is extremely shortsighted and ill informed. America deserves better from Congress than eliminating something that saves American lives and taxpayer dollars.

Anthony C. Zinni, a retired Marine general, was commander in chief of the United States Central Command from 1997 to 2000.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Congress to decide on USIP this week. We need your help!


Tuesday, March 1

Six Senators are working on a bipartisan deal today that could determine the future of USIP, let alone the future of peacebuilding in America: Mark Warner (D-VA), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Mike Crapo (R-ID). Please reach out to each one of these senators and let them know that building peace is a national priority, that it helps make the dreadful costs of war less likely, and that the American public cares. Just dial 1-202-224-3121 and ask for their office!

Monday, February 28

The future of the US Institute of Peace (USIP) is in jeopardy.  Today, the Senate returns from the President's Day recess to work the national budget, but the House version is currently set to eliminate all funding for USIP!

The good news is that we've made dramatic progress in the last week on Facebook, Twitter, and the petition on  Rep. Mike Honda wrote his praise on the Huffington Post, Yoko Ono tweeted her support, and over 5,000 individuals signed our official petition.

The bad news is that USIP has never been in more danger than it is right now.  We need your help!  Help us convince Congress that USIP is a worthwhile institution vital for US national security.

Click here to find Congressional contact information and start dialing
Click here to find out more about why USIP is important
Click here to sign the petition!

Dramatic Defunding of USIP

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