Peace-Building That Pays Off
By ANTHONY C. ZINNI
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.