US Aid in 2011: Riddled With Questions and Contradictions

[tweetmeme] At the beginning of the month, the Obama Administration released its $3.8 trillion budget request for 2011.  The budget will most likely undergo significant changes as Congress is responsible for the final budget.  As you can imagine, out of the $3.8 trillion (wow…) there were a number of interesting parts that are relevant to the Middle East.

Laura Rozen points out that the budget includes $11.6 billion for AfPak.  The main functional goal of the money is to transfer assistance from US contractors to locals:

The obvious one: $11.6 billion (including the supplemental) for Afpak, and the top functional priority identified as moving assistance from U.S. contractors to locals, one veteran Afpak hand noted. The Afpak state budget represents a 10% jump from last year.

The interesting twist here is the recent plan to buy off Taliban members.  Although the Taliban in Afghanistan has rejected the plan, there are certain tribes that have agreed to fight the Taliban in return for significant aid.  Although the London conference on Afghanistan pledged to raise money for the effort, it is unclear how much, if any, of the $11.6 billion is marked for this initiative.

The Majlis has a nice list of other interesting parts of the budget request:

  • Israel. $23 billion in military aid, with at least $584 million of that earmarked for procurement of advanced weapons systems.  EDIT:  Israel is receiving $3 billion in military aid from the US, not $23 billion (thanks for the close reading Jamie).
  • Egypt. $250 million in economic aid, with $25 million earmarked for democracy and human rights promotion, and $35 million for education; and $1.3 billion for military aid, specifically for “border security programs and activities in the Sinai.”
  • Lebanon. $109 million in economic aid, including $12 million in scholarships for Lebanese students, and $100 million in military aid.
  • Jordan. $363 million in economic aid, with no restrictions; and $300 million in military aid.
  • Palestinian territories. $400 million in economic aid, with the predictable restrictions keeping the money away from Hamas.
  • Pakistan. $296 million in military aid, $1.2 billion for the Pakistani “counterinsurgency fund,” and an unnamed sum in economic aid.

I find a couple of points here interesting.  Firstly, and least unexpectedly, is the fact that if a country makes peace with Israel, it will receive aid from the US.  Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979 and Jordan followed in 1994.  While there are other diplomatic advantages, the economic ones are pretty clear here.  It will be interesting to see what would happen if Mid East Envoy George Mitchell and newly nominated Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford can forge a peace between Syria and Israel.  Considering the threat that Syria has posed and the nuisance of Syria’s porous border with Iraq, will the US reward peace with aid?  Probably, but nothing terribly significant.

Secondly, and once again not unexpected, the aid to Palestine follows the PA-centric policy that Washington follows.  Aid will only be flowing to the West Bank, which is good – particularly considering PM Fayyad’s desire to build institutions in Palestine to prepare for independence.  It leaves Gaza completely out to dry.  The strip has been completely blockaded by Israel and Egypt and has been unable to recover from the brutality of Operation Cast Lead.  The fact that it is not receiving any aid is shameful, but expected.

Finally, the clear disparity in military aid between Lebanon and Israel.  A while back I wrote about the minor disagreements between Beirut and Washington about the quality of weapons given to Lebanon.  A big issue at the time was that the QME (Qualitative Military Edge – the US law that guarantees Israeli military dominance in the Middle East) and how an increase in aid to Lebanon would throw off the edge.  The 2011 budget calls for $1.3 billion in military aid to Israel and $100 million in military aid to Lebanon.  Throw in the fact that Israel is one of the world’s largest weapon producers and dealers, it is clear that an increase in military aid to Lebanon would not endanger the QME.  This, of course, highlights the hesitance in Washington of giving Lebanon better weapons that may be used against Tel Aviv.  A year ago, Israel had yet to warn that it would hold all of Lebanon accountable for Hezbollah’s actions.  Then, the concern was that weapons would be transferred to Hezbollah from the LAF.  Now that Israel is threatening Beirut with war, any weapons given to Lebanon would definitely be used against Israel should war arrive.

The distribution of military aid in Israel and Lebanon is very telling.  A peace treaty between the two countries is impossible because of the presence of Hezbollah, yet the US government gives aid to Beirut in order to strengthen Hariri’s government against Hezbollah.  In this way, Hezbollah is ensuring minimal US aid to Beirut while denying more substantial aid.  The contradictions in US aid to Lebanon demands a review of the purposes of military aid to Lebanon.  Is US aid meant to balance to inequalities between the Iranian and Syrian funded Hezbollah and the LAF while keeping the central government out of the sphere of Syria and Iran?  If this is true, the US could easily do more in providing basic military equipment and training.  However, the possibility of war with Israel is preventing the US from providing Hariri’s Lebanon with the basic materials needed to act as a counterweight to Hezbollah.

The 2011 budget request by the Obama Administration is massive, but its components are expected.  The budget does, however, raise serious questions about the viability, efficacy and purpose of US aid to the region.

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