foreign aid

Palestine, Farming, U.S. Aid, and the Arab Spring: A Conversation with Rami Zurayk

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then "#occupy" protesters around the world this weekend just gave the Arab Spring an Academy Award. Of course the chain of inspiration of freedom and justice seekers is unending in history, but there's no question that the Arab Spring opened a new chapter which is inspiring people to protest for justice worldwide.

No doubt at this historical moment many people in the U.S. will be preoccupied, as they should be, more with how #occupywallstreet is going than with how the Arab Spring is going. But we still have reason to pay some attention to the Arab Spring.

Drawing inspiration from outside our immediate environment sometimes allows us to leapfrog over the crusty preconceptions of our historical surroundings. One thing #occupywallstreet, like the Wisconsin uprising, has had in common with Cairo has been an explicit appeal for solidarity to the "security forces." In Cairo, they chanted: "The army and the people are one hand!" In Madison, the conduct of the mobilization for public employee rights defeated efforts of the Walker administration to split the police politically from other public employees. Today #occupy protesters are telling police, "You are the 99%!" You could look at the police as armed employees of the state who have to follow orders to "maintain public order," or you could look at them as public employees who are largely unionized members of the working class and who often have a lot of discretion in how they interpret their mandate to "maintain public order." Not arresting protesters is a perfectly legitimate tool for keeping the peace, and most police officers and officials know that well. As mom told us when we were little, honey usually beats vinegar.

Funding Bill Includes More of the Same Unconditional Military Aid to Egypt

The budget bill unveiled on Tuesday, set to fund the government for the next six months, includes $1.3 billion in unconditional military assistance for Egypt. The lack of any new measures for oversight of military aid bound for Egypt is alarming, particularly in the wake of testimonies from female detainees subjected to coerced "virginity tests" by the military and of the Egyptian army’s brutal crackdown which reportedly killed two protesters and wounded dozens on April 9th.

This lack of oversight stands in stark contrast to the Senate’s earlier version of the budget bill, which would have required that "prior to the disbursement of funds" for the Foreign Military Financing program that designates military aid to Egypt, "the Secretary of State should report to the Committees on Appropriations" that the Egyptian government enacted a number of specified reforms. H.R. 1473, which is scheduled for a vote on Thursday, does require Secretary Clinton to submit a report on those same reforms, but it does not in any way condition military aid to the Egyptian government's success at meeting these basic human rights and democratization standards.

Why Does Senator Conrad Want to Humiliate President Obama at the G-20 Summit?

The "One" campaign against global poverty reports:

The Senate Budget Committee, chaired by Senator Kent Conrad, wants to cut $4 billion from the president's International Affairs Budget -- the part of the budget funding almost all of our anti-poverty work.

This would be terrible policy any day of the week. Recall that on February 12, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told Congress that the global economic crisis was the most serious security challenge facing the United States and that it could topple governments and trigger waves of refugees. Cutting the International Affairs budget means directly attacking the Obama administration's ability to respond to the most serious security challenge facing the United States. In particular, the cut could lead to a freeze in programs that provide life-saving treatment for people with HIV/AIDS.

But attacking the International Affairs budget this week is particularly obscene. President Obama is leaving today for the G-20 "Economic Crisis Summit" in London. The top agenda item is how to counter the effects of the global economic crisis on countries that don't have the capacity to create their own economic stimulus. Cutting the president's international aid request this week will undercut President Obama at the very moment he will be trying to argue for a coordinated international response. Other countries will say: how can you ask us to do more when your Senate is slashing your proposed increase?

As President Obama said last summer:

Conditioning Part of U.S. Aid to Israel on Implementation of U.S. Policy

It is well-known outside the United States that a key obstacle, if not the key obstacle, to Israeli/Palestinian peace is the relationship between Israel and the United States. To say that the U.S. “supports Israel” severely misstates the problem: the key problem is the perception and the reality that the U.S. almost unfailingly protects the Israeli government from the negative consequences of anti-Palestinian policies, such as the recent military assault on Gaza, so that while rhetorically the U.S. is committed to peace, in practice the incentives that have been created and maintained by U.S. policy have had the effect of constantly pushing the Israeli government towards more confrontation with the Palestinians, rather than towards accommodation. Just as a Wall Street banker who expects a U.S. government bailout will take dangerous risks since he is protected from the potential negative consequences of those risks, so Israeli government leaders, faced with choices between “risks for peace” and “risks for war” will tend to choose “risks for war” since the U.S. government is perceived to provide a blanket insurance policy against “risks for war” while no such insurance is perceived to exist for “risks for peace.”

The key immediate question then for people in the United States concerned about Israeli-Palestinian peace is altering the character of the insurance policy. Just as Washington must demand policy changes in exchange for insuring Wall Street banks, so Washington must demand policy changes in exchange for insuring Israeli government policies. In either case, the failure to demand policy changes spreads systemic risk, since the insurance effectively makes the failed policies into policies of the U.S. government.