Republican Lawmakers Tell the World Where to Go


On Wednesday, they voted to cut all U.S. contributions to the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS), a symbol of U.S. hemispheric dominance for more than 60 years.

They also voted to cut the U.S. contribution to the United Nations by 25 percent and bar U.S. aid to any country that votes against the U.S. position at the U.N. more than 50 percent of the time.

And to ban aid to Pakistan unless the State Department certifies that it is cooperating fully with counterterrorist efforts.

On Thursday, as the Capitol and most of the country melted under 38- degree-Centigrade heat, they voted to delete 650 million dollars from a fund to help developing countries adjust to global climate change.

They also voted to reinstate a ban on U.S. funding for any foreign organisation – governmental or non-governmental – that in any way promotes, performs or provides information about abortion services, even to HIV-AIDS patients.

And to ban any foreign aid to the governments of Argentina, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia, South America's poorest country.

Republican members of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee are on a tear here this week, working through dozens of amendments to the 2012 State Department authorisation bill, which they hope to reduce by at least six billion dollars from the 51- billion-dollar request submitted by the President Barack Obama.

The House bill in its present or anticipated form is most unlikely to get by the Democratic-led Senate, let alone overcome a near-certain veto by Obama. But it is indicative of the foreign policy trajectory of a Republican Party whose chances of taking over the Senate in the 2012 elections are highly rated even if they are somewhat less for installing one of their own in the White House.

So seemingly hostile toward much of the rest of the world were some of the Republican participants in this week's debate that the ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Howard Berman, warned against the revival of the "Fortress America" stance taken by many Republicans who opposed Washington's entry into World War II. Other Democrats decried the "isolationism" on the other side of the aisle.

 

"I might offer an amendment to pull out of the world, to build a moat around the United States and put a dome over the thing," one senior Democrat, Rep. Gary Ackerman, suggested during Wednesday's proceedings.

"This is getting ridiculous," he said of the amendment by Florida Rep. Connie Mack to essentially withdraw from the OAS. "This is folly; it's more than folly, it's dangerous."

Mack heads the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, and also sponsored the amendment denying any aid to Venezuela and those Latin American governments perceived by him to be allied with it. He charged that the OAS – which has long been seen in the Americas as a multilateral tool for preserving U.S. regional hegemony and whose main task these days is observing elections – was "bent on destroying democracy in Latin America".

His amendment to cut the 48.5-million-dollar annual U.S. contribution – which some Democrats noted was a treaty obligation – passed 22-20 on a party-line vote.

The Middle East – or, more precisely, the Arab part of the Middle East – fared no better. While Israel was assured its annual allotment of three billion dollars in mostly military aid and credits, the Committee imposed major conditions on U.S. assistance for key Arab countries.

Indeed, parts of the bill – such as a non-waivable requirement that the U.S. move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem – looked as if they could have been authored by Israel's ruling right-wing Likud Party.

The underlying bill, authored by the Committee chair, Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, bans security assistance to Egypt and Yemen unless the president certifies that no part of the government is controlled by a "Foreign Terrorist Organisation" or its sympathisers. Egypt must also be determined to be in full compliance with the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords with Israel and be "actively destroying tunnels used to smuggle materials into Gaza".

It also prohibits security assistance to Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority (PA) until the president certifies that no members of Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively, hold policy positions in any "ministry, agency, or instrumentality of the government."

In the PA's case, the president must also certify that it is cracking down against "the extremist infrastructure in Gaza…, actively halting anti-Israel incitement; and …recognizes Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state."

"Feels like House For Aff GOP [Republicans] been saving up a lifetime of bad ideas, resentment, wingnuttery + disregard for national interest for this week," tweeted Marc Lynch, a Middle East policy analyst at George Washington University, Thursday afternoon as the Committee moved through some of these provisions.

The bill would also deny Pakistan, with which U.S. ties are already on a downward spiral, any further security or civilian assistance unless the secretary of state certifies that Islamabad is fully cooperating with U.S. counter-terror efforts and the non-military aid programme is effective. Washington currently provides more than three billion dollars a year in security and economic aid to Pakistan.

"I think the prospect of a cut-off of assistance will get their attention and that the games being played with our security will finally stop," Ros-Lehtinen declared.

She also noted that Obama would still have the power to waive the mandated aid cuts in all of the relevant countries if he found that it was in the "vital national security interests" of the U.S. to do so and could ensure that no recipients of U.S. security assistance "are members of, or affiliated with, a foreign terrorist organisation".

In the interests of reducing the federal deficit, the bill also caps the amount of economic and development aid for poor countries to below 2010 levels and, among other cuts to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) operations, eliminates its budget office that tracks and monitors USAID spending.

Ken Forsberg, a lobbyist for InterAction, a coalition of nearly 200 humanitarian and development groups active in developing countries, said such moves were "counter-productive" and "self-defeating".

"When every dollar must count as never before, eliminating USAID's budget office moves us in exactly the wrong direction."

Amnesty International also felt compelled to protest the bill's cuts. "These monies fund civilian-led programmes that help alleviate extreme poverty, respond to humanitarian emergencies, support democratic institutions and the rule of law, prevent violence against women and girls, and otherwise promote development across the globe," said Adotei Akwei, who handles government relations for the human rights group.  

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