The Global Citizen: UN Funding
If I were lucky enough to be able to select a couple of questions for tomorrow night's Presidential Debate at Hofstra, I would choose some questions that have not been beaten to death on the campaign trail so far. Whether or not these important issues are touched upon in the debates, here are the ones that I would want to make sure that the next leader of the free world weighed in on before I went to the polls:
One glaring omission so far is climate change. There is no doubt that the Earth is heating up; the ice caps are melting and drought is rampant, resulting in higher food prices globally. This issue has been every presidential debate cycle since 1984, but so far this time around, there has only been silence. Although the Democratic Party Platform did touch upon this issue as a national security concern, Obama has not said much since the Democratic Convention. On the other hand, the Republican Party's skepticism concerning the seriousness of climate change (I mean come on, Romney joked about it during his convention speech) casts a lot of doubt on their willingness to do something about it. If Romney is going to change his mind (which seems to be an effective campaign strategy), he needs to give the message enough time to reach voters.
The 1960 Republican platform pledged to "support and strengthen the UN." Today, the 2012 Republican Platform is vastly different from the ideals that the GOP once held, and shockingly polarizing.
This election year, the Republican platform opposes U.S. involvement with the International Criminal Court on the mistaken basis that this would give the ICC jurisdiction over U.S. troops. It discounts our commitment to reduce our stockpile of nuclear weapons, reversing the U.S. commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. The human rights section is a measly five sentences. The most shockingly offensive section, however, is the point encouraging that the US should limit the amount of foreign aid and UN funding, despite saying that "Foreign aid should serve our national interest, an essential part of which is the peaceful development of less advanced and vulnerable societies in critical parts of the world."
For the past two and a half years, a big part of my job at Global Solutions has involved managing the work of our political action committee, Global Solutions PAC. I've met with congressional candidates from around the country, listened to their views on foreign policy, recommended endorsements and contributions to their campaigns, and attended fundraisers to show our support. It's been a great experience, and one that has taught me quite a lot.
Now, as I prepare to leave Global Solutions and embrace new opportunities, I look back on my time here and have a few thoughts and memories I'd like to share with you.
It doesn't take a genius or political pundit to know that most Americans are not primarily focused on foreign policy this year as they decide which candidates they want to send to the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives. Most voters, understandably, are more focused on jobs and the economy. However, there is plenty of evidence that voters do want to see a U.S. foreign policy that remains engaged outside our borders and works with allies and international institutions to build a better world. For example, according to a recent survey by the Better World Campaign:
Yesterday, the Republican-led Subcommittee of State and Foreign Operations Appropriations proposed a draft budget for spending on foreign aid, including funding of the United Nations, the State Department, and various peacekeeping operations around the world. The proposed amount was $40.1 billion as a base budget of the State Department, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and international affairs programs in other agencies. Additionally, they allocated $8.2 billion for diplomatic and development programs related to the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.
This represents an overall 12% cut from Obama’s proposed budget of $54.71 billion (and about 5% lower than what was proposed last year by Congress). These proposed cuts could be disasterous for humanitarian efforts in poor regions, meaning the cuts would reduce funding for providing clean cookstoves for poor families, promoting literacy, and other humanitarian needs.
Tomorrow may be Valentine's Day, but for those of us who care about international affairs funding (or federal funding of any kind, for that matter), today was a day which has long been almost as breathlessly anticipated: the release of the President's annual budget request for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2013. (I know, not as delightful as Valentine's Day, but still important.)
President Obama stressed that his overall budget aims to balance many different priorities, such as spurring job growth while reigning in the deficit. But stepping away from that bigger picture, what does the President's budget request mean for funding for international affairs in the next year?
President Obama has requested $51.6 billion for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Within that, budget priorities include funding for the "frontline states" (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq); human and economic security; support for embassies and the U.S. global presence; and support for U.S. allies and contributions to multilateral organizations.
Monday night President Obama participated in the first Presidential virtual interview ever! This Google+ Hangout event was part of the White House's continued public outreach following the State of the Union Address last Tuesday. Since the president's address last week, the White House has been requesting that people send in questions via all forms of social media, and has been holding Twitter interviews with many of the senior administration officials. This Hangout was the culmination of that week, and it turned out to be a great moment for foreign policy!
Steve Grove moderated the discussion from Google Headquarters in San Francisco, California, and there were five different people on Google+ in the virtual "room," with the President, who were able to speak out at any time. The event was broadcast on YouTube and the White House website so those of us who haven't stepped into the social media realm of Google+ yet could still hear questions asked and answered. You can watch the recording here. Mr. Grove also had some pre-recorded questions that had been sent in via YouTube either by video or comment earlier in the week.
This year as we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s 83rd birthday, I’m struck by the vast difference between his beliefs and today’s “peace candidate”, Representative Ron Paul. In New Hampshire, Paul received 47 percent of the under 30 vote compared to 25 percent for Mitt Romney. It’s easy to understand Paul’s youth appeal. He would avoid “long and expensive land wars,” would immediately withdraw from Afghanistan, has railed against the draft and supports legalizing marijuana.
But let’s be clear: Ron Paul is no Martin Luther King. While Dr. King most likely would have supported Paul’s call for bringing troops home from Afghanistan, King’s understanding of what peace means is almost the opposite of Paul’s.
Paul’s vision of peace is based on individualism and isolationism. He believes that “the greatest chance for peace comes from a society respectful of individual liberty.” But there is a world of difference between being anti-war and pro-peace.
King believed that,
“If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties … must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
In my job, it's not that often that I look at the results of the congressional appropriations process with satisfaction, especially in the current economic and foreign policy climate. However, Congress has surprised me this year in two welcome ways.
First, the House and Senate passed a large "omnibus" appropriations package, including funding for the State Department, before their Christmas recess without threat of a government shutdown (okay, it's two and a half months past their original deadline, but why quibble?). Second, the Fiscal Year 2012 budget mostly delivers pretty good results for the international affairs budget. It's a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa miracle!
International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo has said that Libya’s transitional government has agreed to work with the ICC and the United Nations to investigate alleged crimes committed by Saif Gaddafi, the recently captured son of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The subject of where Saif would be tried - either at the ICC or in Libya - has provoked much debate since his capture. The ICC had issued arrest warrants for Saif, his father, and Gaddafi’s former intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senoussi for crimes against humanity stemming from their involvement in the violent crackdown on civilians which took place in Libya for several months this year. Because the UN Security Council referred the situation in Libya to the ICC, the Court has jurisdiction over the case, even though Libya is not an ICC state party. However, some in Libya had expressed the desire to hold Saif accountable in their own country rather than handing him over to the Hague for trial.
Prosecutor Ocampo seems satisfied with the Libyan government’s vow of cooperation on the Saif Gaddafi case. It is now critically important that the country’s National Transitional Council fulfill this pledge. Even as Libya begins to pick up the pieces and rebuild a post-Gaddafi nation, those responsible for crimes against civilians, including Saif Gaddafi, must be held accountable and brought to justice.
Republican presidential candidates debated again on Saturday in the CBS News/National Journal debate in South Carolina, the first debate entirely focused on foreign affairs. The candidates used the time to highlight their complete lack of awareness and qualifications on international issues. They blundered on every issue, from Iran to foreign aid, to the use of torture in the war on terror, making it clear that the vast majority of the current Republican field does not have the credentials to be our next president.
Iran was a hot button issue following the recent report of the IAEA on Iran's rapidly developing nuclear program (for more info on the IAEA report, read here). Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich implied that they would support using military force against Iran. Romney went as far as to say another Obama term would directly result in Iran becoming a nuclear power. These are examples of exactly the type of alarmist statement's that led to our war in Iraq, using scare tactics and hawkish policies to launch another unnecessary and costly entanglement abroad.
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