The Global Citizen: Capitol Hill
This week, an array of analysts, Congress people, and talk show hosts from the usual suspects on the right to Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and John Stewart on the left, have aggressively attacked President Obama on his course of action in Libya. The three most common criticisms are: 1) The President did not allow Congress to authorize force in Libya; 2) The President has not defined the mission in Libya to the American people and 3) that we can’t pick and choose to intervene in Libya, but not Yemen or Bahrain. Such criticisms have led some to call the mission in Libya a pre-determined failure and comparisons have been made to the Iraq War of President George W. Bush. These concerns are misplaced and untimely as the current action being taken in Libya represents a crucial precedent in civilian protection, responsible international cooperation and the responsibility to protect.
In a surprising speech during a meeting of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) yesterday, Representative Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) stated that the United States should completely withdraw from the United Nations. Rep. Rohrbacher said that it is “flawed that we look for a global policy when half the members [of the UN] are gangsters, thugs, and lunatics…” No, I’m not making that up. Those were the exact words spoken by a member of Congress, one of the few people who represent us before the diplomats and leaders of the world. And frankly, it’s embarrassing.
To suggest America doesn’t need the United Nations is like suggesting that Michael Jordan, even in his prime, didn’t need any teammates. No one, regardless of talent can win a basketball game alone, one-on-five. And no nation, no matter how powerful can solve the kinds of problems we face today alone. On a number of issues such as peacekeeping, nuclear non-proliferation, and humanitarian aid to third world countries, the UN allows us to do things we would want or need to do anyway but at a much lower cost in money and people.
Recent events in the Middle East have shown that civil society can bring about big change in the world. The people of Egypt were able to revolutionize their government in only 18 days and civil society groups are increasingly using emerging technologies to connect to one another and make their voices heard. I recently had a wonderful opportunity to interview Ambassador David T. Killion, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
With time running out before a temporary federal funding measure expires on March 4th, the House of Representatives last week passed H.R. 1, which would provide funding for federal agencies for the rest of the fiscal year, through September 2011-but it cuts deep into the international affairs and peacekeeping budget.
Don Kraus, CEO of Citizens for Global Solutions, laid out the consequences of the House budget to IPS News: "The House FY 2011 funding bill would have a devastating impact on U.S. foreign affairs funding, and if adopted could be a serious setback to U.S support for the Millennial Development Goals (MGDs). The legislation would cut funding for critical poverty fighting food aid programs by up to 50 percent, decimate support for refugees in Africa, Burma, Iraq and other places, and shrink funding for fighting AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. This legislation represents a serious retreat for U.S. poverty reduction efforts."
"I'm concerned that our interest and our challenge is incongruous with the essence of what we are trying to do here." These words, spoken by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), marked the first sign of any contention in the first meeting of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Global Narcotics Affairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Menendez was referring to the issue of drug trafficking in Latin America and the affects of such trade on Latin American and U.S. citizen security. His concern was over the fact that the President's proposed FY12 Budget decreases funding for counter-narcotics efforts and law enforcement by 7% in the region at a time when drug trafficking remains a major problem.
Sen. Menendez asked Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, "how do we [cut funding] at a time when we are seeing still a very severe challenge?" And Sen. Menendez's question is by no means exclusive to counter-narcotics efforts in Latin America. At a time when the Arab world is democratizing and Latin America is progressing democratically and economically the United States can play a critical role in international affairs...pending on adequate funding.
President Obama released his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2012 yesterday, launching the annual budgetary process in which the White House and Congress struggle to come to terms on spending legislation acceptable to both branches of government. The outlook for international affairs funding in the President's budget is not overly encouraging, particularly regarding funding for the United Nations and peacekeeping missions--but all things considered, it could be worse.
The President's budget proposal provides $47 billion in discretionary spending for the Departments of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This represents a 1 percent increase from Fiscal Year 2010 (the last time the government successfully enacted a budget, as the FY 2011 budget has not yet been completed). Unfortunately, funding for international organizations and peacekeeping would be reduced under the President's budget proposal, to $3.539 billion from the $3.8 billion total allocated in FY 2010. $75 million is proposed for the Complex Crises Fund (CCF). The President's budget also recommends creating a new Global Security Contingency Fund, a "funding mechanism to facilitate greater joint Department of Defense-State planning, funding, and execution of security sector and stabilization assistance programs worldwide."
CGS is happy to report that the House of Representatives voted on February 9th to defeat H.R. 519, the ‘‘United Nations Tax Equalization Refund Act of 2011.’’ This bill, introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), would have asked the U.N. to return $180 million in U.S. dues which had been earmarked by the U.S. government to provide security for the U.N. building in New York City, and to fund peacekeeping missions around the globe.
The bill purported to save taxpayers money by returning approximately $180 million in credits that have accumulated in the Tax Equalization Fund (TEF) since 2000. The TEF is a fund used to ensure that U.S. citizens working at the UN are not disadvantaged in their salary compared to those from other countries, since the United States, unlike other nations, decided not to exempt their citizens from paying taxes on UN compensation. However, according to Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, the $180 million in overpayments in the TEF are in the form of credits, not cash, and thus cannot be refunded. Furthermore, the U.S. government had already planned to use the $180 million in credits to harden security around the U.N. building in New York, and to help fund peacekeeping missions around the globe.
Today, even Politico understands how disastorous it would be to if we listened to House Republicans and cut State and Foreign Aid spending to 2008 levels. Yet, there are still those who, like Rand Paul, would happy to reduce the PEPFAR budget, which provides antiretroviral drugs to AIDS patients in Africa. Check out the full Politico article here:
As posted on the Huffington Post
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the new Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has thrown down her gauntlet. In her first briefing as chairwoman, she had the opportunity to focus on any number of timely issues like the referendum in Sudan, human rights in China or reconstruction in Haiti. Instead she chose "The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action," to launch an attack against the U.N.
The first full committee meeting of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) was titled “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action.” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has made it known that she plans to launch an attack on the U.N., and this first briefing got straight to the point. Since the full committee has not been set up yet this was a briefing rather than a hearing, and Rep. Ros-Lehtinen was unable to be at the briefing due to a family emergency, so Rep. Schmit presided over the briefing.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, in a statement read by Rep. Schmidt, called for withholding U.N. dues, and making the contribution to the U.N. budget voluntary. While ranking chair member Rep. Berman called for U.N. change through working together with the U.S. and its allies.
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen hoped that “U.N. efforts will be strongly bipartisan,” but there does not seem to be much bipartisanship going on when one side is calling for withholding U.N. dues while the other wants to work to improve the U.N. through engagement in order to make it a more effective organization.
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