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Why did Congress cut funds for peace in a time of war?

The House of Representatives voted recently to eliminate all funding for the US Institute of Peace, which plays a vital role in mediating international conflicts that no other group can. So what's behind this jaw-dropping, backward step?

By Wesley Kanne Clark / March 21, 2011

Little Rock, Ark.

It was with disbelief and dismay that the military and international security community learned that the US House of Representatives voted recently to eliminate funding for the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) – the government’s only institution created to focus exclusively on international peacebuilding.

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Eliminating USIP funding is a jaw-dropping, backward step. Although other national security contributors can perform some of USIP’s functions, none can perform them all in unity or has such convening power. More important, none can perform them as effectively. This is why Congress created USIP in the first place and should ensure continued funding.

Five ways Republicans will change the House

First, there is, today, a shared understanding on the battlefield and off the battlefield that we need international conflict management – a field that USIP built over the past quarter century in partnership with the military, diplomatic, development, higher education, and humanitarian sectors.

Second, the characterization of USIP – by Reps. Anthony Weiner (D) of New York and Jason Chaffetz (R) of Utah – as merely a think tank was inaccurate at best, disinformation at worst. USIP folks work in conflict zones like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Balkans, and throughout the Middle East, where they train military and civilian personnel. Yes, they “think,” but they transform thought into action.

Finally, a surprise amendment, debated at 1:30 AM with a two-minute roll call vote hours later, is not a responsible way for the world’s leading democracy to legislate such an important function of government as peace, especially when our nation is at war.

What motivated the House to vote this way?

The new House appears motivated by three key, even predictable, lines of reasoning. The first is a shortsighted desire to save a few dollars – whatever the cost to national security.

The second motivating mindset is the usual desire to have private firms, rather than government, do the work of peacebuilding. Ideologically, politicians can reason that they are keeping the American government out of foreign conflicts – an involvement they feel inappropriately expends US resources. (However, contracting private firms to do this work actually costs the taxpayer more.)

The third line of reasoning that appears to be motivating the new House is a policy that smacks of “big on war, soft on the causes of war and preventing, managing, and resolving it effectively.”

USIP's critical role in Balkans, Kosovo War


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