US military assistance for foreign forces: a wise investment?
The US military dispenses billions of dollars to foreign forces each year. Pentagon says the investment boosts diplomatic leverage, citing the Egypt crisis. Critics say it does little to advance US goals.
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"So we are essentially not on the same page," says Dr. Ottaway. "The same relationship is based on different assumptions and different interests."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures US military muscle
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This is also the case in Yemen, where the US supports a regime that portrays itself as a bulwark against Al Qaeda-backed terrorist extremists. "Everybody knows that the regime is a disaster, but where are you going to turn – who else is going to help us fight Al Qaeda in Yemen?" says Ottaway.
Many nations getting aid perceive, too, that the US has few options but to back them. "So why make concessions to the US?" she asks. "That's why, time after time, we discover that the United States actually has very little leverage in these countries."
"On the one hand, it gives us the ability to influence how these governments are thinking," he says. "On the other hand, it reinforces the notion that local leaders are nothing but a client state for the US."
In the short term, Dr. Swift adds, "there seems to be a strategic imperative" to provide aid. In the case of Bahrain, home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, American strategic interests require countering Iranian influence in the region. "The question is to what extent our need to take care of the urgent undermines our ability to deal with the important" – such as US credibility in the region, he asks.
This came into sharp relief when the Bahraini military cracked down on pro-democracy protesters last month, killing at least four people. Just two months earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had declared herself "very impressed by the progress that Bahrain is making on all fronts – economically, politically, socially."
Much of US aid is predicated on worst-case scenarios that likely would not have happened anyway, argues Dr. Preble. "We did not have an Egypt-Israeli war, true. But what was the likelihood it would have happened if we hadn't supported [former President Hosni] Mubarak? Maybe not zero, but very low, because [former Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat on his own terms had decided that being in a constant state of war was really bad for Egypt."
Back in Fort Leavenworth, the Army's Mr. Fain argues that Pentagon aid gives the US military vital influence abroad. "If you just base your assessment on the behavior of the Egyptian Army,... the restraint and professionalism that's being demonstrated by their military is based on something," he says. "I have to believe that their behavior is somewhat informed by their experiences here."
Adds Englehardt: "Military training is more than training someone to operate a piece of military equipment." When foreign soldiers come to the US, they "get involved and exposed to the whole lifestyle," he says, "the whole set of American ideals."
IN PICTURES: US military muscle