In testimony on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Defense
Secretary Robert Gates said that the
United States has an interest in keeping troops in Iraq beyond 2011, citing the
security problems that the Iraqi government would face in the event of a
complete U.S. withdrawal.
Under questioning from Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Gates said that the U.S. government still
plans to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of the year, as was agreed
under the 2008 U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, leaving only about 150
Defense Department personnel at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Hunter, however,
continued to press Gates for his personal opinion on the matter.
we maintain all of these gains that we've made through so much effort if we
only have 150 people there and we don't have any military there whatsoever,"
Hunter asked. "We'd have more military in Western European countries at that
point than we'd have in Iraq, one of the most central states, as everybody
knows, in the Middle East?"
responded that not only was it in the U.S. interest to keep more troops in
country, but that the Iraqis need more American troops there as well.
of the matter is, the Iraqis are going to have some problems that they're going
to have to deal with if we are not there in some numbers," Gates testified.
"They will not be able to do the kind of job in intelligence fusion. They won't
be able to protect their own airspace. They will have problems with logistics
Gates won't be around in 2012; he's pledged
to leave office sometime this year. But he told Congress that the U.S.
government will honor its commitment to completely withdraw from Iraq in 2011,
even if he personally doesn't think it's a good idea for either country.
"It's their country. It's a sovereign country," Gates said.
"This is the agreement that was signed by President Bush and the Iraqi
government, and we will abide by the agreement unless the Iraqis ask us to have
additional people there."
Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX)
and his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), have not
been shy about their desire to end all U.S. foreign aid. This week, the elder
member of the Paul family is seeking a full House vote on an amendment that
would cut $6 billion of U.S. aid to a host of Middle East countries.
Rep. Paul is trying to build
support for an amendment to the fiscal 2011 funding bill that would end all
foreign assistance to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Pakistan. The funding bill
currently being debated by the House, called the continuing resolution (CR), is
needed to keep the government running after March 4.
"Stop buying friends
overseas, save $6 billion!" reads the headline of a Dear Colleague letter Paul
sent to all House offices on Tuesday. In past years, amendments like Paul's,
which isnot supported by leadership, would not have received a
vote because congressional leaders had limited or even prohibited amendments during
spending debates. But this year, House Republican leadership decided to
use an "open rule" for the CR, giving every member of Congress the right to
bring an amendment and have it debated.
There are currently over 400
amendments pending to the bill, and yet somehow the House leadership wants to
finish debate this week. Whether they can really do that remains unclear, but
even if they succeed, the bill would go to the Senate and then perhaps back to
the House once more with new changes from the Senate. House Budget Committee
chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has said that another
short-term temporary funding measure might be necessary to keep the government
running while the legislative process continues.
Regardless, if Paul's
amendment gets a vote, it would be the first time the entire House would vote
on whether or not to give $6 billion to these foreign governments. The vote
would come in the midst of the largest American fiscal crisis in a generation,
which could increase the chance that it would attract significant support.
"Borrowing money from China -- or
printing it out of thin air -- to hand out overseas in [an] attempt to purchase
friends has been a failing foreign policy, as we see most recently in Egypt
where there is not even a government in place!" Paul wrote in his Dear
Colleague letter. "We should seek friendly relations and trade overseas, but we
cannot justify lavish gifts to foreign leaders when American taxpayers are
increasingly feeling the pain of our economic crisis."
Paul, along with his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), represent the
libertarian wing of the Tea Party movement, which has been throwing its weight around Congress since the new session started in January. Like-minded
members have also been pushing the House GOP leadership to make deeper cuts to
the foreign assistance budget. For example, on Jan. 20, the 165-member
Republican Study Committee put out a plan
that would drastically defund the U.S. Agency for International Development.
While there is probably enough
bipartisan support for aid to Israel to defeat Paul's amendment, the debate
over continued funding for other Arab countries is more complex. Some GOP heavyweights,
like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
(R-VA), have suggested
scuttling all foreign aid that is not designated for staunch U.S. allies such
as Israel. House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has argued for restricting aid to the Egyptian government unless it excludes the Muslim
Brotherhood from any representation in the new parliament.
Other leading Republicans,
especially in the Senate, have voiced support for continuing U.S. assistance to
Egypt and Jordan. Sen. Mark Kirk
(R-IL) is working behind the scenes to craft an aid package to the CR that would fully fund the
president's request for foreign aid to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. Aid to
Pakistan, which totals over $1.5 billion each year, has strong support from
Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads John
Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar
Regardless, Paul's amendment
represents the rising tide of opposition to foreign aid and the increased
difficulty of defending such aid in Congress.
"We cannot afford to have ‘business
as usual' when we are bankrupt," he wrote.