The Cable

Gates: Iraq will face problems if U.S. troops withdraw

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.

"How can 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?"

Gates 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.

"The truth 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 and maintenance."

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."

AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Ron Paul seeks vote to end foreign aid to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Pakistan

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 is not 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 (R-IN).

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.