The Cable

Pakistan military aid safer than the economic aid

As Congress contemplates cutting U.S. aid to Pakistan in light of the discovery that Osama bin Laden had been hiding there for years, the funds most at risk from disgruntled lawmakers are those currently allocated to the civilian government that is more sympathetic to Washington, rather than the money going to the Pakistani military, which is more wary of ties to the United States.

This irony is not lost on senior U.S. lawmakers who are thinking about scaling back promises of economic assistance. Most vulnerable are the funds promised under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid package, which total $7.5 billion over five years.

Top senators admit that the civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari has staked a lot of its credibility on its decision to stand by Washington. But many in Congress say that the United States needs the Pakistani military to help it fight the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda, so they're more reluctant to cut this funding.

"The part that I'm most skeptical of is the economic part, the 5 year Kerry-Lugar plan," Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) told The Cable in a Tuesday interview.

Levin's committee has control of the Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, which goes directly to the Pakistani military, but he won't cut that funding in his authorization bill.

"It's not a matter of which part of the government to support, it's the mission or activities that are in our interest. And the military pieces that we're supporting, which is reimbursement of their costs for supporting our effort in Afghanistan plus training their military on the border, that's clearly in our interest," Levin said.

He said it's also in the U.S. interest for Pakistan to develop into a stable democracy that can provide for itself -- but that's not the most pressing issue at the moment.

"Sure, that's also in our interest but not as clearly," said Levin. "Plus, the money is much more easily transferable on the economic side than on the military side."

Several top senators, including Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Ops chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), also want to scale back the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funding because they don't feel it's being wisely spent or that the oversight is in place.

Two lawmakers who have called for a review of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funding in the wake of the bin Laden killing are Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), two of the three authors of the legislation. As leaders on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, they play a role in authorizing the funds each year.

"Very little of the money has been spent -- only $179 million has been allocated from the $1.5 billion this year -- largely because we never worked out the accountability of the money, who in Pakistan would spend, how we would audit what they were doing, nor have we agreed on the projects," Lugar told The Cable in a Tuesday interview.

"We've made very little headway," Lugar said, although he added that he is among those who want to keep up ties with both Pakistan's military and civilian officials.

"We have to stay engaged and we've been through this before," he said. "We need to find ways to have a better rapport with Pakistan."

Berman has criticized the administration's decision to certify that Pakistan "demonstrated a sustained commitment towards combating terrorism," a requirement under the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid bill passed last year. He wants the administration to use the money as leverage to pressure the Pakistanis to more aggressively go after militant groups.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) told The Cable on Tuesday that he would soon send a letter to President Barack Obama demanding that funds to Pakistan be cut off if the administration can't stand by that certification.

According to the most recent chart compiled by the Congressional Research Service (PDF), the U.S. government has given Pakistan $20.7 billion in aid since fiscal 2002, and is requesting another $2.9 billion for Pakistan in next year's budget.

From that total, $14.2 billion has gone to the Pakistani military, primarily for coalition support funding, reimbursement for counterterrorism operations, and foreign military. Of the $6.5 billion in aid to Pakistan that has gone to the civilian side, $4.8 billion was provided to "economic support funds," and the rest was spread out between programs such as food aid and international disaster assistance.

UPDATE: Berman's spokesperson Gabby Adler writes in to clarify Berman's position on the aid:

Ranking Member Berman is primarily concerned about security assistance for Pakistan. The section 203 certification made by the Secretary of State applies to security assistance, not civilian assistance, and Mr. Berman maintains that strengthening Pakistan's civilian government and democratic institutions remains one of the few ways to ensure a long-term, healthy relationship with that country.

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The Cable

Kerry: It’s time to give up on Assad the reformer

Now that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has proven that he has no problem killing peaceful protesters in the streets, some of the most prominent advocates of engaging with the Assad regime are rethinking their views. That list now includes Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), who told The Cable today that he no longer believed the Syrian regime was willing to reform.

Kerry, who has served as Congress's point man on engaging the Syrian regime, told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as recently as March 16 -- shortly after the current uprising had begun -- that he still expected Assad to embrace political reform and move toward more engagement with America and its allies.

"[M]y judgment is that Syria will move; Syria will change, as it embraces a legitimate relationship with the United States and the West and economic opportunity that comes with it and the participation that comes with it," said Kerry, who has met with Assad six times over the past two years.

But in an exclusive interview today, Kerry said he no longer saw the Syrian government as willing to reform. "He obviously is not a reformer now," he said, while also defending his previous stance. "I've always said the top goal of Assad is to perpetuate his own regime."

When pressed by The Cable about his earlier, rosier view of Assad, Kerry denied he had expected the Syrian regime would come around.

"I said there was a chance he could be a reformer if certain things were done. I wasn't wrong about if those things were done. They weren't done," Kerry said.  "I didn't hold out hope. I said there were a series of things that if he engaged in them, there was a chance he would be able to produce a different paradigm. But he didn't."

"I said we have to put him to the test. I've always said it's a series of tests," Kerry said. "The chance was lost and that's the end of it."

In light of the current crackdown, during which over 700 Syrians have lost their lives and thousands more have been arrested, Kerry admitted that the ship has sailed for U.S. engagement with the Assad regime.

"We can't [continue to engage] right now," he said. "This is an egregious situation. There are a lot of human rights abuses and we have to respond appropriately."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continues to point to Capitol Hill when asked why the administration ever believed that the Syrian government could be peeled away from its alliance with Iran or would pursue a path toward greater freedom and democracy for its people.

"Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer," she said March 27. And on May 6, she stated that the Syrian regime has "an opportunity still to bring about a reform agenda."

However, Kerry's about-face suggests that the administration's allies in Congress have no interest in taking the fall for the administration's optimism regarding Syria. Meanwhile, those in the Senate who have always seen Assad as a despotic and cruel leader are claiming vindication.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told The Cable on Tuesday that lawmakers' contention that Assad could be a reformer was "one of the great delusionary views in recent foreign policy history."

"It wasn't just Kerry, it was a whole lot of people, first of all the administration," McCain said.

Two other top Democrats continued to defend the two-year drive to engage the Syrian government in interviews with The Cable on Tuesday.

"Even Qaddafi looked like a reformer for a while and he gave up his nukes. So things flip around pretty quickly in the Middle East," said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). "Assad sure doesn't look like a reformer today."

Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said Assad still has a chance to do the right thing.

"I don't think Syria has shaken out yet, I don't think we know what Assad will or won't do.... I wouldn't be overly optimistic," she said.

Feinstein also sounded a cautious note about Washington's ability to pressure Syria to choose a path toward reform.

"I don't think we can be everyone's keeper. We've got five nations under active civil war in the Middle East now and I don't know that we can be telling every one of them what they should or shouldn't do," she said. "If they're not going to listen to their own people, it seems to me that we're not going to make much of a difference."

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