Robert Gates Makes Funding Plea for State's Work in Iraq

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates makes a testimony at the the House Armed Services Committe on Feb. 16, a day before appearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, where he noted the need for adequate financial support to State Department so that it can have the capacity to take over programs in Iraq led by the U.S. military, including the training of Iraqi police. Photo by: Amanda Bossard / Medill News Service

If the State Department does not secure the required funds in fiscal 2012 to support the civilan surge in Iraq, U.S.-led gains achieved in the Islamic nation are at risk of being reversed, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates told a Senate committee Feb. 17.

As U.S. troops are expected to pull out of Iraq by the end of the year, the State Department will still maintain a “significant” presence in Iraqi reconstruction efforts in the years to come, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in a statement last month.

>> As Troops Prepare to Leave, US Gears Up for Next Steps in Iraq

The approval of the fiscal 2012 request of $5.2 billion in overseas contingency operations funding for the State is “a critically urgent concern,” Gates told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, noting that the funding is necessary for the State’s takeover of programs led by the U.S. military including the training of Iraqi police.

Even as U.S. President Barack Obama has unveiled his budget request for fiscal 2012, the U.S. Congress is still debating a spending bill for the remainder of fiscal 2011, which ends Sept. 30. 

With the continuing resolution allotting funds at 2010 levels, Gates said the State Department “can’t spend the money to get ready right now… There are facilities to be built. There are people to be hired. And they can’t do any of that. And so we’re going to run out of time in terms of being able to get this accomplished.”

Gates’ appeal drew bipartisan support from the Senate, The Washington Post reports.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations’ state and foreign operations subcommittee, described the overseas contingency operations funding request for the State’s work in Iraq as a “national security asset” and pledged to “do everything I can on the Republican side in the Senate to make sure that we protect those funds.”

The civilian transition in Iraq “can only be successful if the Department of State and our other civilian agencies receive the resources that they need to take on these missions,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

Gates’ plea for funding for the State seems at odds with his defense for the Pentagon’s $671 billion budget request, says James Traub, a contibutor for the New York Times Magazine and

“Gates has claimed that anything more than Obama’s proposed $78 billion in cuts – much of them from dubious accounting – will damage national security. This insistence on preserving defense spending – to say nothing of entitlements – has required deeper cuts elsewhere in order to make inroads on the deficit,” he writes in Foreign Policy.

Traub explains: “But if diplomacy and development really are underfunded relative to the military, then it’s perverse to slash the budget for international affairs while protecting the Pentagon; we should take money from the bloated defense budget to increase funding for the MCA, or to help build the action-oriented USAID that both Gates and Clinton have forcefully advocated.”

“And given that we spend more than 20 times as much on defense as we do on development assistance, we could make the changes proportional by cutting $20 from the Pentagon for every $1 we add to development, and use the rest to draw down the deficit. Do we really think that would make us, on balance, less safe?” he asks.

Republicans threaten government shutdown

House Republicans have allegedly threatened a shutdown of the U.S. government on the heels of a political deadlock over measures to curb federal expenditures.

The House of Representatives voted on Saturday (Feb. 19) to slash federal spending by $61 billion through September, when fiscal 2011 ends. The Republican-backed proposal is expected to be defeated in the Democratic-controlled Senate. President Obama also threatened to veto the spending bill for the rest of fiscal 2011 if it undermines U.S. security interests, Reuters reports.

“Unfortunately [House Speaker John] Boehner seems to be on a course that would inevitably lead to a shutdown … That’s reckless,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program aired Sunday (Feb. 20).

“We have said shutdown is off the table … Boehner, [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Ky.], other Republican leaders have not taken it off the table when asked, and there are lots of people on the hard right clamoring for a shutdown,” Schumer said.

In 1995, the U.S. government partially shut down after then-Democratic President Bill Clinton and the Republican-led Congress failed to agree on a spending bill even after the expiration of a continuing resolution to fund the government. The shutdown led to the furlough, or leave without pay, of 800,000 federal employees.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, played down the shutdown scenario on CBS’ “Face the Nation” program, also aired Sunday.

“We’re not looking for a government shutdown, but at the same time we’re also not looking at rubber stamping these really high, elevated spending levels that Congress blew through the joint two years ago,” Ryan said.

Read more about U.S. development aid.

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  • Ma. Rizza Leonzon

    As a former staff writer, Rizza focused mainly on business coverage, including key donors such as the Asian Development Bank and AusAID.