“What Has $49 Billion in Foreign Military Aid Bought Us? Not Much”

…Such docility might be good industrial policy—after all, it creates jobs in key congressional districts, provides corporate welfare for America’s defense companies, and helps maintain the defense industrial base. But it makes for lousy foreign policy. The United States will continue to pour money down a rat hole until Congress and the executive branch better understand why these problems keep recurring and muster the political will to fix them. Based on our experience in the State Department, here is our diagnosis of the problem and some remedies for what ails U.S. military assistance in the Middle East.

The context is American aid to our Middle East allies and the compliant is that despite the large amount of aid distributed year after year, the United States seems to have very little control over the domestic politics of the recipients.

Here is one bit.

A second and related problem is that the U.S. government does a poor job of holding allies and clients to account for behavior that runs counter to American interests. There is no systematic review of what U.S. military assistance accomplishes. The key questions that rarely get asked, let alone answered, are what does the U.S. want and expect from the assistance we provide and how does this aid help or hurt America’s ability to achieve these goals?  If the U.S. cannot identify actions that the recipient would not have otherwise taken as a result of this assistance, then it is nothing more than a welfare program, and has two pernicious effects. First, it encourages “moral hazard”—recipients to do whatever they want with the assistance without having to fear the consequences of their actions. Second, it creates “reverse leverage”— Washington bends over backwards to keep relations smooth and the assistance flowing, rather than leverage the recipient’s dependence on U.S. military support and political commitments.

You can read the rest here.

The Afghan money pit

A recent NYT piece reports

The United States spent up to $28 million more than it had to on camouflage uniforms for the Afghan National Army because of the sartorial tastes of a single Afghan official, an American government watchdog said on Wednesday.

report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstructionfound that the Pentagon needlessly spent millions to license a proprietary camouflage pattern that replicates lush forests. Most of Afghanistan’s landscape, however, is desert, and the Defense Department owns dozens of similar patterns it could have used free, the report said.

“They picked the pattern based on a fashion preference, not by experts, but by the minister of defense,” said John F. Sopko, the special inspector general. “That was a dumb decision.”

And we are sending 4,000 of America’s best and brightest to defend this lot.

Utterly unbelievable.

Israel gets more aggressive with settlements with Trump as President-elect

With Donald Trump as President-elect, Israel has ramped up its settlement construction with the belief that he would be more sympathetic, or uninterested, in getting involved in the politics of West Bank Israeli housing. The latest behavior of the Israeli government is especially dubious. As reported in the LA Times, “The bill would empower Israel to expropriate the property and offer compensation to Palestinian owners, allowing Israeli settlers to have homes retroactively legalized.”

The Israeli government will, obviously, pay a below market price for these homes. Otherwise there would be no need for the bill.

This is actually a situation where I think the United States should involve itself in the domestic affairs of a foreign state. (1) Many of our Middle East security problems can be partially traced back to the peace process and the perception that the United States is not an neutral party. But more importantly, (2) we provide a ridiculous amount of aid to Israel; the latest pledge of 38 billion over a 10 year period is the largest aid transfer in American history. I disagree with subsidizing Israel security but if we are going to give so much American money to a foreign state we should at least demand that the recipient not pursue policies that jeopardize American security. This is not the same as Jackson-Vanik style negotiating because the United States, I believe, doesn’t get anything in return for subsidizing Israeli defense but overwhelming benefits from free trade.