Adam Isacson

Still trying to understand Latin America, my own country, and why so few consequences are intended. These views are not necessarily my employer’s.

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Foreign Policy

Can Trump really stop all aid to Central America? Yes, but not really.

The New York Times reports:

The State Department issued a statement late on Friday saying: “At the secretary’s instruction, we are carrying out the president’s direction and ending FY 2017 and FY 2018 foreign assistance programs for the Northern Triangle. We will be engaging Congress as part of this process.”

I’m not a lawyer, and not a foreign aid appropriator. I’ve asked a couple of people, but don’t know if I’ll get responses over the weekend. If I do, I’ll edit this post if necessary in blue text. But here’s why I don’t think President Trump’s “canceling” of aid to Central America’s Northern Triangle will succeed, except perhaps during the remainder of this fiscal year. It may be up to the judicial branch to sort this out.

1. The Constitution gives Congress “the power of the purse.”

Appropriations aren’t just suggestions. When Congress has specifically appropriated aid to a country, foreign aid law provides specific reasons why it can be canceled. These include military coups, gross human rights violations, drug decertifications, and others. “The president’s mad” isn’t one of those reasons.

Giving money that was prohibited from being appropriated was at the heart of the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s. Not giving money that was specifically appropriated? Similar, with some exceptions noted below.

2. The Impoundment Control Act of 1974 specifically prohibits the president from withholding appropriated funds.

Under this law, rescinding funds requires congressional approval. Wikipedia explains: “The Act was passed in response to feelings in Congress that President Nixon was abusing his power of impoundment by withholding funding of programs he opposed.” Sound familiar?

3. Trump could abuse his reprogramming authority, but it would cost him.

Here’s where it gets tricker. What if the White House proposes not to withhold money, but to transfer the Central America aid to another country? There must still be nearly a billion dollars in the pipeline for 2017 and 2018. What if Trump wants to give it to, say, Israel instead?

He can do that—but there will be consequences. Section 634A of the Foreign Assistance Act only requires that Congress be notified in detail of any “reprogramming” of assistance, 15 days in advance.

But the president would pay a huge price if the reprogramming were to happen despite congressional opposition. Under longstanding custom, if the chairman of the responsible congressional committee receiving the notification disagrees with it, he/she can place a “hold” on it and keep it from happening. Negotiations usually ensue. If the president ignores the hold, it’s assumed that the committee chairman would retaliate against the president’s priorities in the next year’s funding bill. The “notification” requirement has teeth because you don’t want to piss off appropriators or authorizers who have power over your budget.

A similar episode is happening right now with the House defense committees. They were notified this week of a reprogramming of $1 billion from Defense Department personnel accounts into the Defense counter-drug account, which allows spending on barriers—Trump’s “border wall”—for counter-drug purposes. House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington) responded to the notification with a letter refusing the reprogramming. Smith probably doesn’t have the power to do that, but the Pentagon may pay a big price in future budgets for defying him.

These two cases of massive reprogrammings in the face of strong congressional opposition are setting us up for a constitutional crisis. Why bother having an appropriations process at all if the executive branch can just go ahead and defy it anytime it wants by checking a “notification” box?

4. There’s some fuzzy “up to” language in the appropriation.

A potential minefield is in the 2018 appropriations law, which tells the State Department that “up to $615,000,000 may be made available for assistance for countries in Central America.” That “up to” language could be a problem: isn’t “zero dollars” technically an amount “up to $615 million?” But probably not, because of the next point.

5. But Central America aid must be spent as laid out in the bill’s report language.

The foreign aid bill comes with an explanatory statement that, for some countries, includes a table specifying exactly, line by line, how Congress intends the aid money to be spent for that country. Every year’s foreign aid appropriation law has included such a table for Central America in its explanatory statement.

Section 7019 of the 2018 foreign aid bill states plainly, “funds appropriated by this Act under titles III through V shall be made available in the amounts specifically designated in the respective tables included in the explanatory statement.” So never mind the “up to” language: Congress has required Central America to get specific amounts of funds according to a line-by-line table.

However: subsection (b) of Section 7019 does allow “deviations” from that table. But only “to respond to significant, exigent, or unforeseen events, or to address other exceptional circumstances directly related to the national interest.” The White House could seek to drive through that loophole by claiming that an “exceptional circumstance” calls for moving all aid away from Central America. However, 7019(b) also requires “prior consultation with, and the regular notification procedures of, the Committees on Appropriations” before any “deviation.” Consultation is more than just notification, so using the 7019(b) loophole would involve a big battle between the Trump administration and appropriators.

6. Some government-to-government aid could be reprogrammed through “decertification.”

The aid for the central governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras came with conditions. 25 percent of it stays “in the freezer” until the Secretary of State certifies that those countries are doing more to discourage migration and combat smuggling. Another 50 percent is held up until the Secretary certifies that those countries are making improvements on twelve measures regarding human rights, citizen security, anti-corruption, and similar values.

If those countries are determined not to be making progress, that 75 percent can be reprogrammed away to other countries.

Note, though, that this condition only applies to aid to the central governments of those countries. Aid to provincial or municipal governments, judicial branches, or non-governmental entities is not affected by this certification requirement. So this is probably not the vehicle the administration would choose if it wants to attempt a total cutoff of aid to Central America.

It’s going to be a battle.

No matter what, it could take a few months for Congress—and who knows, maybe the courts—to resolve this. In the meantime, if you’re Russia or China, or even Iran, and you want to spend a little money filling a vacuum of diplomatic and economic engagement deep in the United States’ backyard, then this is your moment to write some checks and strike up some new relationships.

Some troubling/horrifying excerpts from the Honduras IG report

It’s taken me 2 1/2 months, as it was one task among many. But I’ve now given a close read to all 400 pages of the report on DEA activities in Honduras that the State and Justice Departments’ inspectors-general put out on May 24. It discusses three incidents in 2012 involving an elite DEA team assigned to interdict drug traffickers in rural Honduras, an effort called “Operation Anvil.” In all three there was loss of life. In the worst incident, four innocent civilians were killed, including two pregnant women.

Mistakes happen in tense situations, and the right thing to do is admit them, take care of the victims, and figure out how to keep something like that from happening again. Yet the report details a shameful, pathetic pattern in the DEA’s and State Department’s efforts to get to the bottom of what happened, to keep Congress and the U.S. ambassador informed, and to attend to the victims.

So much of this report rewards a close read. But here are some quotes that stood out to me, in the order they appear. Highlighting is mine.

Honduras was OK with active-duty Guatemalan Air Force pilots running law-enforcement missions over its territory

To carry out interdictions, Operation Anvil included the temporary relocation to Honduras of [redacted] INL helicopters stationed in Guatemala, which were flown by U.S. contractor pilots employed by DynCorp International (DynCorp) and co-pilots from the Guatemalan Air Force. (Page 9)

“Not if.”

According to the Country Attaché and the Assistant Regional Director, Ambassador [Lisa] Kubiske and her representatives were privy to discussions concerning the security concerns implicit in the planned drug interdiction missions. The Assistant Regional Director told us that the Ambassador would often state, “If there’s a shooting…,” and DEA officials would interrupt her and state, “[N]ot if. There will be several fatalities here. There will be shootings.” (Page 16)

Top diplomat would not have approved Operation Anvil

John Feeley, who was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), told us that he did not become involved in Operation Anvil until shortly before the May 11 shooting incident took place. However, he said that based on his experience in other countries, he would not have approved the concept of operations for Operation Anvil had he been the Chief of Mission because the risk of an officer losing his life was too great. (Page 16)

Herding and controlling the “Hondos”

The initial drafts contained a provision near the end of the order stating that the Honduran TRT [National Police Tactical Response Team] would be the “supported command,” that arrests and seizures would be conducted in accordance with local law, and that FAST [DEA Foreign-Deployed Advisory and Support Team] would provide an advisory role to the Honduran TRT. During this early drafting phase, the FAST Team Leader told FAST and INL officials that “[e]ach FAST Agent will be assigned X number of Hondo’s to herd/control.” (Page 18)

State/INL runs a foreign assistance program—the largest military-police aid program active in Latin America. It’s not supposed to be paying for a DEA operation.

[A]n INL [State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs] attorney raised concerns with INL officials that the language in the CONOPS [Concept of Operations for Operation Anvil] reflected an operation that could not be supported with INL funds: “…It has been the Department’s long-standing policy not to provide operational support with foreign assistance funds, but if we are going to provide it, we need to be clear that the support is for Honduras law enforcement. INL is not authorized to be DEA’s air taxi, and host nation involvement must be real and not simply a fig leaf.” (Page 18–19)

DEA officials responsible for Central America opposed these operations, but were overruled by DEA leadership in Washington

The [DEA] Assistant Regional Director [for North and Central America] told the OIGs [Office of Inspector General] that she and RD [Regional Director Joseph] Evans recommended against Operation Anvil and the use of FAST. She said that interdictions are very difficult and dangerous, and she did not believe the planned interdiction effort was going to improve the situation in Honduras. She said she believed the focus instead should have been on training Honduran prosecutors and professionalizing the police force. (Page 20)

“That’s just not the way it’s going to happen.”

The [DEA] Assistant Regional Director told the OIGs that RD [Regional Director Joseph] Evans had raised his and her concerns about the operation with DEA Headquarters, and they were effectively overruled. In addition, she said that she thought the notion of DEA leading from behind, as stated in the Ambassador’s e­ mail, was unrealistic. She said that in the event of violent confrontations with the DTOs [drug trafficking organizations], which she expected, the idea that armed DEA agents would wait for the Hondurans to take the lead was not practical. “That’s just not the way it’s going to happen.” (Page 24)

They didn’t. Speak. Spanish.

During Operation Anvil, there were approximately [redacted] FAST personnel on each interdiction mission, plus at least one medic. The Bravo and Delta Team Leaders told us that they were both conversant, but not fluent, in Spanish. With respect to their team members, it appears that none of the Bravo and Delta Team members were fluent in Spanish, but half of the Bravo team members and only one Delta team member were conversant to different degrees. (Page 25)

No training on use-of-force, but…

Training materials and other documents provided to the OIGs do not indicate that FAST and the TRT provided training or instruction to the other on their respective deadly force policies. The OIGs were provided with a FAST training PowerPoint slideshow the FAST agents viewed prior to leaving for Honduras. The slideshow did not include a description of the Honduran use of force policy; however, it did include a slide describing the sexually transmitted diseases prevalent in Honduras. (Page 30)

They knew that they had probably wounded or killed people. But they didn’t bother to help them. (This might be the most monstrous revelation in the report.)

[T]he facts in this chapter demonstrate that no effort was made, or even considered, to search for and render aid to the people who may have been injured. We found that at a minimum the FAST members on Helicopter [redacted] who witnessed the encounter on the river knew or should have known that there would be individuals injured. We found no evidence that Honduran authorities were contacted by FAST or TRT during or immediately following the interdiction to render aid to any injured. This was a flaw in both the planning and the execution of the operation, regardless of whether the officers believed at the time that the people in the passenger boat may have been innocent bystanders or suspected targets of the operation. (Page 80)

The U.S. Ambassador was stonewalled by DEA and State/INL.

The SID [State Department Diplomatic Security Special Investigations Division] Agent told us that the Ambassador looked to SID to investigate these incidents because “she asked DEA for information. Get nothing. She asked INL for information. Get nothing. So she asked that we look into it and give her … what transpired.” (Page 217)

“Brownfield was not happy about the initial findings because of their potential to create problems for INL.”

According to notes taken at the meeting, AS [Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William] Brownfield inquired as to why DEA was not cooperating with the [State Department Diplomatic Security, or DS] investigation and stated that he felt that DS was as much to blame for the impasse as DEA. According to the DS participants in the meeting, AS Brownfield was not happy about the initial findings because of their potential to create problems for INL. They also told the OIGs that Brownfield expressed his opinion that DS should not be involved in the investigation at all and that he compared the dispute to a juvenile competition. (Page 229)

Congratulations to both agencies’ inspectors-general for a courageous, thorough report.

Top Senate Republican on foreign aid cuts: “it’s not what is going to occur”

We’ve been voicing alarm about the incredibly deep cuts to diplomacy and foreign aid that the Trump administration has proposed for 2018. When we talk to people in the House of Representatives, they tend to share our alarm about the cuts, which would slash aid to Latin America by 35 percent from last year’s levels.

But when we talk to Senate staff, they generally wave their hands and say “don’t worry about it.”

You can see that here, in this opening statement by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at Tuesday’s committee hearing on the budget with Secretary of State Tillerson. After heaping praise on Tillerson, Corker, with his usual laconic delivery, lets him have it on the proposed budget cuts.

We sat down yesterday in the middle of the Russia negotiations. I took some time out to sit down with my staff, and we began going through the budget that you’re presenting today. And after about five minutes, I said, “This is a total waste of time, I don’t want to do this anymore.”

And the reason it’s wasted time is, I think you know that the budget that’s been presented is not going to be the budget that we’re going to deal with. It’s just not.

And, I mean, the fact is that Congress has a tremendous respect for the diplomatic efforts that are underway, the aid that we provide in emergency situations, and it’s likely and– and by the way, this happens with every presidential budget, every presidential budget. This one in particular, though, it’s likely that what comes out of Congress is likely not going to resemble what is being presented today.

And so I felt it was a total waste of time to go through the line items and even discuss them, because it’s not what is going to occur.

Point that saber somewhere else

From The Washington Post, reporting on a May 17 Coast Guard Academy graduation ceremony:

During the commencement, Trump was presented with a ceremonial saber. After accepting it to applause, he returned to his seat next to Secretary of Homeland Security Gen. John F. Kelly.

Smiling, Kelly leaned over the president and said, of the saber, “You can use that on the press.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Trump, as Kelly laughed.

And then, the very next day, Gen. Kelly met with the foreign minister and interior minister of Mexico, where at least six journalists have been murdered since early March.

Launched! “Putting the Pieces Together”

Screencast from "Putting the Pieces Together"

I’m delighted to announce that WOLA has just launched “Putting the Pieces Together: A Global Guide to U.S. Security Aid Programs.” This is an epic, sprawling, deep-in-the-weeds attempt to get a handle on all the ways that the U.S. government can work with, give weapons to, train, advise, or otherwise support about 160 countries’ militaries and police forces around the world.

We call it “Putting the Pieces Together” because figuring out how the U.S. government aids foreign militaries is a lot like trying to put together an intricate jigsaw puzzle. The big contribution of this project is that it gives you all the pieces in a nice neat box, even if we don’t yet have the big picture in detail.

I hate to admit it, but this is the product of more than four years of work. (Although this project spent a lot of time on the back burner between late 2012 and now.) The original plan was to document the way these aid programs were migrating out of State Department / civilian control and into the U.S. military’s threat-based, un-transparent management. I thought we’d be producing a guide to 30, maybe 40 programs. But as we intensified our research, it became clear that the scale and the scope were increasing way beyond what we had planned to work with.

In the end, we found 107 programs. Of these, only 14 are managed by, and funded by, the civilian diplomats at the U.S. State Department. Nearly all of the rest—87, plus two that are jointly managed—are part of the U.S. Defense Department’s mammoth budget. The Pentagon is calling most of the shots, now managing 57 percent of military and police aid funds, often with programs it is very hard to get information about.

To manage this huge body of programs, we made a database that allows you to sort and filter them, to see the laws that govern them, and to find out how to learn more about them. (I think this database is the coolest part—and we can quickly update it whenever programs change.) We also wrote a 2,600-word report with some nifty graphics, highlighting the trends that we found while compiling all of this.

Put the report and the database together, make a single publication out of them, and you get a 188-page PDF. (I find this terrifying: I can’t believe we wrote this much over the last few years without really noticing.)

Here’s the text of the landing page for “Putting the Pieces Together,” which explains what this report-plus-database does. (If you prefer the landing page in Spanish, está aquí.) Bookmark it if you care about the U.S. relationship with the world’s militaries, I think you’ll find yourself referring back to it.

Putting the Pieces Together: A Global Guide to U.S. Security Aid Programs

Since the “Global War on Terror” began, the Defense Department has been driving assistance to militaries and police forces worldwide. WOLA’s new guide explains how that happened and what it looks like.

The Trump administration is proposing to cut funding for U.S. diplomacy, and foreign aid programs run by diplomats, by an incredible 29 percent in 2018. But since it promises to grow defense spending, it may not end up cutting military aid. The result could be a giant leap toward the Pentagon shaping U.S foreign policy.

A major part of how U.S. foreign policy gets carried out is through security assistance programs, which aim to further U.S. interests and bolster national security goals by providing aid to military and police forces in around 160 countries.

There are now so many of these programs carrying out this type of assistance, with so little public reporting, that nobody really has a full picture of what the U.S. government is doing with the world’s military and police forces. No public, authoritative, regularly updated list of all U.S. military and police aid programs even exists.

Not until now, that is.

WOLA is pleased to launch a new resource to fill this big gap in our knowledge: a searchable online database listing all 107 programs that currently provide military or police aid across the globe, accompanied by a short report laying out what we found and why it matters. We also have an analysis of U.S. security assistance over the past 15 years to Latin America.

DOWNLOAD THE REPORT

Of these programs, 87 are run by the Defense Department. 14 are run by the State Department. 2 are run jointly, and 4 are managed by other cabinet departments. More than half of the Defense programs are less than 15 years old.

We explain what each program can do, who runs it, who oversees it, how much the military can spend on it, and how researchers and oversight professionals can find more information about it. The online version also includes the complete, amended text of the law governing each program, links to official reports, and links to yearly aid amounts at the Security Assistance Monitor database.

WOLA’s new tool doesn’t solve the problem of the lack of transparency over military aid. It is unclear exactly which programs the Trump administration will support and which ones it will cut. There is not even a precise dollar total of worldwide U.S. military assistance.

But we hope that this guide provides congressional staff, journalists, analysts, and activists with an easy-to-use tool as we work to improve oversight over a high-risk government function, and to turn the tide of militarization of U.S. foreign policy.

Why did a research and advocacy organization focusing on Latin America make this?

WOLA first got to know the “patchwork” of Defense Department-run aid programs in Latin America in the 1990s, when it was far smaller. The War on Drugs brought about the first time the Pentagon got primacy over a big foreign aid program. Twenty years ago, we were surprised to learn that, suddenly, the second-largest military aid program in Latin America wasn’t even in the foreign aid budget. We have followed this issue closely ever since.

How do I use the database?

Go to defenseoversight.wola.org/program. You’ll see all 107 active programs listed in alphabetical order, spread out over six pages.

  • To read more about an aid program, click “Show Additional Information” under each program’s name. Or to see all of them, click the checkbox at the top of the page that says “Show the Full Program Descriptions.”
  • Viewing the entire program description yields another button you can click to reveal all laws governing that program, with current law at the top.
  • Use the search box at the top to find matching programs.
  • You can sort the list alphabetically, by the year the programs were created, by their expiration date (if any), and by the maximum authorized amount.
  • You can list only active programs, only programs that can operate in Latin America, only programs with or without reporting to Congress, only programs that do or do not involve the State Department, and 15 more categories.
  • Use the column on the left to find programs by Latin American country, by category of aid, or by the agencies that carry them out.

Will the database be updated?

Yes, we intend to update the aid programs and reports whenever relevant legislation passes.

How can I find government reports about these programs?

If the programs are relevant to Latin America, they are in this database’s Reports Library at defenseoversight.wola.org/reports. If we have obtained the report, it is there as a PDF. If we have not yet obtained the report, it is listed alongside the date it was due.

Some trivia about Congress and Latin America

Screenshot from narrowdown.org

This is from narrowdown.org and yes, I understand how nerdy it is.

I derived these using “Narrow Down Congress,” a web-app I coded over the holidays. It does one thing: find members of Congress who match more than one category. I invite you to play around with it.

The House and Senate Foreign Relations/Affairs Committees have subcommittees for the Western Hemisphere. They have a combined 23 members. Of these 23:

4 are under 50 (born since 1967):

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas)
  • Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Florida)
  • Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)

4 are women:

  • Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Illinois)
  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida)
  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire)
  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-California)

4 were elected since 2014:

  • Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-New York)
  • Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado)
  • Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Florida)
  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-California)

5 are Congressional Hispanic Caucus members:

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas)
  • Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-New York)
  • Sen. Robert “Bob” Menendez (D-New Jersey)
  • Rep. Albio Sires (D-New Jersey)
  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-California)

5 come from U.S.-Mexico border states:

  • Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas)
  • Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona)
  • Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas)
  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-California)
  • Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico)

7 were last elected by a margin of less than 10 points:

  • Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona)
  • Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado)
  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin)
  • Sen. Timothy Kaine (D-Virginia)
  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida)
  • Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire)

These 34 Republicans are currently co-sponsoring at least one bill favoring more trade and travel with Cuba:

  • Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minnesota)
  • Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas)
  • Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan)
  • Rep. James Comer (R-Kentucky)
  • Rep. Eric “Rick” Crawford (R-Arkansas)
  • Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-Virginia)
  • Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Illinois)
  • Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kansas)
  • Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minnesota)
  • Rep. Marshall “Mark” Sanford (R-South Carolina)
  • Rep. Austin Scott (R-Georgia)
  • Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas)
  • Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-Louisiana)
  • Rep. Jim Banks (R-Indiana)
  • Rep. Ted Budd (R-North Carolina)
  • Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas)
  • Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Illinois)
  • Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas)
  • Rep. A. “Drew” Ferguson (R-Georgia)
  • Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Mississippi)
  • Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri)
  • Rep. Clay Higgins (R-Louisiana)
  • Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R-Indiana)
  • Rep. Walter Jones (R-North Carolina)
  • Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Mississippi)
  • Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minnesota)
  • Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Kentucky)
  • Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Mississippi)
  • Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Indiana)
  • Rep. Jason Smith (R-Missouri)
  • Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pennsylvania)
  • Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Arkansas)
  • Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas)
  • Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska)

(There are three such bills, you can find them at narrowdown.org by typing “Cuba” into the blank that says “Search by name.”)

Of these 34 Republicans, only one represents a district that Trump lost in November:

  • Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minnesota)

And only one won his district by less than 10 percentage points:

  • Rep. Jason Lewis (R-Minnesota, who in fact won by less than 5)

These eight members of the Congressional Central America Caucus also co-sponsor the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act:

  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut)
  • Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona)
  • Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois)
  • Rep. James “Jim” McGovern (D-Massachusetts)
  • Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin)
  • Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado)
  • Rep. Janice “Jan” Schakowsky (D-Illinois)
  • Rep. Jose Serrano (D-New York)

Of these eight, five are also on the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which Rep. McGovern co-chairs:

  • Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona)
  • Rep. James “Jim” McGovern (D-Massachusetts)
  • Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin)
  • Rep. Janice “Jan” Schakowsky (D-Illinois)
  • Rep. Jose Serrano (D-New York)

Of the Mexico-U.S. Interparliamentary Group, the U.S.-Mexico Friendship Caucus, and the co-sponsors of House Resolution 104 “Reaffirming a strong commitment to the United States-Mexico partnership,” these 17 “friends of Mexico” are on two out of three:

  • Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colorado, the only one on all three)
  • Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas)
  • Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Virginia)
  • Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)
  • Rep. Susan Davis (D-California)
  • Rep. Theodore Deutch (D-Florida)
  • Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota)
  • Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York)
  • Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona)
  • Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Florida)
  • Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California)
  • Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-California)
  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas)
  • Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-California)
  • Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-California)
  • Rep. Jose Serrano (D-New York)
  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-California)

Of these 17, the only one elected to Congress since 2014:

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-California)

This still takes my breath away

Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo, from ThinkProgress’s good coverage of this yesterday.

Along with most Washington “policy analyst” types I know, I turn down interview requests from Russia Today (RT), the Putin government news outlet, which has a bureau here. They’ve long since stopped calling.

The response is easy: “I’m sorry, I don’t give interviews with state-run media of countries that don’t allow a free press.” (Try it, it’s a good time-saver.)

This isn’t a lofty ethical standard. It just seems like common sense, whether you’re a top thought leader or just a lowly think-tank drone like me.

That’s why it’s still so shocking to me that a former U.S. general—one who recently headed the Defense Intelligence Agency—would say “yes” to RT.

And that he would say “yes” in the biggest possible way, sitting next to Putin himself at an RT event in Russia.

And that—as we learned yesterday—he would get a $45,386 payout for doing so.

And that this former general would actually go on to be the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States.

For only 3 1/2 weeks, thankfully. But still, how could that have happened?

WOLA on the Trump budget proposal

Trump Budget Plan Prioritizes Militarization Over Investing in Smart Diplomacy

WOLA put out a good statement this morning about the Trump administration’s dumpster fire of a budget proposal.

“This budget plan, if enacted, would have disastrous results. By increasing military spending by $54 billion while cutting spending on civilian diplomacy and assistance, the Trump administration is militarizing foreign aid,” said Adam Isacson, WOLA Senior Associate on Defense Oversight. “The risk is that our relations with Latin America and the world will be based on military priorities, on threatsnot on shared values, human rights, economic ties, or other vital U.S. interests. Alongside an already militarized approach to border security, this plan will worsen U.S. relations with the rest of the hemisphere at a fragile moment for democracy,” said Isacson.

As WOLA will detail in a forthcoming report, the post-9/11 security climate has already fueled a dramatic shift in responsibilities, with more and more foreign aid programs being managed by the Department of Defense rather than Department of State. This shift has serious implications for transparency and democratic oversight. This proposal would further accelerate that trend.

Read the whole thing here.

How would you even begin to cut foreign aid by 29 percent?

USIP headquarters building.

The Trump budget would completely zero out funding for the U.S. Institute for Peace, contributing a whopping $35 million to its $15.2 billion in proposed cuts. (Wikipedia photo)

The Trump administration’s 2018 budget request is out. Though the next year’s budget request to Congress is normally due the first Monday in February, a new administration is traditionally given a few months (usually until sometime in April) to come up with the whole thing.

The document that came out today is called the “skinny budget,” because it contains very little detail. We don’t know yet what worldwide programs would be cut by how much—much less which countries would get what.

What we can see today is skinny, but it’s horrifying. It proposes cutting all diplomacy and foreign assistance by 29 percent in one year: from $52.8 billion in 2016 to $37.6 billion in 2018.

Imagine that: trying to slice nearly one out of every three dollars from all embassies and all assistance, both military and economic, worldwide. Abruptly, for a fiscal year that starts on October 1.

By the time this gets through Congress, there will probably be cuts, though they won’t be this deep. Leading Republican appropriators, especially Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), chairman of the subcommittee that drafts the foreign aid bill, have already objected. (The phrase Graham used was “dead on arrival.”)

But for now, imagine that it was your job to cut this key government function by nearly one-third, as the White House proposes. Here are the diplomacy and foreign aid accounts, as they appeared in the 2016 State and Foreign Operations budget appropriation [PDF]. (That’s the last time Congress passed a budget bill; we currently continue at 2016 levels.) What on earth would you cut to get down to $37.6 billion?

Item (including “overseas contingency” funds) Amount, millions of US$
All administration of foreign affairs (diplomacy, embassy security, cultural programs, etc.) 11,439
Global Health Programs 8,503
Foreign Military Financing 6,026
($3.1 billion of the above account goes to Israel, and the Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal won’t cut it.)
Economic Support Fund 4,318
Migration and Refugee Assistance 3,059
International Disaster Assistance 2,794
Development Assistance 2,781
Contributions to international peacekeeping missions 2,461
USAID administration 1,517
Contributions to all international organizations (UN, OAS, etc.) 1,446
International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement 1,267
World Bank International Development Association 1,197
(Everything below this row makes up only 13 percent of the total)
Assistance for Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia 930
Millennium Challenge Corporation 901
Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs 885
International broadcasting 750
Peacekeeping Operations 600
Peace Corps 410
Assistance through international organizations 339
African Development Bank 210
World Bank International Bank for Reconstruction and Development 187
World Bank Clean Technology Fund 171
National Endowment for Democracy 170
World Bank Global Environment Facility 168
Democracy Fund 151
International commissions 123
International Military Education and Training 108
Asian Development Fund 105
Inter-American Development Bank 102
U.S.-Mexico Boundary and Water Commission 74
Transition Initiatives 67
Trade and Development Agency 60
Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund 50
World Bank Strategic Climate Fund 50
Global Agriculture and Food Security Program 43
United States Institute of Peace 35
International Fund for Agricultural Development 32
U.S. African Development Foundation 30
USAID Complex Crises Fund 30
International Affairs Technical Assistance 24
Inter-American Foundation 23
Asia Foundation 17
East-West Center 17
North American Development Bank 10
Development Credit Authority 8
Asian Development Bank 6
Commission on International Religious Freedom 4
U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission 4
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe 3
Congressional-Executive Commission on the People’s Republic of China 2
Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad 1
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