A senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed, wants to take money from the Defense Department and use it to bulk up the anemic US Agency for International Development.
Reed, chairman of the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee and a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, told reporters Tuesday morning that the state of our civilian aid enterprise is so parlous and the need for civilian development experts so great that even with two wars underway that he would move defense money to USAID.
"I think we should," Reed said when asked at a Defense Writers Group breakfast whether Congress should shift money from the defense budget to USAID. Reed did not offer any numbers or percentages.
When the Obama administration unveiled its first Afghanistan strategy, senior Defense Department officials such as Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of Defense for policy, spoke adamantly and often that the US must improve USAID so the third stage of counterinsurgency warfare -- building --would improve. For years the US has struggled to get badly needed civilian experts into Iraq and Afghanistan to help build road and schools, electrical grids and to improve agriculture.
"I don't think just putting additional troops on the ground is going to be the solution [to the Afghanistan conflict]," said Reed, a West Point graduate who opposed the Iraq surge and the Iraq war. Whether Reed could sway colleagues such as Sen. Daniel Inouye, chairman of the committee who supports sending more troops to Afghanistan in line with Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal's recommendations, remains to be seen.
And the administration, which spoke often and publicly about the importance of an "expeditionary" aid capability when it unveiled the old Afghan strategy. This is what Flournoy said in March about the old strategy: “The focus of our military forces on the ground will be both protecting the population and securing the environment, and training, mentoring [Afghan national security forces] so that they can eventually take the lead for security,” she said. “But beyond the strengthened military mission, strengthening civilian assistance and better integrating the civilian and military efforts will be critical to success."
From all the discussion about what approach the US should take in Afghanistan over the last month it doesn't sound as if the basic strategy has changed that much. How to achieve it -- more troops or more aid or more counterterror operations -- is clearly still in play.