The Senate Appropriations committee will meet this afternoon to mark-up the State /Foreign Operations bill. This legislation determines the annual funding for not only the State Department, but the vast majority of non-defense foreign policy funding. One of the most important issues they take up will be the fate of the Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund, or MENA-IF. This $770 million program was requested in the State Department’s budget and designed to provide a flexible, region-wide tool for the U.S. to empower moderates and support the nascent democratic transitions throughout the region. This type of effort will be essential for any new American Middle East strategy that seeks to promote long-term growth and stability. House Republicans, in their version of the legislation, chose not to include the program. They offered no substitute model for economic engagement with these countries, deciding instead to simply take their ball and go home. The GOP has spent the last decade leading the U.S. into wars that resulted in trillions of dollars being spent and thousands of lives being lost. Now, as the Obama Administration draws down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and historic democratic movements have developed organically, those same war-hawks are crying foul over any attempt to pivot to a constructive strategy designed to support this new Middle East.
Simon Rosenberg released a statement yesterday calling for the Senate to fully fund the MENA-IF:
At a time when the people of North Africa and the Middle East are struggling with such dignity to improve their societies, it is essential the government of the United States make a clear statement of support for their efforts by funding this initiative. If Republicans leaders are unhappy with the current MENA-IF, they should propose amendments or an alternative approach rather than rejecting the entire initiative. Simply refusing to support the Fund will send a terrible signal to the people of this region working to bring about the next stage of these historic transitions already underway.
As Senate appropriators meet to determine whether or not to fund, modify, or walk away from this program, they should be well aware that the world is watching. Will they support the U.S. diplomats on the ground seeking to build moderate civil society in this new Middle East, or will they abandon them and give America’s enemies a chance to fill the void?