Bush administration officials are urging Congress to increase funding for a new office that would promote democracy and stabilization in regions prone to conflict around the world.
Acknowledging that it did not adequately plan for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq, the Bush administration has created the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization at the State Department so that the United States would be better prepared to coordinate such efforts in the aftermath of future intervention in other troubled states.
The office brings together civilian experts in such fields as political administration, law enforcement and economics, and military officials to plan and carry out stability operations.
Congressional critics have said policy disputes and turf battles between the Defense Department and State Department hurt planning efforts for postwar Iraq, contributing to the rise of the insurgency and the difficulty in restoring basic services, including electricity and public safety.
At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, principal deputy in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense Ryan Henry said the new reconstruction office has the Pentagon's backing.
Administration officials say the office was not created because other military missions are planned. They say the office could work to prevent politically unstable states from sliding into civil war or breeding terrorism, making less need for U.S. intervention.
James Kunder is assistant administrator for Asia and the Near East for the Agency for International Development, which will play a role in the reconstruction office.
"The U.S. government needs to better understand exactly what to do when we have a crisis," he said. "And we are looking not just at after states have fallen apart. But we are looking at countries that are beginning to show the signs of instability and trying to generate resources so that a penny spent now saves the taxpayer a dollar later."
Mr. Kunder says some of these countries are in Asia.
"We are not only looking at Afghanistan reconstruction and Iraq reconstruction, but we are also looking at Nepal, and we are looking at the fraying of the social order in Bangladesh," he explained. "We are looking at Sri Lanka. We are looking at continued instability in Mindanao in the Philippines."
Mr. Kunder says promoting democracy by investing in political parties and civil society organizations in areas where political instability appears to be growing can make it less likely that those societies will fall into conflict.
But Congress has not shown the kind of support the administration is seeking. Lawmakers approved only $3 million of the $17 million President Bush requested for the office this year.
Mr. Bush is seeking another $24 million to fund the office next year, as well as $100 million for a new conflict response fund.
Coordinator of the Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization Carlos Pascual warned Congress of the impact it would have if lawmakers do not approve Mr. Bush's request.
"What we will not be able to do is to develop an active response corps that establishes the kind of standby capabilities that allows us to move into the field effectively and quickly," he said. "It will affect our ability to develop a kind of civilian reserve that all of us have underscored as absolutely critical to have that type of transformational skill that is necessary to affect a conflict early in the process so we can influence the dynamic. It will affect our capacity to deploy resources to the field quickly."
The Pentagon, which wants the State Department to take on a greater role in stability operations, has offered to transfer $200 million to support the new coordinator's office.