U.S. strategies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, continuing support for Iraq, and Middle East peace efforts figured highly in debate Thursday in a key House of Representatives committee. Debate on these issues occurred as the House Appropriations Committee approved the 2009 Supplemental Bill funding ongoing U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and supporting economic and other needs in Pakistan:
At just over $94 billion, the measure exceeds President Obama's initial request by more than $9 billion. Of the total, $81.6 billion is for U.S. military and intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition to U.S. military operations and diplomatic activities in Iraq, it provides $968 million for stabilization programs and strengthening governance and rule of law.
More than $4 billion goes to help expand and improve capabilities of Afghanistan's security forces, with over $1.5 billion for development, agriculture and rule of law programs.
The measure provides $400 milllion requested by the Obama administration for a new Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund to bolster efforts against the Taliban and extremist groups. Another $2.3 billion is for economic aid, and programs to improve the rule of law, national and provincial governance and education.
Prominent are provisions to expand U.S. government oversight of aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan. It requires a presidential report to Congress on whether Afghanistan and Pakistan are demonstrating the necessary commitment, capability, conduct and unity of purpose to warrant the continuation of President Obama's strategy announced last March.
Appropriations chairman (Representative) David Obey, a Democrat from Winsconsin, dismissed suggestions in media reports of differences with the White House.
Saying he remains skeptical that a favorable outcome can be achieved either in Afghanistan or Pakistan, Obey said the measure imposes neither conditions nor timetables, but requires Congress and the administration to assess progress.
"These are not conditions, as I said, these are not timelines. It is simply a requirement for a hard nose [sharply realistic], and I would help fish or cut bait evaluation, but it is up to the administration and it is up to the Congress to evaluate the administration's report at that time," he said.
Elsewhere, the measure provides nearly $2 billion in security and economic assistance to Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and the West Bank and Gaza, accelerating aid the administration requested for the 2010 fiscal year.
A compromise with the Obama administration on language on aid to Palestinians produced what Foreign Operations Subcommittee chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-New Yok) called the assurance that economic, humanitarian and security assistance does not benefit Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization:
"It ensures that Hamas and other terrorist organizations do not receive taxpayer funding and that a potential unity government and all its ministers or equivalent, publicly recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and adhere to past agreements," she said.
Democrat Steve Rothman elaborated on lawmaker's insistence on strong language on the issue.
"Anyone who would participate in such a Palestinian unity government would first, if they were going to receive one penny or more of U.S. taxpayer dollars, first accept the principle that Israel should continue to exist and has the right to exist forever, that they would accept all of the Quartet [US,EU,Russia and UN] principles and previous agreements negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians and that they would resolve all of their other outstanding issues without violence," he added.
On security aid for Israel, Republican Mark Kirk referred to another compromise resulting in Israel receiving $30 million in assistance to help upgrade its Arrow-3 anti-missile defense system against potential Iranian threats.
"The Obama administration plan to cut Arrow 3 has now been reversed, and we are now going to be providing $30 million for Arrow 3, just in time for the [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu-Obama summit," said Kirk.
The legislation, which the committee approved sending it to the full House of Representatives for consideration, also contains $500 million in international food assistance, another $300 million to help developing countries cope with the global financial crisis.
Also included: $200 million for internally-displaced people, with assistance targeted at Zimbabwe, Somalia, Ethiopia, the Middle East and South Asia; $837 million for U.N. peacekeeping operations including missions in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad and Central African Republic; and $100 million to make up for shortfalls in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS in Haiti, Afghanistan, and Congo.
Lawmakers specifically provide $151 million for economic and security assistance to Kenya, Somalia, Southern Sudan and Zimbabwe, $242 million to the Republic of Georgia, and $470 million to support the Mexican government's battle against narcotics cartels and related violence.