A senior U.S. military commander urged Congress Friday to give him, and other officers at his level, more authority to spend money to provide military assistance to foreign countries. He was addressing a hearing of the Armed Services Committee of the House of Representatives.
The commander of U.S. forces in Europe and most of Africa, General James Jones, told the committee he has plenty of responsibility, being in charge of 92 countries. But he said he does not always have the authority he needs to spend money in his budget as he sees fit, particularly when it comes to providing military training to some of those countries.
General Jones said such assistance can play a key role in helping countries develop based on democratic principles, and that if commanders must wait months or even years for budget approval, other donors may step in and influence the developing countries in a different direction. "I worry that over time we're becoming very hard to work with, harder to work with, perhaps, than our competition,” he said, “and we will see increasing instances of countries basically saying, 'this is too hard and I can get what I need from somebody else a lot easier.’"
General Jones said several countries in North Africa are examples of how a relatively small amount of U.S. spending can have a large impact on their ability to control their territory and prevent terrorists from gaining a foothold.
He said it is also having a positive impact on their view of the United States. "We're actually having a strategic change, in my opinion, in the way that section of the Islamic World perceives the United States,” said General Jones. “Things are changing dramatically. We're building new friends, new partnerships, and we're doing it for an amazingly low amount of investment."
General Jones said there are similar examples in West Africa as well. He said it is always less expensive to try to help a country develop in ways that are not hostile to the United States, than to confront that country if it does become hostile.
One member of the committee asked the general how Congress can be sure that military assistance does not go to governments that will use it to repress their people or threaten their neighbors. General Jones said each country must be evaluated individually. "If a nation is generally progressing, if we're teaching and helping nations develop militaries that act in support of human rights, the defense of democratically elected institutions and have a willingness to work with us and seek out our leadership and our assistance,” he said, “then these are good things."
General Jones echoed frequent comments by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying that in the past Congress has sometimes been too quick to cut off military aid to governments that adopt policies it doesn't like. The general said such moves often do more harm than good, sometimes allowing for the emergence of an entire generation of military officers who have had no contact with the United States or U.S. military values, and making it more difficult to develop the kind of relationships and alliances the United States needs.