March 1, 2011
First the Supreme Court said it is OK for Congress to make it a crime for U.S. peacebuilding groups to work to convince listed terrorist groups to lay down their arms. Now some members of Congress want to defund the premier American peacebuilding group, the nonpartisan, civilian United States Institute of Peace (USIP).
What does this say about our country?
The United States Institute of Peace Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, created this publicly chartered institution to "serve the American people and the federal government through the widest possible range of education and training, basic and applied research opportunities, and peace information services on the means to promote international peace and the resolution of conflicts among the nations and peoples of the world without recourse to violence."
Since that time USIP has gained worldwide recognition for its training and projects. The proposal to cut this crucial work has generated strong opposition from the likes of U.S. Army General David Petraeus, U.S. Army Lt. General Robert L. Caslen, Jr, former Secretary of State George Shultz and U.S. Navy Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations G. Roughead, (see their letters of support) as well as members of Congress.
In an op-ed in Politico, USIP President Richard Solomon recognized the need to rein in federal spending, but noted that the value of USIP's work far exceeds its cost. He noted its budget “is miniscule – one-tenth of 1 percent of the State Department budget- not even enough to cover 40 soldiers in Afghanistan for one year.”
Father Ted Hesburg, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame and co-chair of the USIP National Campaign of Peacemaking, wrote in the Washington Post that “Congress should know better....Now is not the time, in the face of global adversity, to cut peace. The United States must be a leader in nonviolent international management.”
Cutting funding for USIP represents what my father would have called “bass-ackwards” priorities. Or, as one colleague told me, “It's so deeply depressing that Congress has moved the way it has. Pentagon endorsements of NASCAR sailed through to the tune of $30 million.” Hopefully the sponsors of this dangerous idea will re-think it. While they are at it, they can also re-think the material support laws that prohibit all peacebuilding groups from working to turn terrorist groups away from violence.