Unchecked aid

From the people who brought you the Office of Strategic Influence and military tribunals, the Pentagon recently presented its latest stroke of brilliance: unchecked, secretive foreign military aid.

A Pentagon proposal sent to Congress last month requesting $14 billion in supplemental spending has a buried provision they doubtlessly hoped would be overlooked. It grants the Pentagon authority to fund military assistance to foreign countries or “indigenous forces.” This allows unregulated foreign aid spending without traditionally necessary state department approval and puts dispensation authority solely in the hands of the defense secretary, requiring neither congressional approval before spending nor notification of where the money went afterwards.

The initially requested $130 million, dwarfed by larger Pentagon expenditures, does not appear menacing, and advocates claim it is essential in facilitating funding for the war on terrorism – a war with unique alliances and funding necessities requiring new funding methods. However, Congress cannot be fooled by the minute sum and “war on terrorism” guise presented by the Pentagon. After all, the masterminds of the Office of Strategic Influence are no novices at warping facts to suit their purposes.

According to a senior defense official, “Ö what we can do will be limited intrinsically by the amount of money and the reference in the request linking the money to the war on terrorism.” But the language of the provision is vague, stipulating only that money be spent “in furtherance of the global war on terrorism” on “defense articles, services and training.” And with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld – who has linked Iran, Iraq and Syria to terrorism – deciding what is the war on terrorism, the scope of this aid could prove much more extensive than $130 million.

The provision additionally allows support of “indigenous forces engaged in activities in furtherance of United States national security aims, including related activities in combating terrorism.” This appears justified; however, even things such as the drug trade have been linked to terrorism, which would facilitate military support throughout the Middle East and South America.

The State Department has authority over foreign aid for a reason: The Pentagon has proven its ineptitude and lack of discretion in past distribution of military aid, often financing and training troops U.S. soldiers later die fighting. In attempting to fight terrorism through support of foreign military regimes, the Pentagon has helped terrorism and violations of human rights flourish in those countries, breeding hatred of the United States.

All foreign military aid expenditures must be regulated. The Pentagon and Department of Defense cannot be allowed to make foreign policy decisions and distribute money without congressional and State Department approval. The precedent this measure sets is disturbing, and Congress needs to reject it.