MURPHY: THE PRESIDENT’S PROPOSED MIDDLE EAST BUDGET IS AN ATTEMPT TO SECURITIZE ALL U.S. AID TO THE REGION, MISUNDERSTANDS THE WAYS WE CAN PROTECT U.S. INTERESTS AND ALLIES

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, on Wednesday delivered remarks at the Project on Middle East Democracy’s virtual event on President Trump’s proposed Middle East and North Africa budget for Fiscal Year 2021. In his remarks, Murphy blasted the Trump administration’s proposed budget as a total misunderstanding of the ways in which we can protect U.S. interests and allies in the region. Murphy also discussed the ways in which COVID-19 reminds us of how interconnected we are globally, and reaffirmed his commitment to getting international funding in the next supplemental relief package in the U.S. Senate.

On the Lebanese protests last November, Murphy said: “…I was there right at the moment that the Lebanese people, really in an apolitical way, were rising up to demand better governance. And it was the Lebanese military that was providing protection for those protesters, allowing them the space to demand real change from their government.”

Murphy then juxtaposed Lebanon’s response to protests with President Trump’s recent decision to tear-gas peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square: “And as we watch our own security services tear gassing peaceful protesters in this country, we recognize that we still have communal work to do on the way in which we protect the right to free speech both in the United States and in the places in the Middle East where it is allowed today.”

After noting that 83% of the president's proposed budget for the Middle East is security aid while only 3% democracy assistance, Murphy said: “What we have obviously learned over the long run is that the U.S. military is a pretty miserable mechanism to try to enact political change in the region. And now that some of our security partners, who just traditionally stockpile U.S. arms, are now actually using them, we have to be much more careful about the way in which we transfer security money into the region.”

Murphy went on to discuss the president’s proposed and dangerous aid policies in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and the Palestinians.

Murphy concluded by noting the start of the U.S.-Iraq Strategic Dialogue, saying: “I have long thought that our aid plan there is upside down. You know, we're putting in about four times as much security aid as we are economic and governance aid. And I continue to counsel the administration that they should not have a myopia in Iraq in which they are only looking through the Iranian lens. Because even if we were to up our economic and governance commitment, if they don't approve waivers to allow for an energy relationship to continue between Iran and Iraq, there's no amount of U.S. funding that can make up for that. And all that does is empower the hardliners and the Iranian backers inside Iraq.”

A full transcript of Murphy’s remarks are below:

“Thank you very much, Michele. Thank you, Andrew, for that survey. And I appreciate the opportunity to join you here today. I look forward to getting to as many questions as we can, so I'll make my opening remarks short.

“Listen, Andrew is very right to make the case as to why COVID has bound the world together in a new way. Through tragedy and crisis, we are reminded that we are all interconnected. And I just spoke about five minutes ago to Senator Graham—we are going to try to push for the next congressional appropriations bill surrounding the emergency response to COVID—we'll try to ensure that it has an international title. It was interesting to me that the bill that came out of the house, the HEROES Act, did not have an international title. And while, we are certainly grateful for the appropriation in the initial legislation to USAID and other agencies working on this response globally, it's not enough.

“But there are other ways in which the moment that we're experiencing in the United States is linked to countries around the world and, in particular, in the Middle East. I made my first trip, took me a long time to get there, to Lebanon last year. And I was there right at the moment that the Lebanese people, really in an apolitical way, were rising up to demand better governance. And it was the Lebanese military that was providing protection for those protesters, allowing them the space to demand real change from their government. And now the story in Lebanon has taken many twists and turns since my visit there last fall, but it was an extraordinary sight to behold. Especially juxtaposed to the way that other regimes, both democratic regimes and autocratic regimes in the region, were responding to similar protest movements.

“Obviously in a place like Egypt, the crackdown is comprehensive on political dissent. And in Iraq, a place where we have spent billions of dollars in economic and democracy assistance, their armed forces were training their guns and weapons on the protesters. The Lebanese military, having been the beneficiary of long-term U.S. investment, made a different decision. And as we watch our own security services tear gassing peaceful protesters in this country, we recognize that we still have communal work to do on the way in which we protect the right to free speech both in the United States and in the places in the Middle East where it is allowed today.

“Listen: the president's budget is stunning, but not surprising. I seem to say that about almost everything that this president proposes in the realm of foreign policy. What we're watching is this attempt to securitize all of our aid to the region—83% of the president's budget for the Middle East is security aid; 3% of his aid to the region is democracy assistance. And it just misunderstands the ways in which we can effectively protect our interests and our allies’ interests in the region. 

“What we have obviously learned over the long run is that the U.S. military is a pretty miserable mechanism to try to enact political change in the region. And now that some of our security partners, who just traditionally stockpile U.S. arms, are now actually using them, we have to be much more careful about the way in which we transfer security money into the region.

“Just a quick a rundown of some of the bilateral relationships and how the president's budget affects it, that I care most about. You know, very worried about the deep cuts in assistance to Lebanon, the cuts in economic assistance and in governance assistance […] albeit a government that still aligns too closely with Hezbollah, are undergoing difficult democracy and economic reforms. This is a moment in the United States to make clear that we are still a democracy and economic partner with the people of Lebanon.

“Devastating cuts to Tunisia. This is still a model for North Africa and the greater region—just formed a new government. And the message being sent that if you make the hard investment in democracy, however imperfect it may be, the United States is going to punish you with draconian cuts is just so short sighted. 

“And then sort of pair that together with a budget that contemplates no cuts to Egypt as they continue an absolutely brutal crackdown on dissent, including the murder of an American citizen. I've led the call in Congress to condition at least a portion of our funds on the release of American political prisoners. But of course, that just scratches the surface. 

“Yemen is a place that I always care about. And while the United States stepped up at a recent donor conference to put in a significant amount of money, it still pales in comparison to what is necessary in Yemen. And as COVID starts to spread in that country, it's just earth shaking to think what will happen with no functioning health care system if COVID gets worse and worse and there's a second wave in that nation. And what we have to be I think very vigilant about in Yemen is not just patting ourselves on the back because we made a 250 million dollar commitment and the Saudis made a bigger commitment, what we now need is follow through. Follow through in U.S. dollars getting on the ground – and then follow through for our partners. The Saudis and the Emiratis are really good at making commitments, but they're really bad and follow up. And that's in part because we let them get away with it.

“So, I worry, as Andrew does, about this proposal for a slush fund in which the administration will have carte blanche to decide how funds are used for Palestinian security. Listen, I of course think that the president's policy in vis-a-vis Mideast peace has been an absolute disaster. They live in a fictional world in which they believe that they can sort of force march the Palestinians into a negotiation where the starting line is one in which Israeli interests and only Israeli interests rule. But I think we underestimate the damage that we are doing in real time to the stability of Jordan. Jordan has obviously got a lot of work to do itself, but this slush fund, I think, is not only the wrong way to bring the two sides to the table, but also, I think, very damaging to the Kingdom of Jordan.

“And then last, we're about to start the U.S. Strategic Dialogue with Iraq. I have long thought that our aid plan there is upside down. You know, we're putting in about four times as much security aid as we are economic and governance aid. And I continue to counsel the administration that they should not have a myopia in Iraq in which they are only looking through the Iranian lens. Because even if we were to up our economic and governance commitment, if they don't approve waivers to allow for an energy relationship to continue between Iran and Iraq, there's no amount of U.S. funding that can make up for that. And all that does is empower the hardliners and the Iranian backers inside Iraq.

“So I came back from a trip last year, with Senator Romney to Iraq, believing that we needed to dramatically, that we need to essentially flip the way in which money is sent to Iraq between security aid and economic and democracy aid. But I think we have to see the full picture. And our Iran policy is frankly going to cancel out the benefit of additional dollars that may be committed to the new Iraqi government as part of our dialogue that is soon to begin.

“So I will stop there and look forward to the short time we have for discussion.”

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