U.S. budget divulges priorities in the Middle East

Joyce Karam
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The U.S. State Department has released its proposed 2014 budget which in a nutshell “puts its money where its mouth is”. In the Middle East, the budget scales down Iraq’s aid to an all time low since the war in 2003, while maintaining support to conventional allies that Secretary of State John Kerry has recently visited and whose stability is at the core of his agenda.

The new budget posted on the State’s website is a key policy metric of the second term priorities for U.S. President Barack Obama. It puts into practice his words that “a decade of war is ending” in the Middle East and that new challenges including political transitions and regional stability require more attention and resources from Washington. The budget also highlights growing concern over the deficit in the U.S., thus producing a 6% cut in the State Department budget, slated to total $47.8 billion in 2014.


Cut in Iraq aid

The new budget posted on the State’s website is a key policy metric of the second term priorities for U.S. President Barack Obama.

Joyce Karam

The 176-page document tells of a shifting policy landscape for Washington in the Middle East, one that’s moving further away from the Iraq war that cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion since 2003, according to Brown University. Today, this trend is shifting, and the biggest budget cut for the State Department, targets Iraq. Economic aid to Baghdad in 2014, if approved by congress, will drastically fall to the amount of $22.5 million that is a $240.4 million less than it was in 2013. Kerry explains the cut as a move “in line with the reduced footprint in Iraq” and anticipates that the Nouri Maliki Government “will assume greater responsibility for its development funding requirements, as oil revenues increase.” The cut raises questions about U.S. relations with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and how much influence is Washington seeking in Baghdad after the completing the withdrawal in 2011.

The total Iraq funding, including military, security, economic and diplomatic (new consulate in Erbil) totals $1.8 billion, a reduction of more than 65% to where it was last year ($4.8 billion) and a fraction from where it was four years ago ($8 billion).

These measures are also largely influenced by pressure from US lawmakers to address the deficit and cut war spending. Economic aid to Afghanistan is falling from $811.4 million to $535.3 million, and a similar trend with Pakistan whose total will come to $513.5 million down from $928.3 in 2013. Also, the State Department is cancelling the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capabilities Fund which had previously received $850 million.

Boosting alliances

These cuts however don’t seem to impact as much U.S. allies in the region. Egypt, at the level of both the government and the military, will continue to receive 250 million dollars in economic aid and 1.3 billion on the military side. The aid to Egypt reflects the a U.S. long-term strategic approach in supporting the country and renewing “partnership with the Egyptian Government” despite recent tension with President Mohammed Mursi.

For other regional allies, the funding will continue and might see some boost to help adjust to growing challenges in Iran, and Syria. Jordan will receive $360 million in economic aid and $300 million in military and will see increases in USAID and military training funding. Military aid to Israel will slightly increase as total $3.1 billions.

The level of aid also is shaped by Kerry’s policy agenda and priorities. For example, aid to the Palestinian Authority and NGOs in Gaza, will total $370 million in 2014. It goes hand in hand with Kerry’s push for making progress on the peace process, and asks directly to “advance a negotiated, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by working with the Palestinian Authority (PA) to build the institutions of a future Palestinian state and deliver services to the Palestinian people.”

Arab Spring fund?

The new budget is attempting to create a fund for countries in transition in the Middle East and North Africa region. The “Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund” totals $580 million and is “designed to provide support for political reform, free and fair elections, democratic institutions, transparent and accountable government, transitional justice, open markets, and inclusive growth.” Kerry tells congress that Washington “must capitalize on the opportunities presented by the Arab Spring and must support these transitions, forging relationships with newly elected governments and building partnerships with the citizens who will shape their countries’ futures.”

The fund would include the $70 million to the Middle East Partnership Initiative and to the office managing transitions at the State Department as well as programs managed by United States Institute for Peace. The budget also promises more direct non lethal aid for the the Syrian opposition and as “Syrians struggle for the right of self-determination against an authoritarian and violent regime”.
The 2014 budget is a testimony to U.S. priorities in the region. Boosting old allies, and aiding political transitions define a big part of Washington’s funding strategy in the Middle East, as Obama firmly closes the chapter on the Iraq war, and starts concluding another in Afghanistan.
Joyce Karam is the Washington Correspondent for Al-Hayat Newspaper, an International Arabic Daily based in London. She has covered American politics extensively since 2004 with focus on U.S. policy towards the Middle East. Prior to that, she worked as a Journalist in Lebanon, covering the Post-war situation. Joyce holds a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. Twitter: @Joyce_Karam

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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