02.24.15

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy Department of State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee Hearing on the FY 2016 Budget Request

Thank you Mr. Chairman.  This is Senator Graham’s first hearing as chairman of this subcommittee, and I congratulate him and thank him for the way he and his staff have worked with me and my staff over the years. 

This subcommittee has a history of bipartisanship. 

I remember 30 years ago when Senators Dan Inouye and Bob Kasten worked together, and myself with Senator McConnell, Senator Gregg, and since then with Senator Graham. 

I have served as chairman and ranking member.  We have switched back and forth.  But unlike some committees we have worked in a transparent, cooperative way, drafting the bills and reports together. 

We include the priorities of both sides, which has made it possible to report bills with strong bipartisan votes and the support of the White House – whether Republican or Democrat. 

In a world as dangerous as today, we are far stronger when we act together. 

Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here.  You have one of the most difficult jobs in the government.  The world seems to be on fire – literally or figuratively – in so many places it is hard to keep track.  We appreciate that you are here requesting the resources to try to put those fires out.

I think today we are reaping some of what we have sowed.  After a 14 year war in Afghanistan that set wildly optimistic goals, much of that country remains under Taliban control.  A weak central government – a government I believe we should support – struggles to function in a highly insecure and corrupt environment.  

After tens of billions of dollars on aid programs implemented by U.S. contractors, very little of our investment can be sustained by the Afghans.

In Iraq, where we spent hundreds of billions while dire needs in other parts of the world – including our own hemisphere – were neglected, there is a similarly unstable, corrupt environment where the future is anything but secure.

In the meantime, Syria is the world’s biggest disaster, Libya looks like it is becoming another Syria, relations between Israelis and Palestinians have gone from bad to worse, and we are approaching a decisive point in the negotiations with Iran. 

To top it off, ISIL has emerged seemingly out of nowhere, which is perhaps the best illustration of how little the past Administration knew it was risking when it confidently, and naively, launched a war to overthrow Saddam Hussein expecting to be greeted as liberators. 

Our history is replete with examples of enormously costly, failed attempts to control events – or to ally ourselves with repressive, corrupt regimes – in parts of the world we don’t understand, seemingly oblivious to the long term consequences. 

I respect President Obama for wanting to avoid repeating those mistakes, and I am interested in hearing your ideas for how to do that.

In Central America, after decades of corrupt oligarchies, civil wars and death squads, governments there have squandered the past two decades.  Poverty, violence, organized crime and corruption are now deeply rooted and widespread. 

I welcome the Administration’s new focus on that region, but I want to hear how the billion dollar initiative you propose is substantially different from the billions we have spent there already.

Then there is Ebola and HIV/AIDS, the spiraling cost of UN peacekeeping, global warming – the list of challenges for you and this subcommittee is almost endless.

I want to commend you for the change in our policy toward Cuba, which has been praised by our allies in this hemisphere. 

I hope the Congress will do its part by ending the embargo, which has failed to achieve any of its objectives.  Then the Cuban people will see that it is their own government, not the United States that is to blame for the poverty and repression. 

Your fiscal year 2016 budget request – with exceptions like the funding for Central America, the Green Climate Fund, and the State Department’s and USAID’s operating budgets – looks a lot like last year. 

It will, like most years, require us to make hard choices.  I want to work with you and Chairman Graham because I think we can do a much better job of getting what we pay for. 

 

 

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