As a member of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR), an international organization dedicated to bringing psychology to the service of peace and social justice, I am most concerned about the recent suggestions to “zero-out” the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and cut State Department Funds. These agencies are on the front lines of providing for our national security through their efforts through negotiations to promote the interests of the United States of America, manage conflict non-violently, watch for future threats, and build more peaceful and open societies that will be good for democracy, economic development, and the well-being of their peoples.
In PsySR’s recent message on supporting democratic change in the Middle East (February 1, 2011), the organization noted that:
“From events like these [in Egypt] – driven by the collective power and pent up frustrations of a long-suffering citizenry – emerge outcomes that are often tenuous and unexpected. Sudden change brings with it both opportunities and dangers. Popular revolts can lead to more just and democratic societies. However, history shows that the dethroning of tyrants does not guarantee a quick transformation to democratic rule, and sometimes instead sets the stage for new autocracies. Lasting democratic progress depends upon continued broad participation, and the relationships and structures that encourage it.” [emphasis added].
Currently, the United States of America is spending only about 1% of its annual budget providing resources to our Foreign Service Officers at the State Department and the US Agency for International Development—the very folks who have the professional expertise to help struggling countries develop broad democratic participation and the civic relationships and structures, both governmental and non-governmental structures (like functioning political parties) that encourage it. These are the people who are trained to provide careful oversight of our foreign assistance funds, who know how to run free and fair elections, who can help new democracies create independent judiciaries, build educational capacity, and increase economic development, based on a specific country’s needs as identified by that country.
Building more peaceful and open societies that are stable, more educated and more able to care for their people’s needs is a critical aspect of our entire national security strategy, and so should be considered as an essential component of our national security budget. After all, isn’t it cheaper to avoid wars, to manage conflicts peacefully, to be able to have both our soldiers and civilians stand down and rest and have more come home, whole in body and mind?
I hope that members of Psychologists for Social Responsibility will join me in calling on Congress to consider the long-term consequences of short-term cuts that are being proposed for the State Department and USAID. When our Foreign Service Officers are under-resourced, under-staffed, over-stretched, they have grave difficulties in handling the major responsibilities they are being expected to fulfill—like stepping into the breach as our soldiers come home from Iraq and Afghanistan to help those war-torn countries with the transition to post-war political, economic community interactions and functions.
It is in our national security interest to fully fund the USAID and the State Department and support their current efforts to improve the functioning and accountability in foreign assistance (see www.foreignassistance.gov for the Foreign Assistance Dashboard). USAID needs more staff to meet their increased responsibilities, and they need to be fully resourced so that they can be even more effective in the field. USAID is most effective when our Foreign Service Officers can work in full partnership with civic leaders in-country who lead the development process and identify the needs that resources from the United States can provide, whether they come in the form of technical assistance through NGOs, financial backing for projects, or coordination of international resources.
Current policy has USAID officers serving as part of Provincial Response Teams, a tactic fraught with problems for the long term. However, the civilian Foreign Service Officers that are part of the Provincial Response Teams meet all the same challenges that our soldiers do, and are often in the field for longer tours of duty and sent out again on back-to-back tours with very little rest time in between. The Agency is woefully understaffed for the responsibilities it carries and extended tours in stressful conditions are wearing people out.
I very much hope that Congress will rethink the penny-wise, pound-foolish cuts they are proposing to USAID and State budgets, and I hope that the administration will rethink their deployment tactics. It is time to support critical efforts of Foreign Service Officers with an acknowledgement of the part they play in promoting our national security through implementation of long-term development strategies and full funding of their agencies.
Anne Anderson, MSW
PsySR member Anne Anderson, LICSW, is a social worker in private practice with the Washington Therapy Guild in Washington, DC. She served as PsySR’s Coordinator from 1984-2006. She can be reached at email@example.com.