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by Jim Lobe

It may be Bush's War, but it's now the Democrats Funding It

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Racing to adjourn for the end of 2007, Congress approved a $560 billion omnibus 2008 appropriation that includes $70 billion more for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and sizable increases in development, refugee, and disaster assistance.

The bill, which Bush is expected to sign into law later this week, provides for a nearly 50 percent increase -- to $4.66 billion -- in spending on fighting diseases, such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, that particularly afflict developing countries.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, a multilateral facility to which the administration has been reluctant to contribute, will get a record $845 million, $120 million more than last year's appropriation.

At the same time, Congress approved $1.7 billion for UN peacekeeping operations (PKOs) next year. While that was $600 million more than Bush had requested, it still fell far short of the $2.3 billion that Washington is supposed to pay as its share of the world body's 10- billion-dollar regular and PKO budget.

As a result, U.S. outstanding arrears to the UN will rise more than $1.5 billion, according to the Washington-based UN Foundation (UNF) whose president, former senator Timothy Wirth, noted that Washington's failure to honour its treaty obligations "undermines the UN, short-changes key allies, and does not help advance America's reputation in the world."

Both the administration and the opposition Democrats compromised in order to finish work on the 2008 appropriations bill before breaking for the Christmas holidays.

While Democrats prevailed on a number of key domestic priorities -- such as funding for health care and heating subsidies for poor people, repairing transportation infrastructure, and strengthening the Freedom of Information Act -- Bush did much better on foreign policy. His top agenda item was the $70 billion in unrestricted funding for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Because that amount fell short of the $200 billion the administration has said it needs to finance the two wars through next September when the fiscal year ends, Bush will have to get supplemental funding from Congress some time next spring.

The fact that the majority Democrats failed to muster enough support to impose tough conditions on the aid, let alone a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq as they tried unsuccessfully to do several times over the last ten months, marked a major political victory for Bush. The administration's position was boosted by the widespread impression that their controversial "Surge" strategy has succeeded in substantially reducing sectarian violence.

On less controversial foreign-aid issues, however, Democrats made headway in moving policy into line with their priorities. The 2008 appropriation was their first opportunity to re-shape the foreign-aid budget since they reclaimed control of both houses of Congress in the mid-term elections of Nov. 2006.

As a result, Congress not only sharply increased funding for Washington's global health initiatives, but also provided about $1.8 billion for child- survival and maternal-health programs -- a boost of nearly seven percent over the 2007 appropriation and almost $300 million more than what Bush had requested.

At the same time, however, a veto threat by Bush succeeded in persuading the Democratic leadership to drop language that had been approved by both houses that would have eased the so-called Mexico City policy that bans any U.S. health-related aid from going to family-planning groups overseas that provide or promote abortion.

On bilateral development assistance, the 2008 appropriation provides $1.6 billion, nearly an eight percent increase over the 2007 level and $600 million more than what Bush had requested.

The biggest winner within the development assistance account was basic education programs for which $400 million of the total was earmarked. For all foreign-aid accounts, basic education in developing countries netted $700 million.

For international disaster assistance, Congress approved a total of some $430 million -- nearly a 20 percent increase over the level approved for 2007 and more than 30 percent above what Bush had requested.

Congress also increased the migration and refugee account by a similar percentage -- to just over $1 billion -- or almost $200 million dollars more than the 2007 level, in part as a result of growing concern about the plight of refugees from Iraq.

Much of the additional money for health, development, and humanitarian relief came at the expense of one of Bush's signature programs, the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which is designed to reward countries that are committed to U.S.-favored political and economic reforms with higher aid levels.

Bush had requested $3 billion dollars for the MCA in 2008, but Congress, which has expressed disappointment with lengthy delays in the program's disbursement of past funding, approved barely half that amount -- $200 million less than it had appropriated for the MCA last year.

As for specific countries, Israel ($2.4 billion) and Egypt ($1.3 billion), will once again receive the bulk of the $4.6 billion appropriated for military aid overseen by the State Department. The Pentagon has its own aid accounts.

The appropriation calls on Bush to withhold $100 million of $412 million in economic aid earmarked for Egypt until it improves its human- rights performance and proves that it is not aiding Islamist militants in Gaza.

Congress also imposed new restrictions on U.S. military and economic aid to Pakistan, which has received some $10 billion in official U.S. aid since 2001 as an incentive for co-operation with Washington's "war on terror." Of the $650 million earmarked for military and security assistance, $50 million would be withheld until the administration certified that Islamabad had restored democratic rule and was co-operating fully in counter-terrorism efforts.

In addition, none of the $350 million in economic aid authorized for Pakistan next year could take the form of cash transfers which lawmakers worried were being used as a slush fund for President Pervez Musharraf and the army. The aid instead will have to be allocated to specific projects monitored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The bill provides nearly $540 million in emergency economic aid for Afghanistan, but requires the administration to first certify that the government of President Hamid Karzai is co-operating in efforts to eradicate poppy fields.

Darfur will also be a major beneficiary of U.S. aid in 2008. One third -- or $550 million -- of Washington's contribution to UN PKOs is earmarked for UNAMID, the UN-African Union force that is supposed to begin operations in Darfur January. Another $209 million is earmarked for humanitarian programs in the violence-torn Sudanese region.

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Albion Monitor   December 20, 2007   (

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