Ros-Lehtinen Presses Administration on Budget and Strategy for Protecting U.S. Interests in Middle East and North Africa

Jun 13, 2018

Ros-Lehtinen Presses Administration on Budget and Strategy for Protecting U.S. Interests in Middle East and North Africa

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommitee on the Middle East and North Africa, made the following statement at a subcommittee hearing entitled “The Middle East and North Africa: Ensuring Resources Match Objectives.” Statement by Ros-Lehtinen (as prepared for delivery):

“This is now the sixth time Ted and I have convened this particular hearing, conducting oversight over the President’s budget request. It is often difficult to know if the request matches the objective because we are often presented with broad or generic policy objectives, rather than strategies to achieve those objectives. And this year’s budget request for the Middle East and North Africa is no different.

Earlier this year, then Secretary of State Tillerson laid out the Administration’s vision for Syria. I don’t think many of us would disagree that it had five laudable objectives. Likewise, just a few weeks ago, Secretary Pompeo laid out 12 objectives in our counter-Iran plan. But I think it is safe to say that these both were policy objective-heavy and short on strategy – that is to say, they were lacking details on how we were going to accomplish these objectives. This makes it extremely difficult for us, as policy makers and Members tasked with oversight to ensure taxpayer dollars are used effectively and efficiently, to really know if the Administration is requesting adequate resources to carry out its strategy.

It’s also difficult for us to get a full accounting of the support we provide to the Middle East and North Africa, given the many different mechanisms and accounts being used to provide our assistance to conflict areas and humanitarian crises in the region. In Iraq, in Syria, in Jordan and in Yemen, there is a great need for U.S. leadership and U.S. assistance. There are old threats, there are new threats and there are emerging threats that can destabilize the region and damage our interests as well. But this budget request seems like it does not go far enough to match the priority and threat to our national security with the resources allocated.

In Syria, the budget request seems to fall short of Tillerson’s stated objectives. And that’s before you take into account the fact that the Administration has put a hold on $200 million for Syria stabilization efforts until it completes a review.  I’m all for getting partner nations to increase their share of contributions, but in the meantime, we are losing critical time and we are certainly not making progress on our Syria objectives if we aren’t providing our assistance.

Likewise, I remain very concerned over our continued request for assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) despite very real concerns regarding Hezbollah’s influence - $50 million in this year’s request. With Hezbollah and its allies making gains in last month’s elections, it doesn’t make sense to continue to push the narrative that we are supporting the LAF as a counterweight to Hezbollah.  Instead of having used our assistance for Lebanon wisely – with programs aimed at decreasing Iran and Hezbollah’s influence before the elections – our Embassy in Lebanon cut critical programs, perhaps out of fear of upsetting the status quo.

And because of that, we will certainly need the Administration’s request for $3.3 billion in foreign military financing for Israel, as it faces an increased and more aggressive Iranian posture on its borders, and many of these other emerging threats. So I applaud the Administration for standing strong with Israel and in understanding the sheer magnitude of the threats that our closest friend and partner, the democratic Jewish State of Israel faces.

I do, however, question the Administration’s decision to keep the PLO office open. I’ve been trying to get an answer on the status of the PLO office ever since November when the waiver lapsed, which should have forced it closed. I spoke briefly with Ambassador Satterfield about this yesterday, but Congress and the American public deserve to know why the Administration is allowing the PLO office to remain open. I joined Senator Cruz in sending a letter to the Secretary laying out specific questions, and it is my hope that we get a full, public response – there is no reason why the Administration should keep this information to itself.

Moving to Jordan, I also applaud the Administration for meeting the agreed number as stipulated by our latest Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The numbers reflect the need to ensure Jordan remains stable and secure – however, I do hope that the Administration sees the current situation on the ground in Jordan as seriously as we do, and understands that it may need to be flexible with its resources if circumstances dictate.

I was also pleased to see the Administration reverse course from last year’s request and allocate additional funds for Tunisia. $95 million for FY19 represents a $40 million increase from the FY18 request, but falls far short of what’s required, and far short of what Congress has appropriated. Tunisia’s stability and success are of vital importance to the United States and the region – failing to ensure its viability would be a terrible mistake.

We want to work with the Administration to advance our interests in the region, to ensure we have an adequate response to the ongoing crises, and to ensure the region’s stability and security - I am eager to hear from our witnesses on ways we can work together to achieve that.”