Asking Dictators For Permission

Sunday, June 15, 2014
From Cuba's Raul Castro to North Korea's Kim Jong-un; from Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro to Syria's Bashar al-Assad; from Russia's Vladimir Putin to Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei.

Why are these tyrants acting more emboldened and impunely than ever?

Because -- although the Obama Administration might have the best intentions -- these are the types of mixed signals being sent.

From Daily Beast:

Obama’s Budget Fails Democracy Promotion Abroad

The administration is proposing to remove language from next year’s budget that would safeguard American foreign aid from repressive foreign leaders.

The Obama administration is proposing to omit a longstanding legislative provision aimed at preventing American foreign aid being blocked or manipulated by repressive foreign leaders.

The proposed removal from the administration’s budget and appropriations request for next fiscal year of a provision instructing the Secretary of State not to seek the prior approval of host governments when funding nonprofits and civil society groups overseas is infuriating American democracy-promotion and human-rights activists, who argue the omission marks a retreat in U.S. leadership.

They warn the Obama administration is in effect signaling to repressive regimes that they can dictate where U.S. democracy-promotion and human rights money goes in their countries—a problem the provision introduced a decade ago was meant to combat.

Obama aides and State Department officials dismiss the criticism—they also bristle at claims that the administration has been decreasing funding for democracy and governance promotion and support. Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, claims democracy transitions in Indonesia and Tunisia as Obama successes. “We’ve made a democracy a central part of our approach in every region that we operate,” he told The Washington Post.

The dropping of the legislative provision instructing the Secretary of State not to seek prior host government approval when funding civil society groups in their countries isn’t helping the administration make its case that democracy is a fundamental aim of Obama foreign policy.

The provision the administration is proposing to remove from the foreign appropriations bill is called the “Brownback Amendment.” Named after GOP Senator Sam Brownback, now the governor of Kansas, the amendment was first passed in 2005 and was attached initially to funding for democracy and governance activities in Egypt, allowing the Bush administration to provide aid directly to civil society organizations regardless of whether the Egyptian government approved or whether the organizations were registered as NGOs.

Every year since 2009, Brownback language has been included in FY budget and appropriation requests with the provision stating that when providing “assistance for democracy, human rights, and governance activities, the organizations implementing such assistance and the specific nature of that assistance shall not be subject to the prior approval of the government of any foreign country.”

Asked why the Brownback Amendment was being omitted from the foreign appropriations request for the first time since 2009, a State Department spokesperson said: “The administration’s requests frequently recommend that Congress remove restrictions and requirements that constrain flexibility to manage foreign policy, are overly burdensome, and/or are unnecessary due to policy or procedures already in place.”