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Why America Must Choose Its Partners Wisely

June 21, 2014 in Economics

By Jennifer Keister

Jennifer Keister

President Obama has called for increased U.S. assistance to the Iraqi government to deal with escalating instability and a violent Sunni insurgency. But Iraq’s resurgent violence and vulnerability to the threat of radical rebels cannot be divorced from the sectarian policies of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The current debate about the extent, form, and limits of U.S. military aid highlights the challenges of even limited foreign internal defense (FID) assistance to help other states tackle their security problems.

Iraq is emblematic of a larger challenge. At several points, President Obama’s West Point address last month emphasized the role of “partner countries” that could leverage U.S. assistance to counter security threats within their own borders and regions. But the president’s speech and subsequent debate about it have largely failed to provide criteria for selecting these partners.

Iraq is emblematic of a larger challenge.”

Iraq’s headlines join others over the past year: the Boko Haram kidnappings in NigeriaAl-Shabaab’s siege of Westgate Mall in Kenyaunrest in northern Malicontinuing instability in Libya, the list goes on. All of these cases have produced calls for U.S. assistance or intervention, or highlighted the role of existing or past American aid and debated increasing such aid. Iraq is somewhat unique in the wealth of information the American public and policy makers have about it, but these other cases share some of the risks identified in Iraq.

Helping others defend themselves” sounds more attractive than “defending third parties from one another,” particularly while facing a fiscal and domestic political reality that limits the prospect for direct intervention. However, how do we tell the difference between states we can “partner” into effective and self-sufficient stability, versus those that risk pulling the United States into local quagmires or exacerbating security problems?

For partnerships to be effective, they generally require effective partners. To be sure, U.S. engagement may aim to improve these states’ capabilities, but a policy based on partnerships still needs a litmus test to sort out good partners from potential risks. Choosing good partners requires information. While some states refuse U.S. assistance, others pursue American aid and then seek to use it for unrelated purposes.

The current Iraq debate highlights Maliki’s sectarian policies as contributing to ISIS’s success, and questions whether aid might inadvertently facilitate such policies. Assistance to other possible partners requires similar information about the political, social, and …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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