Monday, September 10, 2007

Senators Up "Democracy Promotion" Funding in Foreign Ops Bill

On September 6, 2007, Senator Lieberman’s Amendment No. 2691 to the Senate Foreign Operations bill was adopted by unanimous consent. The amendment restores funding for “democracy assistance,” which was cut in the Appropriations Subcommittee, to the Bush administration's request. The amendment provides “that, of the amount appropriated or otherwise made available for the Economic Support Fund, $75,000,000 shall be made available for programs of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs of the Department of State to support democracy, the rule of law, and governance in Iran.” It was cosponsored by Sam Brownback (R-KS), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mel Martinez (R-FL), David Vitter (R-LA).

The House version of the Foreign Ops bill appropriates $25,000,000 for democracy assistance and directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to initiate a comprehensive assessment of the capacity of the U.S. Government to effectively administer democracy programs worldwide.

The Lieberman-Brownback amendment reads:

"On page 410, between lines 15 and 16, insert the following:


Sec. 699B. Of the amount appropriated or otherwise made available by title III for other bilateral economic assistance under the heading “Economic Support Fund”, $75,000,000 shall be made available for programs of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs of the Department of State to support democracy, the rule of law, and governance in Iran."

Here is Senator Lieberman’s floor statement in defense of the amendment:

"Dissidents and democrats in Iran today are under attack by their own Government. The question before this Congress is whether we are going to stand with them in solidarity or whether we will turn away our heads. This amendment would provide $75 million in funds, the amount requested by the administration; in fact, announced by Secretary of State Rice. That announcement, I know from sources I have, was broadly heard and appreciated within the Iranian civil society dissident movement. The committee has recommended one-third of that amount of money. This $75 million would go to labor activists, women's groups, journalists, human rights advocates, and other members of Iranian civil society. It provides Congress an opportunity to demonstrate that even as we condemn the behavior of the Iranian regime, we stand with the Iranian people, a people with a proud history who truly are, in my opinion, yearning to be free. That freedom is suppressed by the fanatical regime that dominates their lives today.

The alternative path before Congress, if we don't adopt this amendment, would be to cut the administration's request by two-thirds. At that level of funding, existing programs will not only be unable to expand, they will actually be cut back. In other words, at just the moment when the Iranian Government is engaged in an unprecedented rollback of the human rights and political freedoms of the Iranian people, the American Government will be rolling back its own programs to help defend those rights and freedoms. Why would we do this?

The report language of the Appropriations subcommittee, I say respectfully, says that ``the Committee supports the goals of promoting democracy in Iran,'' but ``it is particularly concerned that grantees suspected of receiving U.S. assistance have been harassed and arrested by the Government of Iran for their pro-democracy activities.''

In other words, the argument against this amendment seems to be that we should give less to help dissidents in Iran because our help, in turn, may lead to their harassment by the totalitarian government in Tehran. I respectfully disagree with this logic. I know that we do not give less to democracy advocates in Myanmar or Zimbabwe or Belarus when they are being harassed by the regime, nor do we give less to freedom fighters behind the Iron Curtain in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. On the contrary, it is precisely when dissidents are under attack that they need more help from the United States, not less. I am sure my colleagues would agree that if we give less money to these civil society human rights activists in Iran, the Iranian regime will not repress them any less. The repression probably, in fact, will be greater. As to the argument that those who accept this money--and I can say, speaking generally, that the money is given through third parties, international organizations, to the civil society human rights advocates in Iran--that somehow they will be harassed for receiving this money, I believe the just and right thing to do is leave that decision to those who are fighting for freedom in Iran, for us to be willing to help them if they want that help. The record is clear there.

Since the State Department began making these grants 8 months ago, 90 percent of the fiscal year 2006 funds have been obligated, with the remaining funds expected to be obligated by mid-September. Perhaps there are some Iranian groups that do not want our funding, but it is clear that many others do. The need is great. It is beyond the $75 million this amendment would provide. That choice should be theirs. Our moral responsibility is to make the money available to these courageous fighters for freedom in Iran, those who want not only more freedom but a better future for themselves and their children.

I want to close by saying that we know from history that dissidents can change history, because history is made not by abstract, inexorable forces but by individual human beings such as Vaclav Havel or Lech Walesa or Andrei Sakharov or Natan Sharansky. It was the bravery of these people that kindled our moral imagination to see the suffering of millions behind the Iron Curtain, and it was their leadership that inspired millions more to cast off their shackles and overthrow a cruel and dictatorial system of Communist government that many thought would endure forever. Like the Communist terrorists of eastern Europe, the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran repress their people because they are frightened of them. They know how powerful the dissidents and the democrats in their midst can become. These are the people to whom this money would go. That is the reason my colleagues and I have offered this amendment."

1 comment:

Nell said...

Is there a record of the discussion (and/or possible hearings) accompanying the cut in the Appropriations Subcommittee?

I ask because of statements by Iranian human rights activists that this kind of funding hurts democracy promoters in Iran more than it helps. There is also the evidence of the Iranian government's using the U.S. "democracy promotion" funding from 2005 (relatively little of which has actually been spent) as an excuse for the harassment and imprisonment of Esfandiari and others.

Such hearings or comments at the committee markup would be the only record of Congressional reality-check on this issue, since Lieberman's measure was adopted by unanimous consent.