The Washington Post reported today that President Bush's $60 million commitment to help build Ukrainian democracy was slashed by Republicans in the House to $33.7 million, citing this as part of a pattern.
The shrinking financial commitment to Ukrainian democracy highlights a broader gap between rhetoric and resources among budget writers in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill as the president vows to devote his second term to "ending tyranny in our world," according to budget documents, congressional critics and democracy advocates.
The story notes that aside from Iraq and the Middle East, under the Bush Administration, budgetary support for democracy work has actually declined in every other part of the world, especially in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The Post cites sources at the International Republican Institute (IRI) and my former employer, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), who say that Iraq and the Middle East account for more than 50% of their entire budget.
What the story failed to note is that the majority of the money spent in Iraq and Afghanistan is spent not on substantive democracy work but security. Before you can even hire an expert trainer to go into Iraq or Afghanistan, you have to hire 4 security officers, arm them, and equip them with armored vehicles. No democracy trainer goes anywhere in Iraq without an armed lead vehicle, an armed following vehicle, and an armored car for themselves. That's if they are able to move at all...almost every democracy trainer in Iraq is under lock down at some point. There are periods of weeks at a time when a trainer doesn't actually meet an Iraqi because of security concerns.
Then there are the times when security is so bad the trainers are not even in the country. Amman, Jordan is the headquarters for many democracy programs in Iraq. That's right...it's not even in Iraq. When I was in Palestine in December & January training election observers, it was amazing how many "Iraq program directors" I met in Jerusalem, spending their per diem on holiday from their "program" in...Jordan. During such periods, the Hilton in Amman certainly benefits from the increase in democracy funding. Not clear that many Iraqis do.
The bottom line is that for every $1 spent on democracy in Iraq, perhaps 10 cents of it reaches Iraqis...perhaps even less. That money is getting increased by Bush. For every $1 spent on democracy anywhere else, (say, Ukraine), perhaps 50 cents of it reaches its target. There's more democracy bang for the buck in places just as important as Iraq, but that money is being reduced. It doesn't make any sense.
When you boil down the numbers, President Bush's commitment to democracy building is, well...full of shit. He talks a great talk, walks a pathetic walk. The Ukraine example is particularly tragic. Ask any expert on post Soviet security - Ukraine is the key to the entire region. It was well on its way to backsliding into dictatorship; the Orange Revolution has given us an unprecedented second bite at the apple, another chance to get it right. If the Bush Administration can't find the money to keep its commitments to Ukraine, to take a rare second at-bat for democracy, Bush can't be counted on to deliver anywhere.