Sunday, May 16, 2010

Government Accountability Office Report Worries: Does The U.S. Training Palestinian Soldiers Lead to Peace or War

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By Barry Rubin

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issues reports that rarely make headlines yet analyze as objectively as possible U.S. government programs. These reports are long (the one on the Palestinian Authority is 60 pages) and detailed. In other words, not many people will read them. Too bad.

One new report is "Palestinian Authority: U.S. Assistance Is Training and EquippingSecurity Forces, but the Program Needs to Measure Progress and Faces Logistical Constraints." GAO-10-505, May 11. It recounts that the United States has spent $400 million to train, equip, and build facilities for PA security forces. Five battalions have already been trained and six more will be so in future. All the equipment supplied is non-lethal. U.S. money is also being used to create a Strategic Planning Directorate in the Palestinian ministry of interior.

There are some good reasons for this program, of course. Increasing the PA's ability to defeat any Hamas overthrow attempt is important, and a better PA security force can maintain order, thus allowing improvements in living standards and--in theory--lay a basis for peace.

Yet there are also considerable risks. The report says that the U.S. agencies "have not established clear and measurable outcome-based performance indicators" to assess progress. What's most important is that these relate to anything positive coming from the program:

"Targets they set to measure progress...focus on specific program outputs, such as the number of battalions or personnel trained and equipped, rather than on broader program outcomes such as helping the PA meet its Roadmap obligations to achieve the transformation of its security sector and create a professional, right-sized" security force.

What does this mean? Simply that there's no evidence that training is producing security forces more likely to block terrorism against Israel, repress (rather than join!) radical elements, or obey any orders from moderate Palestinian politicians (if they were ever to give such orders).

Let's face it: U.S.-trained forces are most likely to use their training and equipment in future to fight Israel in a third intifada than to use their power to assist a compromise negotiated settlement.

Israel does not oppose this program and in some ways is pleased by the outcome. At present, there is progress in establishing order on the West Bank and some minimal cooperation on blocking terrorism. But it is also understandably skeptical regarding some aspects of the U.S. project. The report politely notes that Israel sometimes blocks or slows the delivery of supplies and equipment. Should anyone blame it for doing so?

What the GAO report basically says is this: How secure is the belief that this training will contribute to stability, peace, moderation, PA support for U.S. policies, or the security forces willingness to fight Hamas or even radicals within Fatah?

In another report, "Firms Reported to Have Commercial Activity in the Iranian EnergySector and U.S. Government Contracts." GAO-10-639R, May 4, the GAO lists seven foreign companies that have received $900 million in U.S. contracts over the last five years (one-third of it during the Obama Administration, in 2009) despite being involved in Iranian development of its energy industry. The three best known are Eni (Italy), Total (France), and Hyundai Heavy Industries (South Korea).

There has been some real progress in discouraging companies from investing in Iran, in large part because they fear forthcoming sanctions will open them to penalties or force them to suspend expensive projects. But what will happen after only very weak sanctions have been passed by the UN Security Council? Will these companies conclude that it is now safe to reengage with Iran's economy?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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