In a February 27, 2018 op-ed for The American Conservative, “What Has $49 Billion in Foreign Military Aid Bought Us? Not Much,” POMED’s Andrew Miller and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Senior Fellow Richard Sokolsky argue that without clear purpose and oversight, U.S. foreign military aid to the Middle East has become just another expensive welfare program.

It’s a scene right out of the movie Groundhog Day. Every year around this time, the administration submits its annual request to Congress to appropriate billions of dollars for America’s allies and partners in the Middle East to finance their purchase of U.S. military training and equipment.

Congress rubber stamps these requests with little regard for whether this assistance achieves U.S. foreign policy objectives. It does the same when the executive branch requests congressional approval of arms sales for cold hard cash. Such docility might be good industrial policy—after all, it creates jobs in key congressional districts, provides corporate welfare for America’s defense companies, and helps maintain the defense industrial base. But it makes for lousy foreign policy. The United States will continue to pour money down a rat hole until Congress and the executive branch better understand why these problems keep recurring and muster the political will to fix them. Based on our experience in the State Department, here is our diagnosis of the problem and some remedies for what ails U.S. military assistance in the Middle East.

In the U.S. foreign policy toolkit, security assistance and arms transfers have become the instruments of choice for American diplomats and soldiers. Grant assistance and weapons sales are treated as Swiss Army Knives, all-purpose tools appropriate for use in virtually any scenario. According to the prevailing view in the U.S. government, security assistance works wonders: it builds the capabilities of partner countries, provides influence over their policies, and guarantees access to influential institutions and personalities in capitals across the globe. If true, this would seem to more than justify the $48.7 billion the U.S. has spent on security assistance to the Middle East over the past decade.

In reality, U.S. military assistance promises more than it delivers. There is scant evidence outside of a few isolated cases that U.S. material support to Middle Eastern countries has fulfilled any of these purposes. Recipients of U.S. funding and weapons have largely failed to make major strides in their capabilities and, in some instances, may have even regressed…

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