The Demise of U.S. Institute of Peace

US Institute of PeaceAn op-ed piece in the March 7th NY Times has retired Marine General Anthony C. Zinni offering an impassioned plea on behalf of the U.S. Institute of Peace whose funding was completely gutted by the House in recent weeks. With an annual budget of just over $50 million, no one seems to be disputing the good work done by the Institute—first created during the Cold War. Gen. Petraeus has singled out its mediation activities as resulting in turning points in the Iraq War. In Afghanistan, they continue to conduct successful mediation on issues regarding refugees, property and water disputes.

Yet, given the its relatively small budget and high marks for effectiveness, how is it that not only have they become victim to budget cuts, but that 40 house Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the elimination of the Institute. In a February 16 Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Rep. (D) Anthony Weiner from NY singled out the Institute as a “case study in how government waste thrives.”

So, with Democrats joining Republicans to eliminate what most report as a highly effective Peace Institute, can the “End of Days” be far off? One must wonder how and why this agency with only 325 employees came under such scrutiny. Some have speculated that it might have something to do with the construction of its $183 million office building going up near the Lincoln Memorial. If so, what might we infer from this?

Congress routinely funds pet-projects of questionable value. In this case, why would an office for a Peace Institute be deemed frivolous when no one seems to deny the value of its work? If this were a new Pentagon addition, would we be having the same discussion? Or is there some inherently perceived “necessity” when it comes to all things related to war and security, and an equally profound sense of the “superfluous” when the issue at hand is peace?

A possible answer to this question might be found in our collective consciousness. We consider war a “business” with a tangible product and bottom-line. Peace is seen as the work of non-profits where results are often weighed in human rather than financial terms. Indeed, there is a powerful lobby focused on the money to be made from conflict while peace could conceivably be viewed as at odds with commerce. After all, with conflict one gets to profit from the manufacturing of war machinery, and the reconstruction of destroyed infrastructure. With a successful peace, these become unnecessary.

If supporters of the peace agenda are to prevail, they will have to take to heart the advice of those who have taught us “non-violent struggle is a form of warfare.” Only when we successfully make the case that society’s wealth lies in peace, will we be able to usurp the power of those who have effectively lobbied to convince us that it rests in violence.

by William Repicci

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