By Elise Labott
A greatly reduced role in Iraq and Afghanistan after more than a decade of war means the State Department can shift financial resources to priorities in the Mideast and Asia and enhance security at high-threat diplomatic posts.
President Barack Obama asked Congress on Wednesday for $47.8 billion for the State Department and international programs in fiscal 2014, a 6 percent budget decrease from fiscal 2013 levels.
The most dramatic reduction would come from the Iraq and Afghanistan accounts, known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). The new budget for that line item requests $3.8 billion, a 67 percent reduction from what was received last year.
Although U.S. forces left the country in 2011, Iraq is home to the largest American embassy in the world.
The new budget discontinues funding for an account created to boost the military’s counterinsurgency efforts in Pakistan. The budget proposal says close military ties with Islamabad would remain a priority, but counter-terrorism cooperation would be funded through other programs.
Overall, the State Department calls for $3.4 billion for Afghanistan, $2.1 billion for Iraq and and $1.3 billion for Pakistan.
After the deadly September 11 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, and violent protests at embassies in the Middle East, the State Department asked Congress to reallocate money from the overseas contingency account for security upgrades at high-threat diplomatic posts.
The State Department budget reflects efforts to implement recommendations of an independent board that looked at the Benghazi attack.
In addition to $2.2 billion for new construction and security enhancements to secure U.S. facilities, proposed funding would put 550 additional Marines and 155 additional Diplomatic Security Agents at high threat posts in the Middle East and elsewhere.
The budget also asks for $580 million to help promote economic and political reforms in the Middle East following the Arab Spring uprisings.
As part of the U.S. pivot to Asia, the State Department requested $768 million for East Asia, a seven percent increase over 2012 levels. In addition to additional funding to strengthen security, the increase also reflects programs to counter China’s growing influence in the region.
Climate change is also featured prominently in the budget, which asks for $909 million in “strategic investments,” such as promoting clean energy, private sector investment and aiding countries most vulnerable to climate and weather-related disasters.
The Obama administration is also making a major shift on international food aid, run by the United States Agency for International Development.
It proposed buying less of the food it donates from U.S. farmers in favor of purchases from local and regional sellers. This, the administration believes, will make aid more efficient, flexible and delivered more quickly.
Under the new proposal, USAID could spend 45 percent of the $1.4 billion requested locally.
The budget also calls for $1.65 billion for maintaining the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, a move hailed by rights advocates, including Bono, the lead singer of U2 and co-founder of the ONE organization.