Trump’s security assistance cuts and Pompeo’s Jamaica promises diverge
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(25 February 2020) — On the 10th anniversary of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), former president Barack Obama’s signature security assistance partnership with the Caribbean, president Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget cut proposal undermines the bold promises made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his recent visit to Jamaica. Even as Pompeo was in Jamaica speaking of the increasing security threats to the region and promoting the effectiveness of the CBSI program, his State Department was complicit in proposing significant cuts to the CBSI budget. The budget proposals sent to Congress on February 10th cut US $28 million from the US$60 million approved by the Congress for FY 2020. The proposed $32 million for FY21 is in keeping with similar cuts in CBSI funding and the USAID budget cuts sought in FY 2020 but was rejected by the US Congress. Trump’s proposed funding for the CBSI is half the level of annual funding during the Obama administration.
Cutting CBSI funding runs contrary to the increasing security threats to the region. Just before visiting Jamaica, Secretary Pompeo had attended the hemisphere’s third counterterrorism summit where terrorism threats to Latin America and the Caribbean were discussed. In a speech in Kingston, Jamaica, Pompeo highlighted one of the major threats to the Caribbean. He said, “Nations all across the region are waking up to the same shared threats, and there’s no shortage of them. ISIS fighters … have come from Trinidad and Tobago.” And, to the region they return.
The US has in the past warned about the threat posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) following the defeat of the ISIS caliphate. I have written about this threat to the region on a number of occasions, and there is little doubt the threat is real. CBSI beneficiary countries rely heavily on the CBSI funding to increase their security and law enforcement capacities to guard against this and other transnational threats. In other words, Caribbean countries have put a great deal of trust in the security partnership commitments made by the US government to grow their security and crime enforcement capacities. The US has a vested national security interest in Caribbean security. It is in the mutual national security interests of the US and the region to maintain the CBSI and to fund the program at the appropriate level.
As if the terrorist threat was not a sufficient reason for the CBSI, Pompeo also recognized other transnational threats to the region which justify the CBSI security partnerships. He said, “… there are the drug cartels that we deal with, and the human trafficking, and arms trafficking, and the cybercrime that come alongside of them.” He went on to say, “The bad guys are more sophisticated, and more ruthless. And our nations have an obligation, therefore, for our very people, to work in the interest of our shared security much more closely.” Even as Pompeo identified the threats to the region, the Trump administration was about to submit its budget to Congress. At the time of speaking, Pompeo would or should have been aware that the CBSI budget was about to be cut in half.
Yet, Pompeo seemed to view the CBSI as the program through which the US is partnering with the Caribbean to deal with these threats. “That’s what we’re already doing in the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, now its 10th year, a decade on.” He said. According to Pompeo, the US and Caribbean governments are “… having incredible success seizing drug shipments. We’re helping kids stay away from crime. And we stand ready, America stands ready to keep doing those good things in partnership with countries in the region.” Left to the Trump administration these programs, ‘these good things,’ will lose a significant amount of funding and which we know, rather than being reduced, should be increased to meet the threats.
As I have written before, the Trump administration’s intent is to shift the burden of US national security and related regional security to the countries of the region. These include interdiction of drugs from South American producers to North American consumers. It includes shifting the burden of security of American assets in the region that are likely targets of terrorists, including the threat from FTFs.
A ‘fact sheet’ issued by the State Department a day before Pompeo’s arrival in Jamaica, noted that “Jamaica is a strong partner in advancing shared values and strategic interests in security.” Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness believes that. Not knowing about the impending CBSI budget cut, the prime minister told the Jamaican public following his meeting with Pompeo that he was pleased to say he and Pompeo “found common understanding on the urgent need to scale up our security cooperation.” He said, “The main focus will be on bolstering Jamaica’s capacity to counter transnational organized crime, secure our borders and ports, and interrupt the flow of illicit weapons into our country.” Holness said he could not “overstate the urgency with which we need to address these security matters.” I agree.
So what will be the respective roles of the US and Jamaica, as well as the roles of other CBSI beneficiary countries. Knowing that CBSI funding was on the chopping block, Pompeo noted the importance of CBSI funding since its inception to support Caribbean countries “in much-needed funding for this fight over this past decade. Our expectation is those funds will augment homegrown efforts to protect all Caribbean peoples.” Interpretation of ‘augment homegrown efforts’ – the countries of the region will have to assume the greater share of the burden.
Early indications are that, for now, the CBSI funding level will be saved by the US Congress despite the Trump administration’s disregard for the program’s importance to US national security. However, the budget process has just began and resolution is a long way off. Caribbean governments must assume some responsibility to ensure the importance of CBSI to the region and to US national security are communicated to Democratic and Republican legislators in the US Congress. There are friends in Congress that are being ignored, as most Caribbean governments have been putting their fate in the hands of the Trump administration.
On February 10th when Trump’s budget arrived on Capitol Hill, Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, rejected it as “a waste of the paper it is written on.” Rep. Engel said, “Proposing such reckless cuts to our critical foreign policy tools isn’t a serious proposal.” His statement described Trump’s budget as ‘draconian’ and, that if it was enacted, it would weaken US security and leadership around the world. Rep. Engel, through whose committee the foreign affairs budget must pass, said there would be bipartisan rejection of Trump’s budget, as the Congress had done of Trump’s FY2020 budget.
In a veiled reference, perhaps to China’s global ascendancy, Rep. Engel said “… foreign governments look at (Trump) administration’s priorities and see an America shrinking away from the world stage, willing to cede ground to rivals who are happy to fill the void.” The promises made by Secretary Pompeo in Jamaica are unsustainable. Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts diverge from those promises. Cutting CBSI funding and USAID budget further opens the economic and geopolitical space to the Chinese. The warnings against China’s so-called ‘predatory economic practices’ and China’s engagement in the hemisphere ring hollow. Governments of the region ought to take note.
© 2020 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post