From a national security standpoint, the decision made earlier this year by Republicans in the House of Representatives to eliminate the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) was not only wrong, but unwise. This week, however, is witnessing something far worse. Now, Congressmen Cravaack (R-MN) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) are proposing an amendment to the NDAA (HR 1540) to repeal the USIP act.
This goes far beyond the vote on HR 1 earlier this year to zero out USIP federal funding (a mere $42 million, or 3 hours of Afghanistan war funding). The Cravaack amendment would eliminate USIP entirely, repealing Title VXII of the Department of Defense Authorization Act, 1985, which authorized the establishment of the United States Institute of Peace.
In doing so, Republicans not only eliminate a bipartisan institution, but they weaken America's ability to prevent violent conflicts overseas and send the message to the world that America cares little about peace.
USIP came into being after the Vietnam War sharply divided our nation. It was founded during the Reagan administration in the hopes that America would lead the way in peacemaking and peacebuilding.
In the last quarter century, this small, agile and innovative congressionally funded organization created an entire field around peacebuilding -- working in difficult conflict zones like Iraq and Afghanistan -- discovering how to best bridge divides, mend broken societies and transition from war to peace.
What many people don't realize is that USIP is bridging the military and civilian sectors. USIP is neither part of the State Department nor of the Defense Department.
USIP's advantage is its independence and its ability to navigate international conflict when government cannot intervene directly. USIP, then, brings back these lessons to Washington, providing extensive training for those who are deploying overseas or returning from the field.
The Institute's work is not always visible because it seeks to protect the people with which it works in conflict zones. During the Iraq war, USIP was called upon by the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, to reconcile tribal differences in the "Triangle of Death" in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad.
Those efforts quelled the violence in the region and led to significant decreases in combat deaths of American military personnel -- all of which inspired Gen. David Petraeus to write a letter of support for USIP's Iraq and Afghanistan work.
In Afghanistan, USIP supported the Tribal Liaison Organization in developing provincial conflict resolution committees to complement and strengthen the work of the Afghan Ministry of Justice.
The committees established by the TLO are resolving local conflicts that, left unaddressed, would provide openings for the Taliban to gain support.
In Pakistan, the Institute supported projects that trained young madrassa students for meaningful careers in journalism, mitigating the appeal of extremist movements within these key target populations.
Additionally, USIP prepared a textbook in Urdu for students, now being used in many madrassas, based on Islamic principles on gender equality, tolerance, pluralism, and peace.
In the Niger delta, USIP ameliorated conflict by training community leaders in conflict resolution, integrating former rebels back into their home communities, and preparing proposals to resolve some of the key issues dividing the Nigerian government and the Niger Delta rebels.
Back here in Washington, the Institute's role is equally vital. It was USIP that convened the congressionally funded Iraq study group to analyze options and alternatives when the country was at a crossroads in Iraq.
It was USIP that convened the Genocide Prevention Task Force, featuring former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Defense Secretary William Cohen, and published recommendations that led to the designation of a White House point person to work on stopping genocides.
It was USIP that led the effort to evaluate the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review to ensure that America's national security agenda stays strong.
It was USIP that contributed to the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review of its responsibilities in international conflict resolution and crisis management.
We need vital institutions in this country that have no political agenda and no partisan bias. USIP convenes the left and the right, the civilian and the military, the national and the international players, government officials and the nongovernmental organizations.
The organization's agility and ability to integrate research, teaching, and field experience, allows it to navigate environments which are unpredictable and often violent.
We can't let this much-needed institution close its doors. While we must tighten our belts, we need to not lose our sensibilities.