I am ashamed to admit that I had never heard of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) until I read the op-ed article in the New York Times of March 8, 2011 by Marine General Anthony C. Zinni. Shame aside, if this little blog prompts one more person to read this critically important essay, it will have served a useful purpose.
Unfortunately, General Zinni's piece had to be written to right a wrong and defend the record of the USIP in the wake of the House of Representatives' ill informed decision to eliminate its funding. In the process, he reminds the American people that cutting government programs indiscriminately, without the data or research to back up such decisions, often does far more harm than good.
General Zinni explains that the USIP was started in 1984 with the approval of President Reagan and a bipartisan group of lawmakers and that it has enjoyed the support of Congress from both sides of the aisle for decades. Why? Because it saves lives and money by forestalling conflict, identifying alternatives to war, and promoting peaceful solutions to problems that have been perennially addressed through violence. The Institute goes where others are reluctant to follow, places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and has intervened repeatedly with mediations, dialogues and training programs to bring stability to some of the world's most war-torn regions.
General Zinni goes on to say that "Congress would be hard-pressed to find an agency that does more with less." The Institute's entire yearly budget of $43 million is less than the cost of a single fighter jet, and yet the savings in lives saved and communities preserved is inestimable, easily exceeding many billions of dollars.
Finally, though, let's affirm that an institute like the USIP, which is so unyieldingly devoted to building up instead of tearing down, is not something to be curtailed but to be expanded, not something to be eliminated but proliferated. Whatever else war is, it is always a temporary condition and invariably destabilizing, designed, at best, as a stop-gap, but never useful as a strategy for realizing potential, promoting growth, or establishing permanency. Helping people find their way to peace through nonviolent methods is something we should all be able to get behind. We must remind our elected officials that an agency like the United States Institute of Peace deserves our support because in addition to being a courageous and effective agency that saves lives and money, it represents both the means and the end to a better tomorrow, and remains the last best hope for an increasingly conflict-ridden world.