U.S. security assistance and cooperation programs have come under a lot of fire recently. The failure of the $500 million program to train and equip moderate opposition forces in Syria is the latest example. However, there is a longer history, including the collapse of the Iraqi military in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) despite $25 billion in U.S. support; doubts about the reliability of the Afghan military, which has received $65 billion in American military assistance; and the dismal results of U.S. programs to support the security forces of Yemen, Libya, and Mali. So when the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing in October on the Department of Defense’s security cooperation effort, one might have expected a deep re-evaluation.
However, as baseball philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” The usual think tank experts were rounded up to testify, the usual prescriptions, many technical and small-bore, were offered, and everyone agreed the United States can do better. The same conversation about the failures of U.S. security cooperation has been going on for decades in the executive branch and among a handful of members of Congress and security assistance experts. But until the executive branch and Congress gain a deeper understanding of why these problems keep recurring, they will keep making the same mistakes and getting the same results.
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