President Obama isn’t letting go of the Bush administration’s obsession with defense spending.

Over the past month and a half, we’ve seen our new President alternate between faltering new kid on the block to strong, progressive policy maverick. His foreign policy agenda, especially with respect to foreign aid, fall somewhere in between his dual personalities of tired novice and bold social entrepreneur.

One recent development that has many international aid and foreign policy experts alarmed is Obama’s apparent continuation of sky-high defense spending. A recent article from Foreign Policy magazine reveals the economic downturn has not precluded a quickening arms race, and neither has Obama’s election into office. The magazine claims Obama has released budget figures that allocate a whopping 534 billion for the Department of Defense; Obama’s pentagon budget reportedly falls 1.9 percent above last year’s figures, adjusting for inflation. The United State’s defense expenditures still violently exceed those of China, India, Russia, and Iran, and greatly exceed funding allocation for development agencies such as USAID.

So how does this relate to foreign aid?

In the past decade, the Butroopssh administration utilized the military to conduct many foreign assistance missions, a dangerously inadequate model for aid distribution. For instance, the Bush Administration’s Commander Emergency Response Program authorized the military to provide humanitarian relief to citizens in Afghanistan and Iraq, blurring the distinction between aid workers and army officers. The 2006 National Defense Authorization act contained provisions spearheading joint Pentagon-State Department development missions. Similar military/aid ventures have been conducted in Africa as well.

It is up to Obama to dismantle this misguided, militaristic approach to foreign aid that alienates, incenses, and demoralizes civilians, not to mention fails to establish strong civil societies and solid infrastructure. According to Emira Woods, of Foreign Policy In Focus, allowing for such a fine line between humanitarian assistance and military meddling can create serious complications. While some argue that military presence ensures a peaceful and secure environment in which other goals of economic development, health, education and democracy can be met, Woods warns that “making military force a higher priority than development and diplomacy creates an imbalance that can encourage irresponsible regimes to use U.S. source military might to oppress their own people.”  For further articulation of this debate with regards to AFRICOM, or U.S. Africa Command, check out this transcript from a January episode of “Straight Talk Africa.”

President Obama ran on a platform which championed diplomacy and development as stronger, smarter tools than defense.  But if the numbers don’t match the rhetoric, where’s the change?

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