My first out of office activity with CCAO was fitting because it joined together two important issues that I will be working on for the rest of the summer. I was able to attend a very interesting panel discussion at the US Institute of Peace regarding sustainable peace processes in Afghanistan. It was not only very exciting to learn more about the situation in Afghanistan and how it could be brought to a peaceful resolution, but also to experience the work of a part of our government that is devoted to ending conflicts peacefully. It is reassuring to know that, despite the billions of dollars that are spent fighting wars and spreading violence, the government is also willing to invest in more peaceful solutions.
The content of the panel was extremely enlightening in its own right. The panelists came from a wide variety of backgrounds, ranging from a former member of the US army to an Afghanistan women’s activist. When hearing about any form of conflict it is all too easy to tell a single story at the expense of all others and I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to hear so many informed and diverse perspectives.
At the center of the event were two USIP publications on the conflict. Both of these publications consisted of interviews of a large range of important social and political figures in the region from all sides of the war and what they thought needed to occur to obtain a lasting peace. Once again, it was very nice to be exposed to so many rich perspectives on such a complicated and multi-layered conflict and the overall experience has certainly informed a lot of the work that I’ve done here at the CCAO.
Unfortunately, the event also held an undercurrent of regret for me. Despite all of the interesting and useful work that the US Institute of Peace does, it is facing the possibility of being closed. For the second time this year, Congress is considering closing USIP (the first time, in March, was stopped in the Senate). Currently, as part of the annual defense spending bill currently in Congress, the Institute’s funding is under threat. It seems to be a cruel irony that the same bill that will give billions to fight wars sees so little value in a part of government that uses just a fraction of that money to help end them peacefully. I dearly hope that our legislators will see the intellectual and moral error in this decision and continue to fund the Institute.
Personally, the US Institute of Peace helped to start my experience at the CCAO on a motivational and powerful note. As someone who finds their work both personally interesting and politically vital, the idea that the first event of theirs that I attended could also be the last is deeply upsetting to me.