The Corner

New Heights in Not Meddling

At Newsmax, Ken Timmerman reports that President Obama has zeroed out funding in the 2010 budget for pro-democracy programs in Iran. As Ken tells it, the new administration is merely carrying to conclusion the undermining of the Bush-era initiative already achieved by — surprise! – the Bush State Department:

Newsmax has learned that the Obama administration also has zeroed out funding for pro-democracy programs inside Iran from the State Department budget for fiscal 2010, just as protests in Iran are ramping up.

Funding for pro-democracy programs began in 2004, when Congress earmarked $1.5 million of the State Department budget for “educational, humanitarian, and non-governmental organizations and individuals inside Iran to support the advancement of democracy and human rights in Iran.”

The funding ramped up dramatically two years later, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice requested $75 million for pro-democracy programs. More than half of the $66.1 million Congress finally appropriated went to expand U.S. government-funded Persian language broadcasting services at Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

But no money has been earmarked for such programs in the administration’s fiscal 2010 foreign operations budget request. Congressional sources told Newsmax they doubted that a Democrat-controlled Congress would add it when the budget comes before a committee next week.

Controversy has surrounded the programs from the start, with pro-regime lobbying groups, such as the National Iranian-American Council urging the State Department to cancel the funding.

And although Bush administration officials told pro-democracy activists they wanted to fund projects inside Iran (as called for in the original legislative language), State Department desk officers intervened to block funding for any projects other than cultural exchanges and “think tanks and studies,” insiders told Newsmax.

One key opponent of the funding, who weighed in at meetings to block specific grant requests aimed at helping pro-democracy groups inside Iran, was Suzanne Maloney, who is now at the Brookings Institution.

Speaking at a Washington forum that the National Iranian-American Council sponsored Wednesday, Maloney applauded President Obama’s do-nothing policy. “The best thing we can do for Iranian democracy is sit back and let Iranians fight it out for themselves,” she said, echoing the president’s own words from a brief press statement the day before.

Program supporters say the efforts of people such as Maloney inside the State Department to blunt the original intent have made the funding virtually meaningless.

“The State Department never did a lot with all the funding we gave them, so I’m not sure that zeroing it out is a huge loss,” an aide to a key congressional supporter of the funding told Newsmax.

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