My Statement* Opposing VFP USA Being a Fiscal Sponsor for US Agency for International Development (USAID) Monies

October 8, 2015

*S. Brian Willson: USAF, 1966-70; Combat Security Police Officer, Viet Nam, 1969; first joined VFP in 1985

Background: The board of Veterans For Peace (VFP) by a majority vote has agreed to serve as fiscal sponsor for Project RENEW in Viet Nam in order to receive government grant monies to be funneled through the US Agency for International Development (USAID). This new role for VFP has been very contentious among members, including members of the board.

VFP Ballot: VFP members will receive a mailed ballot in late September/early October that includes Resolution 2015-08, Veterans For Peace Should Have No Relationship with USAID. I urge a vote FOR this Resolution which would prohibit VFP from having a relationship with USAID for any purpose.

Facts:

1. Despite USAID (1961-present) representing itself as “the lead US Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies”[1], its dark history discloses in fact its role as an intrinsic component of US policy of “full spectrum dominance” overseeing “humanitarian” projects, often in shadowy affiliations with agencies such as the CIA[2]. During the US War against Viet Nam, AID’s “humanitarian” efforts included being CIA cover in such functions as operating prisons, including secret, brutal “tiger cages”, and training police and jailers leading to torture and murder of countless Vietnamese[3].

2. The US owes billions of reparations dollars to the Vietnamese for unspeakable damage criminally inflicted during the war. Reparations should be appropriated directly by the US to the Vietnamese government.

3. Project RENEW is an exemplary 15-year old project in Quang Tri Province run by highly competent Vietnamese leading to dramatic reduction in annual deaths from Unexploded Ordnance (UXO). It currently enjoys substantial financial partner/donor relationships with the Vietnamese government, US State Department, Norwegian People’s Aid, and a variety of international corporate and private contributors[4].

4. Viet Nam and the United States are two of twelve members of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), ironically are now allies in US policy to contain China. The US is providing funds for various Vietnamese projects, while enjoying joint military exchanges at the port of Danang. Viet Nam is now seeking fighter jets and drones from US contractors as part of the US “Pivot” to Asia. US companies such as Monsanto (remember Agent Orange?) are now promoting GMO and herbicide-based agribusiness in Viet Nam.

5. The VFP board decision to serve as a fiscal sponsor for USAID funds is understandably a contentious and divisive issue within the VFP membership.

The ISSUE: Is Veterans For Peace an appropriate organization to seek, accept or sponsor US government funds, including from AID? I argue that such decision threatens VFP’s impeccable credibility while seriously weakening its position as one of the fiercest, independent activist critics of US domestic and foreign policies.

Discussion:

1. It is noteworthy that some organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders, absolutely prohibit seeking or accepting funds from governments or their granting agencies. This is to assure that there is no appearance of being beholden or subject to any political pressure to unfairly serve some recipients while ignoring others. Grantors historically tend to use their power to manipulate original intentions due to “political” agendas. 

2. Since the national VFP board does not operate by consensus, there appears to be no process by which to resolve contentious issues except to choose a policy that pleases some members, perhaps a majority, while leaving a substantial minority, displeased and alienated. In so doing, the solidarity of the group is weakened, while preventing the likelihood of finding more creative solutions that almost always emerge when a consensus process is diligently followed to a resolution satisfactory to all.

3. The rhetorical communications between and among participants in the discussion of whether VFP should pursue, or refuse, fiscal sponsorship of USAID funds, has revealed numerous examples of a culture of war, not one of peace, severely breaching a spirit of nonviolence. This acrimony suggests that VFP ignores fundamental principles necessary for a peace culture to thrive. Conflicts inevitably arise and they require practicing mutual respect, careful listening, while patiently clarifying summaries of respective positions.

4. It is not apparent that proponents of VFP who seek fiscal sponsorship for AID funds have displayed good faith efforts to search for other appropriate fiscal sponsors whose constituent membership would steadfastly support sponsoring AID funds to Project RENEW. A number of sponsors already fund Project RENEW. In the unlikely prospect that other fiscal sponsors cannot be found, it would nonetheless not justify VFP seeking sponsorship if an earnest minority of its membership articulate reasons for opposition.

5. VFP possesses a reputation for being brutally honest in its critique of US patterns of unjust and diabolical domestic and foreign policies, while presenting alternative perspectives. Having any funding connection whatsoever with the US government or its agencies such as USAID, places VFP below reproach, severely limiting its fierce independence as a voice for candor from inside the most violent empire.

6. VFP UK unanimously voted 170-0 to oppose any VFP USA association with AID, concluding that USAID’s involvement with VFP USA is politically part of the dangerous US military “Pivot to Asia”. This relationship compromises VFP’s independent position, seriously undermining its credibility for reaching out to other global communities who clearly possess a critical perspective of the US government. VFP UK Chair, Ben Griffin, argues that a relationship with USAID contravenes one key principle of the Statement of Purpose, “To restrain our government from intervening, overtly and covertly, in the internal affairs of other nations”. The embryonic Veterans For Peace Australia have indicated that such VFP USA position is also likely to be unacceptable to their becoming affiliated with the latter.

Conclusion: I remain stunned that the VFP board ever seriously considered serving as a fiscal sponsor for funds to be administered through USAID. The controversial decision is understandably divisive and contentious within national VFP membership, and a majority vote does not resolve this divisiveness. The lack of any earnest search for alternative fiscal sponsors is most troubling to me since that avenue, it seems, would enable a most reasonable and realistic resolution. The fact that the money may in fact be used for good purposes is not the issue. To repeat: The issue is whether VFP is an appropriate fiscal sponsor for USAID funds. By proceeding without a consensus, the solidarity of VFP is weakened, not strengthened. It will significantly disable VFP USA’s capacity to promote anti-war/pro-peace veterans groups in other countries who may see more clearly the compromised integrity that choosing to operate in concert with monies from the US government or its agencies like USAID implies.


Notes:

[1] https://www.usaid.gov/who-we-are.

[2] Tom Barry and Deb Preusch, The Central America Fact Book (New York: Grove Press, 1986), 28-82; Greg Gandin, Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and The Rise of the New Imperialism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), 102, 109, 151, 216; Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (New York: W.W.  Norton & Co., 1993), 153-155; Alfred McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2006), 10-11, 61; “Agent Orange Funding Opens Door To US Militarism And Covert Action In Vietnam”: http://www.mintpressnews.com/agent-orange-funding-opens-door-to-us-militarism-and-covert-action-in-vietnam/203634/; John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (San Francisco: BK Publ, 2004), 37.

[3] Michael McClintock, Instruments of Statecraft: US Guerrilla Warfare, Counter-Insurgency, Counter-Terrorism 1940-1990 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), 166-68, 188-190; Gloria Emerson, Winners and Losers: Battles, Retreats, Gains, Losses and Ruins from the Vietnam War (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972/1976), 279-284, 302-308, 342-348; Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2000), 44, 51, 70-1, 81, 92-3, 96, 99, 132, 301, 348-9; Francis FitzGerald, Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1972), 339, 346, 366-7.

[4] http://landmines.org.vn/.


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