U.S. Senator Herb Kohl today questioned Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee to consider the FY09 war supplemental request. Kohl is a member of the Committee, and focused his questions on strategies to combat the Taliban's activities in Pakistan, and the Administration's request to include additional international food aid funding in the supplemental bill. Kohl is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations panel with jurisdiction over the country's chief humanitarian food programs.
"Last night the President called the government of Pakistan very fragile. He also said he was confident that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal would not fall in to the hands of the Taliban. What would be our response if the Taliban forced the government of Pakistan to fall, and how can the President be so sure that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal would be safe from the Taliban?" Kohl asked.
Secretary Clinton indicated that the Pakistan government is exhibiting a thoughtful response with regard to encroachment by Taliban elements near their capital city of Islamabad. The Secretary also said that the Pakistan military is very focused on the protection of their nuclear arsenal.
Kohl also raised the issue of global food security. The Administration has requested an additional $300 million for PL480, the "Food for Peace" program, one of the nation's two major international food relief initiatives. Yesterday, Kohl met with Secretary Clinton to address the need for a coordinated, government-wide application of public and private resources to combat global hunger in a sustainable way and in a manner that promotes the U.S. national security agenda. He also reminded the Secretary of State of the contributions U.S. agriculture and USDA programs can make in this effort through long-standing relationships with the nation's land grant university network and other partners.
"From all accounts, the demand for food assistance has not diminished since last year. And while commodity and transportation costs have come down a little, we face continued disruptions from civil strife, climate and other causes. In terms of tonnage, has the global demand for food assistance changed from this time last year?" Kohl asked Secretary Clinton.
Secretary Clinton said that despite a number of food crises that have increased demand and need, the $300 million request should be sufficient to respond at this moment. She said, however, that the current humanitarian relief system is not as effective as it needs to be and that moving forward there needs to be a focus on sustainability.
Kohl, who has increased federal allocations for international hunger relief on several previous occasions, will be further evaluating the Administration's recommendation in the weeks ahead.