The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan tops the list of Arab recipients of US aid this year, cementing its status as a key ally in the fight against the Islamic State and a bulwark against the instability ravaging the region.
Amman is set to receive $1.6 billion in economic and security assistance this fiscal year, including counterterrorism support funds, Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to Jordan in February. The aid package would put Jordan ahead of much-larger Egypt as Congress desperately tries to stop the country from collapsing under the strain of Syrian refugees.
House foreign aid appropriators for the second year in a row unveiled legislation this summer, setting aside $1.275 billion in aid to Jordan. That’s even more than the $1 billion called for in a three-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that President Barack Obama signed in February 2015, which itself already represented a 50% increase over the previous MOU.
Jordan has also been the beneficiary of almost $800 million in US humanitarian aid for victims of the war in Syria, including $127 million since the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1. And Obama in February signed into law legislation to enhance defense cooperation and expedite arms sales.
“By passing this legislation and sending it to the president’s desk, Congress is sending an important message to our ally Jordan that we will continue to support the Kingdom as it faces potential threats by ISIL [Islamic State, or IS] and a serious strain on its resources and its economy as a result of the challenges stemming from an influx of Syrian refugees,” bill sponsor and House MENA panel chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said in a statement at the time.
Jordan’s lobbying successes are due in no small part to the US-educated King Abdullah’s close personal ties with US policymakers in Congress and the executive branch forged since he took office in 1999. To help boost its influence, Jordan paid Vivien Ravdin Communications $61,000 last year for “communication and editorial consulting.”
The bilateral relationship hasn’t been entirely without friction, however.
The Obama administration’s reluctance to get pulled into the civil war in Syria may have contributed to the drubbing suffered by Jordan-backed rebel forces in the border city of Daraa. And the Obama administration has declined to provide high-powered drones to Amman, despite pressure from Congress.
“The United States has not granted access to these particular armed platforms to any other partners in the region and remains dedicated to the continued responsible regulation of any potential future transfers of this capability,” Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield wrote to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., last summer.
Meanwhile, increasing restrictions on nongovernmental organizations may be impacting US assistance to support democracy and governance, according to the nonprofit Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED). Those programs represent $35 million of the $632 million in nonsecurity funding requested for FY 2017, a 25% ($12 million) drop over last year’s State Department proposal.
“In October 2015, Jordan increased restrictions on NGOs that wish to receive foreign funding by requiring that they receive prior government approval and that the programs meet ‘national and development goals,’” POMED writes in its analysis of the FY 2017 budget request. “US officials interviewed for this report called a recent draft NGO law that would tighten those restrictions ‘problematic.’”
Some experts even argue that the increasing US aid is a sign of weakness, not strength.
“Jordanian fiscal policy only remains sustainable because of immense dependence on foreign aid,” risk analyst Kirk Sowell wrote in a March 2016 column for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Even if the regional security crisis were to somehow disappear in the near future, the weakened incentives for foreign donors to provide aid for refugee costs would leave Jordan with a new debt crisis.”
Jordan suffered another setback with its failure to prevent a lawsuit against its largest bank, which was found liable for financing terrorism by a Brooklyn federal court two years ago in the first such case against a major bank in US history. Arab Bank subsequently settled with the family members of terrorism victims for an undisclosed sum rumored to be as high as $1 billion.
Arab Bank, however, continues to fight the allegations, vowing to appeal the verdict in May. The bank paid global law firm DLA Piper $70,000 last year to lobby on “international banking issues.”