By Ambassador Mark L. Asquino (ret.), Senior Public Diplomacy Fellow(2010-11) SMPA
In its September 13 lead editorial (“Senators in Search of a Foreign Policy”), The New York Times called attention to a bipartisan report issued a week earlier by the Senate’s Committee on Appropriations. The committee chairman, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and ranking member Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), with unanimous support from the committee, issued a blistering critique of the Trump Administration’s proposal to cut the U.S. State Department’s and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) budgets by close to 30%. Their recommendation is that Congress add more than $11 billion to the administration’s $40.5 billion request, restoring funding for a range of key programs that the administration wishes to axe. The report is an important document that I encourage others to read.
The committee accuses the administration of an “apparent doctrine of retreat” in what the senators characterize as “reckless” funding cuts for diplomacy and foreign assistance. The report goes on to say that “defense alone” cannot provide what the United States needs to exercise much-needed international leadership. And it adds: “diplomacy and development remain cost effective national security tools.”
The report states that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) failed to consult with the Department of State, USAID, the National Security Council and other national security agencies in proposing what the committee calls “unjustified cuts.” These include the proposed elimination of over 2500 State Department diplomatic and USAID development positions. According to the report, OMB’s budget would reduce spending on diplomatic security by 36% and international HIV/AIDS assistance by 17%. Other cuts would reduce international disaster assistance by a whopping 77%. And during a time of refugee crises throughout the world, OMB’s budget request would slash assistance to refugees by 18%.
In regard to public diplomacy and educational and cultural exchange, the committee strongly endorses the value of such programs, recommending “not less than $1.1 billion” be allocated for them. It opposes OMB’s proposal to stop funding for the United States Institute for Peace, while also endorsing the pro-democracy work of the National Endowment for Democracy. It stresses the importance of U.S. government support for programs overseas that promote the rule of law, human rights and an independent judiciary.
The committee also recommends funding for USAID to continue Obama administration assistance programs including “Feed the Future” and “Power Africa.” And in a seeming rebuke to the administration’s skepticism about the effects of global warming and the need for environmental protection, the report calls for nearly a billion-dollar allocation for bilateral and multilateral environmental programs overseas including support for biodiversity initiatives.
Of course, both the full House and Senate must approve the committee’s recommendations before they can become law. Nevertheless, I am gratified that there is such strong, bipartisan opposition to what I regard as this administration’s short-sighted approach to diplomacy and foreign assistance. As the report notes, present funding for State and USAID accounts for just one percent of the federal budget as compared with close to nineteen percent devoted to defense. And that’s before OMB’s proposed budget cuts! When it comes to staffing, the Department of Defense’s workforce, the report says, is twenty-seven times larger than that of State and USAID combined.
In a September 14 op-ed that ran in The New York Times, former Vice President Joe Biden wrote: “…America’s ability to lead the world depends not just on the example of our power, but on the power of our example.” I could not agree more with Mr. Biden. I welcome Congressional support for fully funding the U.S. Department of State, including its public diplomacy programs, and for USAID’s crucial work. Diplomacy and foreign assistance are essential not only for the future of our country, but also, I would argue, for the rest of the world.
Caveat: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or The George Washington University.