Build Diplomacy Not Bombs

by Phil Anderson

“Even though tiny – only 1 percent – the leverage that foreign aid exerts on behalf of U.S. security interests is incredible.”   Lt. Gen. Dan Christman, U.S. Army retired. 

“...if you don’t fund the State Department fully then I need to buy more ammunition...”  Gen James “Mad Dog” Mattis, Secretary of Defense, testifying as Commander of the Central Command in March 2013 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

The Trump administration’s budget plan calls for increasing military spending by $54 billion (about 10%). This will be “paid” for by cutting the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and  many domestic programs. Trump plans cutting ALL federal departments except Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs. This plan does not reflect the real needs of the country. It  is a repeat of failed policies of past Republican administrations. It is not based on rational priorities. This agenda will be disastrous for people and the economy. It will also hurt the national security.  

Trump is going down the same road as the Reagan and both Bush administrations. It is the same old program of tax cuts, large military expenditures, and cuts to domestic programs. The only difference is Trump is cutting domestic spending much deeper. 
Trump’s budget proposals are not based in reality. He claims we must “rebuild” a weakened and underfunded military. But the  Pentagon is not starved for money. Our military is not weak. His plan to increase the number of ships, airplanes, nuclear weapons, and active duty troops are not what is needed to effectively counter the current enemies. Aircraft carriers and nuclear missiles are are not effective options for combating “terrorist” cells.   

We already have the strongest military in the world. We have more ships, planes, missiles, and nuclear warheads than any other country. We have the 2nd largest number of troops. We, for example, have more aircraft carriers (11 with one more being built) than ALL other nations combined. China and Russia both have ONE! Plus our carriers are larger, more advanced, and carry more planes than potential competitors. We do have the most expensive military and spend almost three times what any other country spends on defense- more than the next eight nine countries combined. It is simple ludicrous to claim we need to “rebuild” our military.

Trump says, as ALL past presidents have in justifying excessive military budgets, that “Our military strength will be questioned by no one. Neither will our dedication to peace.” The reality is no one questions our military strength. But the rest of the world does question our dedication to peace. For very good reasons the rest of the world considers the U.S. the biggest threat to world peace of any nation. 

Nothing shows our lopsided lack of support for peace and diplomacy than the huge contrast between funding for Department of Defense vs the Department of State. The Pentagon gets 55% of the federal discretionary budget. The state Department only gets 3% (1% of total federal spending). Trump’s plan will cut this paltry amount 29%  (from $52.8 billion to $37.6 billion). The cuts will eliminate climate-change initiatives, slash foreign aid funding, United Nations contributions, and cultural exchange programs. Other foreign aid programs such as international food aid (Department of Agriculture) are also being cut. Even the U.S. Institute of Peace, which is a quasi-governmental organization that works on conflict prevention, is being cut. 

All this will not make America safer as 121 former top ranking military leaders have publicly stated.  They wrote an open letter to Congress opposing the cuts to the Sate Department and to “...share our strong conviction that elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe.” They say in the letter,  

“The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way. As Secretary James Mattis said while Commander of U.S. Central Command, “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.” The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism– lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.” 

These cuts appear to be ideologically motivated rather than by budget concerns. The EPA gets most of the cuts because environmental regulations are a main target of conservatives. Another target is climate change so related activities are cut for all departments. Climate change negotiations are cut from the State Department. Weather science research is cut from NOAA. Education funding from NASA. Foreign aid has always been a conservative bugaboo even though it is a tiny part of federal spending. But many misinformed people think it is a major expenditure and it so is politically convenient target.  

Conservatives like to claim they are “results” oriented. We should cut programs that don’t work. But in the past conservative budgets have increased federal deficits and the national debt. “Trickle down” didn’t solve deficits because the root causes of deficits were not addressed. If ending “waste” is the objective then throwing money at defense is sure to fail. We all know the Pentagon is the biggest source of wasteful spending. The Pentagon recently admitted they had $25 billion in waste. We should be asking what will be the results of another massive military build up? We should ask,  with all our massive military power, why isn’t 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan working?

The answer is simple. Our militarized foreign policy has failed. Throwing good money after bad is not what we need. The U.S. global policy of endless war and endless, bloated military spending is not bringing peace, security, or safety. We need more diplomacy not less. We need to lead with the Peace Corp not the Marine Corps. Trump’s disastrous budget priorities will only lead to more failure.