Alternatives to War

Speaking out for diplomacy and development

In Republicans’ deficit-cutting hysteria, one area that has been targeted for major cuts is the foreign affairs budget, which funds critical diplomacy and development programs. The longer we let these programs go unfunded, the longer we have to rely on the blunt tool of the military to deal with global problems.

The eagerness to cut this funding comes from a lack of understanding of how these programs are not “charity” or “just talking” but are critical to our national security and make people’s lives better every day. Even military leaders like Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mike Mullen have told Congress repeatedly that this funding is absolutely necessary for our security and our ability to engage with the world. The Obama administration classifies this as security spending, but the House Republicans have only protected military and veterans funding from cuts in their budget plan.

Recently a couple of key players in the congressional debate have spoken out in favor of preserving this funding. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the ranking member of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee in the House, took to Politico to make the case for these programs:

Leaders of both parties, including President George W. Bush, have affirmed that U.S. power is a three-legged stool of military might, diplomatic skill and development. The foreign aid bill’s diplomatic and development objectives pay dividends by helping avoid military deployments to protect U.S. interests, which are far more costly in both life and treasure.

Robust engagement is no less necessary to achieve strategic security imperatives in this belt-tightening atmosphere. The majority of the foreign operations budget supports front-line states critical to defeating Al Qaeda, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Israel. U.S. assistance helps resist insurgencies, shut down terrorist safe havens, confront recruitment of the next generation of terrorists and train and equip militaries and police forces to fight extremism.

Foreign aid also helps to prevent the Mexican drug war from spilling across our border, arrest the proliferation of weapons-grade nuclear material and support our armed forces with the complementary civilian efforts vital to their success. Investments in health, education, humanitarian aid for refugees and disaster victims and micro-loans for entrepreneurs are critical to fostering stability around the world — a key element of our overall anti-terror strategy.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who serves as ranking member on the Senate side, is one of the Republicans who understands that cuts to these programs are very damaging to US interests:

“To those members who do not see the value of the civilian partnership in the war on terror, I think they are making a very dangerous decision,” Graham said.

Graham plans to use his position, working with subcommittee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), to increase State Department and USAID funding for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq and increase the civilian side of various military-civilian partnerships. “The way I look at it is, it’s national security insurance that we’re buying,” he said.

It’s encouraging that these key members of Congress are forcefully making the case for this funding. It’s also important that we show public support for this budget. Members of Congress assume Americans want to make big cuts to foreign assistance because the public has a completely skewed view of how much money we are spending. Polls show that Americans think we spend 25% of the budget, when the truth is we spend a measly 1%. When asked how much it should be, most people say around 10%, which would be a massive increase. A small amount of money can go a long way (much farther than a military dollar can), and this year is a critical time to join Lowey and Graham in speaking up for these programs.