Jeopardizing US national security

By STEVE ROTHMAN
February 23, 2011 23:19

With only 1% of the US federal budget allocated for foreign aid and diplocmacy programs, a reduction would be detrimental.

4 minute read.



STEVE ROTHMAN

STEVE ROTHMAN headshot 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)

America’s national deficit will burden future generations and hurt the long-term well-being of our nation. That is why, as the stewards of our constituents’ hard-earned dollars, Congress must always ensure that every cent we spend is for an absolutely essential purpose. But we must never forget that in meeting Congress’ first priority – keeping America safe – there is no better value than the 1 percent of the budget spent each year on foreign aid and diplomacy.

Some of my Republican colleagues have suggested that America would be better off if we drastically cut our foreign aid and other State Department funding.

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This type of thinking is based on the faulty assumption that the current level of funding is disproportionately high compared to other priorities. With only 1% of the US federal budget allocated for these programs, nothing could be further from the truth.

US spending on foreign aid and diplomacy under president Ronald Reagan was never less than 1.1% of the federal budget. Today, in our more interconnected, equally complex and hostile world, our country would be less secure if we removed our diplomatic presence. It would be a detriment to reduce our national security if the US didn’t have Americans who know foreign languages, live in other countries and understand the cultures and histories of those nations.

Without knowledgeable American personnel on the ground, how could we make fully-informed decisions on which diplomatic and/or military alliances to strengthen and which to weaken or break? Without the information we gather from our international efforts, how would we know which countries could be brought over to democracy, become better trading partners or be more cooperative with the West? Military professionals, from the secretary of defense to the American forces on the ground, agree about the importance of foreign aid and State Department programs. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said last September: “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”

A poll commissioned in 2010 by the US Global Leadership Coalition concluded that “nearly 90% of active-duty and retired military officers agree that the tools of diplomacy and development are critical to achieving US national security objectives, and a strong military alone is not enough to protect America.”

And put succinctly by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, in a letter to Congress last year about these programs: “The more significant the cuts, the longer military operations will take, and the more and more lives are at risk.”

WITH US troops deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq; Iran racing toward nuclear weapons; the volatile situations in Egypt, Lebanon, Sudan, and Tunisia; and terror threats emerging from Somalia, Yemen and virtually every corner of the world, now is not the time to have fewer embassies or fewer diplomats working to avert war and nuclear proliferation. US interests would certainly not be well served if we were to deny military aid to allies that help us fight terrorism, protect essential sea lanes, provide safe ports for our troops and deliver world-class intelligence in real time.

Indeed, for these reasons and many more, our foreign aid and diplomatic budget has a return on investment that is at least 1,000-fold.

Cutting foreign aid will not right our struggling economy, but will ultimately cost us more in US lives and taxpayer dollars. It will surely cause direct and substantial harm to America’s national security.

That is why, while we need to cut spending, to get rid of waste, and while we need to find additional sources of revenue, a dramatic reduction in the 1% of the budget devoted to foreign aid and diplomacy is not wise.

There are other cuts that would reduce our deficit without harming national security. For example, we could begin with cutting the approximately $4 billion a year given to the oil and gas industries to encourage them to look for energy. Oil companies do not need taxpayer encouragement for that purpose, especially as they continue to post record profits.

Congress can also cut bloated agriculture subsidies, particularly for food-based biofuels, and roll back non-stimulative tax breaks for individuals with incomes of more than $1 million per year.

These steps would save billions of wasted taxpayer dollars each year.

I look forward to working with my Republican and Democratic colleagues to address our unacceptable federal deficit, but we must make cuts where they make sense, not where they jeopardize national security.

The writer, an eight term congressman from New Jersey, serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittees on Defense, and State and Foreign Operations, which appropriate all spending for the military and foreign aid.


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