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Former secretaries urge Congress not to cut State’s funding

If there is one issue that every one of the last seven secretaries of state agrees on, it’s the need to increase State Department and foreign assistance funding next year. That’s the message Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher, Lawrence Eagleburger, James Baker, George Shultz, and Henry Kissinger sent to Congress in a ...

If there is one issue that every one of the last seven secretaries of state agrees on, it's the need to increase State Department and foreign assistance funding next year.

That's the message Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher, Lawrence Eagleburger, James Baker, George Shultz, and Henry Kissinger sent to Congress in a letter (pdf) Tuesday urging Congress to support President Obama's request for $58.5 billion worth of funding for State Department and foreign operations in fiscal 2011.

Their argument is the same as that made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and the entire development community: that the administration's requested increases for foreign operations is needed to protect America's influence in the world and achieve U.S. national-security objectives.

If there is one issue that every one of the last seven secretaries of state agrees on, it’s the need to increase State Department and foreign assistance funding next year.

That’s the message Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright, Warren Christopher, Lawrence Eagleburger, James Baker, George Shultz, and Henry Kissinger sent to Congress in a letter (pdf) Tuesday urging Congress to support President Obama’s request for $58.5 billion worth of funding for State Department and foreign operations in fiscal 2011.

Their argument is the same as that made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and the entire development community: that the administration’s requested increases for foreign operations is needed to protect America’s influence in the world and achieve U.S. national-security objectives.

"Increasing the investment in our civilian international capabilities will keep America safer by, among other things, addressing the root causes of terrorism and extremism, supporting key allies, and demonstrating America’s proud tradition of global leadership," the former dignitaries wrote. "This is one area where Democrats and Republicans can agree and should come together to help ensure a more secure and prosperous future for our nation."

The timing of the letter is no coincidence. John Kerry’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee is marking up its first authorization bill since 2005 Tuesday, part of its effort to defend the president’s request, which is actually only a modest boost over last year for most accounts because the bulk of the increases will go to supporting an increased civilian role in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

Defenders of the president’s budget are fighting an uphill battle against a Congress looking to push funds to domestic priorities and under pressure to slash spending ahead of the coming midterm elections. Their effort was hurt last week when Sen. Kent Conrad’s Budget Committee approved a resolution slashing $4 billion from Obama’s request, the first of what is sure to be many twists and turns as the budget process moves forward.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman issued a strong statement defending the president’s budget Monday.

"This budget outline would slash critical funding to our Foreign Service Officers and development professionals precisely at the time when the President is seeking to stand up our civilian capacity in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq," he said. "The notion that this budget would have no impact on our national security funding is simply misleading."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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