The E-Ring

Brass tone down the ask for foreign aid

A few years back, when counterinsurgency was the coin of the national security realm, defense and military leaders began to line up and ask Congress to increase spending on diplomacy and development, or foreign aid. The thought was, if the U.S. can avoid wars to begin with, it should try harder.   That was when ...

Paula Bronstein /Getty Images
Paula Bronstein /Getty Images

A few years back, when counterinsurgency was the coin of the national security realm, defense and military leaders began to line up and ask Congress to increase spending on diplomacy and development, or foreign aid. The thought was, if the U.S. can avoid wars to begin with, it should try harder.
 
That was when Congress was throwing money at counterinsurgency.
 
Today, some of the brass who lived and fought through that era have not given up hope.
 
“If you don't fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition, ultimately,” said Gen. James Mattis, outgoing Central Command commander, in the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Tuesday. Mattis was asked a softball question from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), on whether it was  good idea to fully fund diplomacy and development, as requested by the White House.
 
“I think the -- it's a cost-benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department's diplomacy, hopefully, the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.”
 
Mattis’ description is reminiscent of the final scene of the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, in which lawmakers refuse to give a million dollars for schools in Afghanistan after spending far more than that in a covert war to help drive out the Soviet Union. Defense Secretary Robert Gates frequently warned Congress not to let that scene play out again and abandon Afghans after the U.S. ends the current conflict there.
 
Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton often lined up in the name of President Obama and asked Congress, when Democrats controlled the Senate, to boost funds for diplomacy and development. They barely moved the needle. And that was before sequester.
 
On Tuesday, two days after sequester cuts began, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, which advocates for more soft power dollars, sent some of their list of 120 retired military officers up to Capitol Hill for a lobby day sweep. Their meeting with Wicker led the senator to ask Mattis about soft power funding -- and Mattis delivered the above money quote the advocacy group overnight turned into an Internet meme. (LINK)
 
Lt. Gen. Pete Osman, former deputy commandant of the Marine Corps and former commander of II Marine Expeditionary Force, in northern Iraq, sat in the meeting with Wicker and three other retired general officers.
 
“If we can do the diplomacy and development piece properly, it may obviate the requirement for military interventions,” Osman told the E-Ring, in a Wednesday interview, delivering the now familiar stock argument.
 
But with sequester and Budget Control Act spending cuts demanded of the entire federal government, activist officers like Osman went to Capitol Hill this year with a less ambitious mission: to ask only that appropriators keep the foreign aid cuts proportionate to everything else on the ledger.
 
“There’s gonna be cuts, and they’re going to be across the board,” Osman said. “But what we’re asking is that they not be disproportionate.”
 
Still, Congress understands more today than five or ten years ago the importance of foreign aid and diplomacy to national security, Osman argued, even if they aren’t ramping up funding as the stakeholders hoped. They get it, even if they’re not funding it.
 
“The Congressional leaders that have heard that over and over again, I’ve got to think [it resonates],” he said.
 

A few years back, when counterinsurgency was the coin of the national security realm, defense and military leaders began to line up and ask Congress to increase spending on diplomacy and development, or foreign aid. The thought was, if the U.S. can avoid wars to begin with, it should try harder.
 
That was when Congress was throwing money at counterinsurgency.
 
Today, some of the brass who lived and fought through that era have not given up hope.
 
“If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition, ultimately,” said Gen. James Mattis, outgoing Central Command commander, in the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Tuesday. Mattis was asked a softball question from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), on whether it was  good idea to fully fund diplomacy and development, as requested by the White House.
 
“I think the — it’s a cost-benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully, the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.”
 
Mattis’ description is reminiscent of the final scene of the movie Charlie Wilson’s War, in which lawmakers refuse to give a million dollars for schools in Afghanistan after spending far more than that in a covert war to help drive out the Soviet Union. Defense Secretary Robert Gates frequently warned Congress not to let that scene play out again and abandon Afghans after the U.S. ends the current conflict there.
 
Gates, Adm. Mike Mullen, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton often lined up in the name of President Obama and asked Congress, when Democrats controlled the Senate, to boost funds for diplomacy and development. They barely moved the needle. And that was before sequester.
 
On Tuesday, two days after sequester cuts began, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, which advocates for more soft power dollars, sent some of their list of 120 retired military officers up to Capitol Hill for a lobby day sweep. Their meeting with Wicker led the senator to ask Mattis about soft power funding — and Mattis delivered the above money quote the advocacy group overnight turned into an Internet meme. (LINK)
 
Lt. Gen. Pete Osman, former deputy commandant of the Marine Corps and former commander of II Marine Expeditionary Force, in northern Iraq, sat in the meeting with Wicker and three other retired general officers.
 
“If we can do the diplomacy and development piece properly, it may obviate the requirement for military interventions,” Osman told the E-Ring, in a Wednesday interview, delivering the now familiar stock argument.
 
But with sequester and Budget Control Act spending cuts demanded of the entire federal government, activist officers like Osman went to Capitol Hill this year with a less ambitious mission: to ask only that appropriators keep the foreign aid cuts proportionate to everything else on the ledger.
 
“There’s gonna be cuts, and they’re going to be across the board,” Osman said. “But what we’re asking is that they not be disproportionate.”
 
Still, Congress understands more today than five or ten years ago the importance of foreign aid and diplomacy to national security, Osman argued, even if they aren’t ramping up funding as the stakeholders hoped. They get it, even if they’re not funding it.
 
“The Congressional leaders that have heard that over and over again, I’ve got to think [it resonates],” he said.
 

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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