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 ...
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.