The threat to U.S. global leadership

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Last week, the Trump administration proposed budget cuts that would reduce funding for the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by nearly a third. These cuts would be irresponsible, short-sighted, and harmful to the United States’ work overseas.

As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I believe our investments in diplomacy and development are critical to U.S. national security and maintaining our global leadership. Diplomats and development experts work to shape a freer, more secure, and more prosperous world while advancing U.S. interests abroad. They are the face of our country overseas.

{mosads}Our development experts work with foreign partners to address the root causes of insecurity, respond to global health and humanitarian crises, and help populations lift themselves out of poverty. They seek to help countries establish open and inclusive democracies, respect for human rights, and open markets.

Our diplomats build relationships with foreign counterparts, negotiate on behalf of U.S. interests, and resolve disputes to preserve peace and prevent military escalations. They also provide critical services to U.S. citizens living and working overseas, and screen people seeking visas to visit the United States.

Last month, more than 120 retired generals and admirals sent a letter to Congress asking us to “ensure that resources for the International Affairs Budget keep pace with the growing global threats and opportunities we face.” I share their concerns and agree that funding these institutions is critical, especially now when the United States and our allies must contend with terrorist organizations like ISIS, pandemics such as Ebola, and the most severe refugee crisis since World War II. During the budget debate of 2013, our current Secretary of Defense General James Mattis contended that “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

It is particularly troubling that the Trump administration’s proposal seeks to reduce the foreign affairs budget without specifying where the bulk of the cuts will actually happen. The changes that are specified do not nearly add up to the total reductions proposed for the State Department and USAID. Without more detail, it is impossible to understand the full ramifications of this budget.

In the absence of detail, we have to assume programs critical to the safety and security of Americans are at risk. For all the talk about restructuring the State Department to focus on counterterrorism, the Trump administration’s budget fails to mention the State Department Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism, or the agency’s programs focused on countering violent extremism and disrupting money laundering and terror financing. The budget is also silent on non-proliferation, counternarcotics, and consular affairs, efforts specifically focused on protecting Americans from foreign threats.

Many of the projects singled out for cuts in the president’s proposal are critical. For instance, the Trump administration proposes the elimination of the Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Account, a State Department contingency fund set aside to deal with refugee needs in response to unanticipated and urgent humanitarian crises. The budget proposal also seeks to reduce funding for educational and cultural affairs programs that strengthen U.S. ties with foreign countries. Many of our strongest partnerships are with foreign leaders who are educational and cultural affairs program alumni.   

The Trump administration may claim that this is a “hard power” budget, but American power stems from more than our military. If finalized, these cuts would signal to the world that the United States is abandoning our leadership role in the international community. We project power through the strengths of our global alliances and our values. The United States must invest in diplomacy and development, now more than ever.

Castro represents Texas’ 20th District and serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


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