If “you get what you pay for” applies to President Trump’s budget, Americans can expect a decline in our leadership across the globe and heightened risks to our national security.
Rather than helping to advance our interests, the President’s “America First’ spending plan betrays fundamental American values that have propelled our leadership in the world and enhanced our safety within our borders.
The proposed slashing of the international affairs budget—the accounts that support diplomatic missions, defense of our allies, economic and cultural ties, global health and education, and disaster relief—to its lowest share of GDP in our history would compromise American safety and security and handicap us economically.
It would also test Secretary of Defense Mattis’ prediction from four years ago when he declared, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”
It’s important to remember that we are not talking about hundreds of billions of dollars, or even 5 percent of the federal budget. The international affairs budget makes up just one percent of the government budget. The dollars we spend in these capacities are not handouts or blank checks to any country that asks; they are essential complements to a robust defense strategy.
History has shown us that the U.S. is strongest—both in terms of our economy and our national security—when it is fully engaged in the world. The U.S. can reap tremendous rewards by building strong diplomatic ties.
For example, U.S. foreign assistance at the end of the Korean War helped South Korea avoid economic collapse. This not only facilitated its recovery, but also aided its development into what is now our sixth largest trading partner.
As well, taking a direct, engaged, and active role in building a healthier, freer, and more prosperous world helps to cut the legs out from under enemies like ISIS. Foreign assistance targets ISIS’s most valuable asset—their ability to persuade new recruits to join their ranks and inspire attacks around the world. Increasing economic opportunity for vulnerable populations reduces the likelihood that young people will turn to terrorism for a paycheck.
A well-funded international affairs budget helps us to forge new alliances and bolster the diplomatic relationships we have in every part of the world. It also helps to maintain our leadership in international bodies like the United Nations, which, despite its flaws, remains the largest multilateral organization available for championing human rights, defending our allies like Israel, and building global coalitions against terrorism. To the benefit of our national security, we should ensure that the UN has the resources necessary to vigorously enforce the nuclear agreement and to hold Iran accountable for violations of the Security Council Resolution governing the deal.
From programs that undermine extremist propaganda to women’s empowerment initiatives, and from campaigns against diseases like malaria and Ebola to the promotion of human rights and the rule of law, our work overseas reflects the values Americans live out in their own lives at home and, ultimately, makes us safer.
Yes, we are a country that can stand proudly above all others in our generosity, like development projects to prevent starvation among millions of people during extreme droughts. But every single cent of taxpayers’ money must be spent wisely to advance our national interests and bolster our national security.
The bottom line: Every dollar we spend internationally has a direct and substantive return on investment for Americans and our country.
The remarkable efficiency and precise targeting of the investments throughout the international affairs budget is not accidental. Republican and Democratic administrations alike have made concerted efforts to craft foreign policy that benefits Americans as much as it benefits the rest of the world.
Our foreign policy agencies deploy the talents and resources of America’s businesses, farmers, non-profit organizations, and universities to produce economic and security results that far exceed the costs to American taxpayers. The international affairs budget is a value investment that Americans should be proud of.
President Trump is a newcomer to the world of foreign policy, and his closest advisors are ideologues who appear willing to sacrifice our global standing and national values on the altar of their “America First” agenda. The president’s budget ignores the appeal of 121 retired generals and admirals who argued that “many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone.”
In even the most polarized Congress, the international affairs budget should unite us. As President Ronald Reagan said, “The ultimate importance to the United States of our security and development assistance programs cannot be exaggerated.” Now, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress must come together to protect these essential investments.
Rep. Ted Deutch represents Florida's 22nd District and is the ranking member of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.