Retired Generals to Congress: Seriously, Please Do Not Cut International Spending

General Mattis. Photo: Thomas Watkins/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is expected to propose close to a $54 billion increase in defense spending, a 10 percent hike that would be offset by slashing other programs. The State Department budget, and foreign aid generally, are reportedly among those vulnerable to deep cuts.

But more than 120 retired generals and former senior military officials are trying to get through to Congress and the Trump administration that a functioning diplomatic apparatus is a key element of national security. In a letter, the signatories plead with lawmakers to keep the State Department and its programs off the chopping block, and used the words of the current Defense Secretary to make the case:

We know from our service in uniform that many of the crises our nation faces do not have military solutions alone – from confronting violent extremist groups like ISIS in the Middle East and North Africa to preventing pandemics like Ebola and stabilizing weak and fragile states that can lead to greater instability. There are 65 million displaced people today, the most since World War II, with consequences including refugee flows that are threatening America’s strategic allies in Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and Europe.

The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way. As Secretary James Mattis said while Commander of U.S. Central Command, “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.” The military will lead the fight against terrorism on the battlefield, but it needs strong civilian partners in the battle against the drivers of extremism– lack of opportunity, insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness.

Mattis made those comments during a Senate 2013 committee hearing on international spending, also saying at the time: “The more we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget.” Signatories to the letter included former NSA head Keith Alexander, former General John Allen, who led U.S. forces in Afghanistan, former CIA Director General Michael Hayden, and former General David Petraeus — a guy whom Trump was “very impressed” with once.

Generals to Congress: Please Don’t Cut Foreign Spending