Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seems to agree diplomacy and aid aren’t really worth investing in.
President Donald Trump’s new budget proposal calls for slashing funding for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development by around 25 percent — a drastic cut that stands little chance of making it past skeptical lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The budget proposal would reduce State Department funding from around $53.1 billion in fiscal year 2017 to around $39.3 billion dollars, according to Rob Berschinski, a senior vice president for policy at Human Rights First. (Since a 2018 budget hasn’t been settled on yet, State Department spending is locked in around 2017 levels.) It also proposes slashing programs with broad bipartisan support that fund development assistance, food aid, and human rights promotion.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement that the budget is concerned with “prioritizing the efficient use of taxpayer resources.”
Combined with the administration’s proposed increase in military spending, the budget vividly illustrates that Trump sees military force — and not diplomacy — as the most effective way of preventing conflicts and advancing America’s national security interests.
“It’s a very skewed approach to dealing with the world — it’s saying we have a hammer and nothing else,” John Norris, who served in the Obama administration’s Global Development Council, told me.
Much of what Trump is proposing will never actually happen. Lawmakers are in charge of putting together the budget before he signs off on it, and experts say that even the most hawkish members of the Senate are unlikely to try to enact most of Trump’s cuts to the State Department and USAID.
Last year, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the most prominent hawks in the Senate, promised in the run-up to Trump’s last budget proposal that big cuts to the State Department would be “dead on arrival.” After Trump went ahead and proposed steep cuts, House and Senate committee blatantly rejected them in votes on State Department spending.
Since Trump’s proposed cuts this year are very similar in scale and scope to the ones he suggested last year, lawmakers will likely be as skeptical this year as they were then, said Berschinski, who was a senior adviser to Samantha Power, the UN ambassador under Obama.
“This is very much the Trump administration trying to make an ideological statement and not trying to meet Congress halfway in terms of what is likely to enacted,” Berschinski told me.
In other words, this budget is better understood as a window into Trump’s worldview than as a serious policy document. And it makes clear that in Trump’s America, there’s little place for the State Department — or for diplomacy.
Trump’s budget cuts to the State Department and USAID are very big
The Trump budget proposal takes aim at many different programs at the State Department that many defense and diplomacy experts from across the political spectrum consider essential to promoting American interests.
The budget calls for the elimination of $1.6 billion aid program that provides food for some of the poorest people on the planet.
The entire budget makes almost no mention of climate change, but it does call for cutting off every penny of funding for the Global Climate Change Initiative, which received $160 million in fiscal year 2017.
The budget also calls for cutting the National Endowment for Democracy by two-thirds, a move that would cripple the organization.
“NED is one of the main ways the US government promotes human rights and rule of law activities abroad and a cut like this would just be devastating,” Berschinski said.
The budget also proposes a massive blow to the State Department’s funding for educational and cultural exchange programs, chopping it from $634 million to $159 million. Those funds go toward things like US scholarships for promising foreign students, in hopes they develop a closer bond with the US through their study.
Trump’s budget proposal is unlikely to become a reality. But its radical rejection of the State Department’s mission is useful for understanding the White House’s foreign policy priorities. It also sends a pretty clear message to Republican lawmakers on the Hill, who may try to come up with a far more moderate version of some of the proposed cuts to satisfy the administration.