The White House said on Monday that President Trump will propose a $54 billion increase in military spending, to be financed primarily by cuts in the budgets of other agencies, including the State Department. White House officials said that “foreign aid” will face a significant decrease. Secretary of State Tillerson should strongly and publicly resist cuts to the State Department budget. As the press has reported, Defense Secretary Mattis supported full funding for the State Department when he was in uniform, and it is even more important that he do so now.
In 2013, when he was CENTCOM Commander, Mattis said “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So I think 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 was following the lead of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates who repeatedly stated his support for increased funding for the State Department. Gates famously said “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers." In his 2007 Landon Lecture at the University of Kansas, Gates called for significantly more resources for development and diplomacy, stating that “One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win.” Gates pointed out, correctly, that a large chunk of foreign aid is devoted to assisting foreign governments to fight terrorism: “Arguably the most important military component in the War on Terror is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our partners to defend and govern themselves.” He went on to say that “there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security—diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development….We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years.”
Secretary Gates and then General Mattis had it right. As Secretary of Defense, Mattis should now strongly oppose cuts in the State Department budget.