WASHINGTON -- Despite resigning as State Department spokesman on March 13, P.J. Crowley remains deeply concerned about the effect that deep cuts to the agency's budget could have on foreign events, potentially undermining the United States' ability to lead in the Middle East.
In an interview with The Huffington Post on Wednesday, Crowley said that State Department officials regularly encourage other countries undergoing political turmoil to sit down and resolve their challenges for the benefit of their people. It's now time, he added, for the United States to heed its own advice.
"I can't see a global benefit to the political crisis that we're facing," said Crowley. "Congress is charged with producing a budget. That budget supports both domestic and international priorities...At a critical time, when the United States can have influence in encouraging the Middle East to transform itself, we're at risk of driving ourselves off the cliff."
He added that the United States needs not only military and economic strength, but political strength as well.
"The political brinkmanship that has characterized our country over the last couple of decades can hamper our ability to shape the world events in ways that are consistent with our values and our interests," he said.
Crowley stepped down from his position after criticizing the Defense Department's treatment of Bradley Manning while in prison but said he has no regrets about his comments and has received a "broadly positive" response.
The beginning of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is just three months away, but in recent weeks, debate over the war there has been eclipsed by events elsewhere in the Middle East.
Yet Crowley said that draining the State Department and international aid budgets, as some Republicans have advocated, could also affect the ability of the United States to carry out its mission in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The solution in Afghanistan is a political one," he said.
While U.S. forces are expected to begin pulling out in July and combat operations are expected to end in 2014, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that some troops will remain beyond that date. Crowley stressed that the United States will remain engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade.
"People think that when we pull out military forces, our work is done," said Crowley. "No -- in many respects, our work is just beginning. There's a lot of turmoil in Iraq, there's a lot of work that has to be done to help Iraq emerge as a stable and peaceful in a critical part of the world. That's done by diplomats and development experts, not by soldiers."
Responding to critics in Congress who believe taxpayers are giving too much to the State Department, Crowley argued that such an rise is appropriate considering the increased responsibility being placed on diplomats.
"We have to make sure that as we more judiciously use our military power in the future, we make sure that we have a comparable civilian capability to -- in most cases -- prevent the emergence of crises that require military action," he added. "But where we do require military action, the military has to have a civilian partner to hand a mission off to. Members of Congress have challenged the recent growth in the State Department budget, and yet, that reflects the increased responsibility we are placing on our diplomats and our development experts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq."
When asked whether he was optimistic that the United States could win in the war in Afghanistan, Crowley paused and said, "There's reason for optimism. It's going to be tough, it's going to take a long time. It's important to be able to sustain what we're doing for as long as it takes. We have a history of interventions where the intervention itself was appropriate, but we didn't stay long enough to have a lasting effect."
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