Yesterday, President Trump released the outline of what he’s calling a “security budget” - one that increases defense spending by $54 billion dollars and cuts funding for diplomacy, crisis prevention, and humanitarian relief by nearly a third. Gutting our nation’s ability to confront challenges through non-military means would leave us vulnerable and, in fact, insecure.
What about the American misadventures in the Middle East since 2001 is an advertisement to solve our problems solely through the projection of military force? What we have learned, first and foremost, in the last fifteen years, is that the new threats presented to the United States cannot be met with the blunt force of military power alone. As our current Secretary of Defense said in 2013, if you cut funds for the State Department, you’re just going to need to buy more bullets for the Defense Department.
You can’t address the economic and public safety crises in Central America, which drive undocumented migration to the United States, with the military. You can’t dry up terrorist recruitment online with soldiers or tanks. You can’t stop the spread of Russian efforts to bribe, intimidate, and corrupt politicians in neighboring countries with another aircraft carrier. And you can’t stop the quickening threat of climate change with another infantry brigade.
If Trump’s goal is to improve America’s safety and stability in a chaotic world, he’s going about it all wrong.
These new threats to the United States can be countered, but not by a massive expansion of spending on the military. It is the desperately underfunded tools of the State Department and USAID that can best meet these emerging threats to U.S. national security. Economic stability funding for Central America. Counter-propaganda efforts to beat back extremist messaging. Anti-corruption programming in developing democracies on Russia’s periphery. Diplomacy to build on the international commitments made in the Paris Accords.
If Trump’s goal is to improve America’s safety and stability in a chaotic world, he’s going about it all wrong by proposing only an increase in military spending. And he fatally compounds his error by paying for this expansion through cuts in non-military international programs. His massive proposed cuts to the State Department would effectively withdraw America from the world. In Trump’s version of the world, America would roll up its global presence and retreat behind a great big wall, hoping and praying that the world’s developing instability would stay away, like the young boy keeping his feet up on his bed to avoid the monsters underneath. Turning our back on the world would invite more crises and instability, all of it eventually landing on our shores no matter how high we build that wall.
We have the mightiest military in the world ― as we should. Peace does come, in great part, through the projection of military strength. But our adversaries have adapted to the post-Cold War world in which America is an uncontested military power. Russia and Iran and Sunni extremist groups decided that could not beat us with conventional military power, so they developed new tactics and tools to grow their influence and harm our interests.
Trump’s budget is completely blind to this reality. It’s as if our president has been asleep for the last fifteen years. A massive expansion of military spending at the expense of all our other policy tools would be an epic disaster. Republicans and Democrats in Congress alike know it to be true, and we should unite to stamp out this dangerous proposal, and start thinking about a comprehensive approach, using military and non-military tools, to protect America from a diverse and diffuse array of global dangers.