The Trump Fuss Budget: Make War Not Peace

Our country needs to be able to make war, but it needs to try to make peace first.
05/31/2017 01:17 pm ET Updated May 31, 2017
SAUL LOEB via Getty Images

The release of President Donald Trump’s first budget on May 23, 2017 has created quite a fuss.

With its huge cuts to and elimination of domestic programs, redistribution of funds from the middle class and poor to the richest Americans and failure to balance, the budget has generated a significant hue and cry against it. There has even been dissatisfaction expressed by some in the areas of military spending and defense where Trump has proposed substantial budget increases.

Those increases, along with Trump’s rhetoric both during the campaign and since taking office, are an indication that this president is more inclined toward making war rather than peace when it comes to international relations. Even stronger indications are the fact that the budget eliminates the United States Institute of Peace (USIP or Institute) and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Wilson Center or Center) and drastically cuts the State Department and USAID.

USIP and the Wilson Center are not well known to the general public. Frank Islam is very familiar with them, however, as he has been a long-time supporter of both and currently serves on the cabinet of the Wilson Center and the advisory council for USIP.

As noted on its website,

USIP is America’s nonpartisan institute to promote national security and global stability by reducing violent conflicts abroad. Our staff guide peace talks and advise governments; train police and religious leaders; and support community groups opposing extremism – all to help troubled countries solve their own conflicts peacefully.

President Reagan signed the legislation creating the Institute in 1984. It has a bipartisan board of directors that includes the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State.

USIP makes a difference on the ground. For example, USIP

  • Has specialized teams – mediators, trainers and others – in dangerous places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Led a successful campaign that facilitated peaceful elections in Afghanistan in 2014 despite Taliban calls for violence.
  • Trained civic leaders, government officials and police in Burma to help achieve a peaceful 2015 election and a shift from autocratic rule to a more democratic form of government.

The work of the Wilson Center complements that of USIP. It makes a difference in the policy sphere.

The mission of the Center is to be “the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum for tackling global issues through independent research and open dialogue to inform actionable ideas from the policy community.”

The Wilson Center was chartered by Congress in 1968 as the living memorial to President Woodrow Wilson. Its board is presidentially appointed. In 2016, the Center was ranked in the top five think tanks in the United States for the second year in a row.

The Center’s scholars program brings more than 150 scholars from around the world to Washington, D.C. to do “action-oriented research on major world issues, ranging from U.S. relations with key countries to the promises of scientific innovation and the challenges of environmental change.”

In his comments in the 2014 biannual Report of the Center, Tom Nides, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, states, “The Wilson Center improves the quality and tenor of policy discussions. The promise we make to our shareholders – knowledge in the public service – is one we take very seriously.”

A recent visit to the homepage of the Center’s website attests to its adherence to that promise. The features on that page included:

  • A conversation with Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, offering his thoughts on the war in Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism and how U.S. policy can address both.
  • Thoughts from Matthew Rojansky, an expert on U.S. relations with the former states of the Soviet Union, especially Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Maldova
  • A paper on Saudi Arabia’s Ambitious Plan to Transform its Economy

The USIP, the Wilson Center, the Department of State and the USAID program bring experience and expertise to the table to deal with serious international issues and concerns. This is essential for the successful and peaceful resolution of extremely complex problems.

In our book, Renewing the American Dream, A Citizen’s Guide for Restoring Our Competitive Advantage, published in 2010 we had a chapter titled, “The World Matters.” In that chapter, we proposed the following six key roles for the United States as a global leader in the 21st century: Land of Opportunity; Partner; Peacekeeper, Problem Solver; Role Model; and Economic Nation-State.

Under the peacekeeper role, we asserted that there are three requisites for effective peacekeeping:

  1. Superior U.S. foreign policy and civilian agency capabilities
  2. Superior U.S. defense policy and military capabilities
  3. Superior alliances and partnerships with other nation-states

We wrote:

In the words of Teddy Roosevelt, effective peacekeeping demands the ability “to speak softly and carry a big stick.” Speak first. Try to make peace. Stick second. Do what is required to keep peace.

That was then. This is now. We believe our counsel to take a multidimensional and collaborative approach to address international concerns and hot spots still applies.

But, given the attitudes that Trump has espoused toward our career civil servants in the foreign service and toward our long time allies during his G-7 and NATO participation, we are certain that the President does not and would not accept that counsel.

We believe that to be the case because Donald Trump’s world view is uni-dimensional. It begins and ends with Trump. Little else matters.

In closing, for a while we found it more than a bit ironic that the man who characterized himself as the master of the art of the deal seemed to know very little about negotiations. Then, as we studied Trump and the “results” that he has actually achieved, we came to the realization that much of what he has accomplished has been through brute force rather than compromise.

Trump’s style is evident in virtually all that he does. If some one disagrees and won’t accept your position or offer, go to war with them. Winning and vanquishing the opponent is the only thing that matters.

Bring out the big guns. File the lawsuit. Attack! Attack! Attack!

Donald Trump is now our Commander-in-Chief. His budget reflects his personality and behavioral profile.

It puts America and the world at substantially greater risk. In a world that is conflict ridden, the United States needs its best and brightest public servants and international allies not just its toughest soldiers with bigger sticks.

Yes, our country needs to be able to make war, if that is what is required. But, in the interest of all of those who have served in the military and who will have to serve in the future, it needs to try to make peace first.

For this, our nation needs the resources and the substantial talent of the USIP, the Wilson Center and a fully funded State Department and USAID. We need a thoughtful budget that ensures the capacity to make both peace and war.

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