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Now Is Not The Time To Shirk American Leadership In The World

Since the end of World War II, U.S. foreign policy has relied on the three distinct policy tools: defense, diplomacy and development. These three Ds have worked together to develop mutually reinforcing strategies that have enjoyed strong bipartisan support for over 70 years. Continued U.S. leadership across the globe is not only a moral imperative that supports our nation’s long established values; it is the right policy for promoting our national security and creating a safe, stable and prosperous world.

Unfortunately, President Trump’s 2018 budget proposes an arbitrary cut of 31% to diplomacy and development programs operated by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development. These cuts are based on campaign rhetoric, rather than a cost-benefit analysis of what tools actually lead to safety for Americans in a volatile world or more favorable global circumstances for the growth of U.S. jobs and our economy. Nor do the cuts consider the moral imperatives of assisting people in desperate circumstances such as those currently suffering from famines in Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria. But perhaps more disturbingly, the budget communicates a disdain for America’s leadership role in the world.

Presidential budgets always are re-written by Congress, and this budget will not be the exception. There is broad understanding within the legislative branch about how damaging these proposed cuts would be to U.S. leverage around the world. Such a U.S. retreat from global influence will create a void that will undoubtedly be exploited and filled by those whose interests are contrary to our own.

Effective U.S. foreign policy can only be achieved when our nation’s diplomats and development professionals have the resources to work effectively alongside our men and women in uniform. President Trump’s own cabinet leaders recognize the value of each of these distinct 3Ds. At his confirmation hearing for Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis reminded Congress that the military “lets you provide the strongest support for our diplomats to try to find a non-military option. It’s the ‘peace through strength’ idea.” Further, at his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Tillerson underscored America’s unique history as the only super power “with the means and the moral compass capable of shaping the world for good,” and he endorsed foreign assistance agencies and programs as an important “projection of America’s values around the world.”

Secretary Mattis’ views on the importance of diplomacy and development are reflected across the leadership of our armed forces as evidenced in a recent letter to Congressional leadership signed by more than 120 retired generals. In it they wrote, “development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”

As our country faces a complex world of conflicts, diplomatic challenges, and humanitarian crises during tight budget times, the partnership among Defense, State and USAID, is both essential and cost-effective. At just 1% of the federal budget, the International Affairs Budget provides impressive returns on investment. For example, when the Ebola epidemic struck West Africa, a coordinated response from USAID, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and the Centers for Disease Control halted the spread of the disease and kept the American people safe.

Our nation’s charitable spirit underscores how moral values remain American values. When the President’s Malaria Initiative saves 6 million lives in 10 years that is America expressing a moral choice. When 11.5 million HIV-positive people are living productive lives thanks to access to antiretroviral drugs through PEPFAR, and nearly 2 million babies are born to HIV-positive mothers, HIV-free – that is America making a moral choice.

We recognize that development is challenging work that may take time to demonstrate results. Beginning with President Bush, U.S. development programs have undergone a series of reforms, many of which have been recommended and supported by the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), which we co-chair. With a results oriented focus of development programs including PEPFAR and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Trump White House is inheriting a set of modernized development agencies that continue to improve. Through Power Africa, a multi-agency initiative, supported by Congress through recently enacted legislation, USAID is mobilizing more than $40 billion from private-sector partners and already delivering power to 6 million people.

Since 2011 USAID has conducted more than 1,500 program evaluations which are used to shape policies, modify existing projects, and inform future project design. Among eight bipartisan pieces of foreign assistance legislation enacted by the last Congress is the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act which requires that common evaluation standards be applied across U.S. agencies that administer foreign assistance and that development programs be transparent to U.S. taxpayers.

We should continue to build on an effectiveness agenda that supports ending global hunger and extreme poverty and creating educational and economic opportunity so that developing countries may become safe and stable partners of the United States in the global economy. We urge Congress to uphold its powerful bipartisan foreign policy legacy with a robust diplomatic and development budget. Such action is not only right and moral; it is good for America.

Lugar served in the Senate from 1977 to 2013 and as Chairman or Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for more than a decade. He is currently president of The Lugar Center.

Kolbe served in the United States House of Representatives for 22 years, including six as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations.  He is currently a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

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This op-ed originally appeared in Forbes.

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