Foreign Policy Blogs

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen: Barking up the Wrong Tree?

The incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen signaled a few weeks ago that State Department and foreign aid programs will most likely be cut when she assumes the chairmanship in 2011. In a recent statement, Ros-Lehtinen laid out her agenda, “I have identified and will propose a number of cuts to the State Department and Foreign Aid budgets. There is much fat in these budgets, which makes some cuts obvious. Others will be more difficult but necessary to improve the efficiency of US efforts and accomplish more with less.” She goes on to add, “Finally, my worldview is clear: isolate and hold our enemies accountable, while supporting and strengthening our allies.”



The fact that she is seriously considering cutting the State Department and foreign aid budgets clearly demonstrates that her “worldview” is in need of some adjusting.
It appears that the congresswoman, like many Americans, continues to overestimate the amount of foreign assistance given by the United States. A recent poll found most Americans think that 25% of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid. In fact, only a little over 1% of the federal budget currently goes to foreign assistance. (Source: Program on International Policy Attitudes, University of Maryland) According to Deputy Secretary of State, Jacob Lew, the FY 2011 State and USAID budget totals $52.8 billion. This is a $4.9 billion increase from 2010 levels. Of the $4.9 billion increase, $3.6 billion is for programs in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.

Let me put this in some context. For the 2010 fiscal year, President Obama’s Department of Defense (DoD) base budget was $680 billion. This is $16 billion more than the president had requested (I wonder how that happened?). This means that the military’s budget is close to 13 times greater than that of the State Department and accounts for 21% of the US’s federal budget.

With collectivist approaches needed to tackle global challenges such as; climate change, pandemics, underdevelopment and extreme poverty, it is surprising that Ros-Lehtinin wants to cut support for the very agency responsible for achieving these goals on behalf of the US.  We must get away from what the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, calls the “creeping militarization” of US foreign policy. If the administrator of our vast military supports State Department led engagement on foreign soil with supporting military involvement, then why pull back on State Department funding?  The fact is, we need to increase the State Department’s budget not cut it. 

How about we take a hard look at cutting military projects and programs (read: bases, nuclear missiles, etc.) that don’t make us any safer and that not even Pentagon brass want. Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, I appreciate your desire to aggressively cut spending during this persistent recession, however, I have to tell you, you’re barking up the wrong tree this time.



Oliver Barrett

Oliver Leighton-Barrett is a multi-lingual researcher and a decorated retired military officer specializing in the inter-play between fragile states and national security matters. A former U.S. Marine, and Naval aviator, Oliver is a veteran of several notable U.S. military operations, to include: Operation Restore Hope (Somalia); and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and Philippines). His functional areas of focus include: U.S. Diplomacy; U.S. Defense; and Climate Change. His geographic areas of focus include: Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).