There's one senior Republican who's willing and able to fight for maintaining the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development budgets: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Graham is widely expected to soon be named the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations' State and Foreign Operations subcommittee. No final decisions have been made, but if and when Graham gets the position, he will be in a key position to make the case that U.S. national security considerations require a fully financed diplomatic and development effort.
"If you don't want to use military force any more than you have to, count me in," Graham said in an exclusive interview Tuesday with The Cable. "State Department, USAID, all of these programs, in their own way, help win this struggle against radical Islam. The unsung heroes of this war are the State Department officials, the [Department of Justice] officials, and the agricultural people who are going out there."
"To those members who do not see the value of the civilian partnership in the war on terror, I think they are making a very dangerous decision," Graham said.
Graham plans to use his position, working with subcommittee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), to increase State Department and USAID funding for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq and increase the civilian side of various military-civilian partnerships. "The way I look at it is, it's national security insurance that we're buying," he said.
Graham and Leahy will be fighting against a GOP-led House that has pledged to axe State Department and foreign aid funding. House Foreign Affairs committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said that cutting the State and USAID budget is her number one priority. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has suggested getting rid of all foreign assistance to countries he doesn't see as working in U.S. interests.
House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX), is said to be supportive of diplomacy and development funding but has been telling interlocutors that defending these budgets is going to be enormously difficult in the House this year due to the fever pitch of calls for fiscal cutbacks.
"This is the problem with the Republican Party, there are some Republicans who want to eliminate foreign aid. The world we live in takes a multifaceted approach," Graham said.
Graham's focus on the national security argument for maintaining State Department and USAID funding matches perfectly with the new initiative by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, who told The Cable in an interview last month that defunding USAID, as the Republican Study Committee has called for, would be an unacceptable national security risk. He also said that USAID would devote more of its energies to the world's most dangerous hot spots.
But what about diplomatic and development activities in non-warzones, such as Africa, Latin America, and dealing with AIDS, poverty, hunger, maternal health, etc? Does Graham plan to fight for their funding as well? He says yes.
"To the American taxpayer: We need to be investing in improving people's lives before the terrorists try to take over," Graham said. "Stay ahead of them, not with 100,000 troops all the time, but by partnering with people who will live in peace with us. The worst nightmare for al Qaeda is to come into a community that feels supported and has hope."
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