Five former secretaries of state, including four Republicans, wrote to Congress today to defend State Department and foreign aid funding, just as the GOP presidential candidates assailed those programs.
"As former Secretaries of State from both Democratic and Republican administrations, we urge you to support a strong and effective International Affairs Budget. We believe these programs are critical to America's global leadership and represent strategic investments in our nation's security and prosperity," wrote former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and George Shultz, in a letter today, organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC).
"We recognize the gravity of America's fiscal situation and that all programs must contribute their fair share to reducing our nation's debt. Yet, the international affairs budget ?- only 1.4% of the federal budget ?? already received deep and disproportionate cuts this year," they wrote. "Now is not the time for America to retreat from the world, which is why we need a strong and effective international affairs budget.
At the Nov. 12 GOP presidential debate, several candidates pledged to cut international funding and foreign aid in particular.
"Every country would start at zero," said Rick Perry, explaining that his administration would compel every country to make its case for receiving aid from the United States. Perry said that even Israel would have to start from zero, although he predicted they would still get funding in the end.
"I agree with Governor Perry. Start everything at zero," Mitt Romney said. His staff later clarified that he didn't mean that should go for Israel as well.
Those comments did not go over well in the NGO community. "Eliminating foreign aid makes zero sense," USGLC Executive Director Liz Schrayer told The Cable.
Last week, Perry said he didn't trust the State Department to manage the international affairs budget in the first place.
"I'm not sure our State Department serves us well," Perry said on Bill O'Reilly's radio show. "I'm not talking about the secretary of state here. I'm talking about the career diplomats and the secretary of state, who all too often may not be making decisions or giving advice to the administration that's in this country's best interest."
The State Department's budget is expected to be debated this week when the Senate takes up the State and foreign ops appropriations bill as part of a spending package. But State Department funding is also in danger of cuts from the congressional "supercommittee," which is under the gun to find $1.2 trillion in discretionary savings over ten years by the Nov. 23 deadline.
Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides wrote to members of the supercommittee last week to argue that the international affairs budget is not the right place to find savings to solve the deficit and debt crisis.
"Our budget is not a primary cause of the deficit or the long-term debt, and the proposed cuts would only undermine our position in the world," Nides wrote, referring to the House's version of the international affairs funding bill. "As you know, State and USAID account for only 1 percent of the entire federal budget."
"At a time when civilians are mission-critical in our war zones, when emerging powers are jockeying for influence around the world, and when the Middle East is remaking itself before our eyes, additional cuts to the State Department and USAID budget would harm our national security and our ability to grow our economy," said Nides. "I would ask the committee to consider this as it completes its important work."
Ian Waldie/Getty Images
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.