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U.S. Government Should Develop Unified National Security Budget To Free Up Spending For ‘Soft Power’ Initiatives

Highlighting an opinion piece published in Politico on Monday in which Retired Gen. David Petraeus, former director of the CIA, and Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argue that further cutting U.S. foreign aid could hinder “America’s ability to protect itself and advance its global interests,” Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress who served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, and Miriam Pemberton, a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, write in a separate Politico opinion piece, “Retired Gen. David Petraeus and Michael O’Hanlon are correct that we should protect funding for the State Department and [USAID] … because doing so enhances our national security.” They note, “Their comments are in line with those of former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who made this point several times during his time in office.” However, “neither Gates nor Petraeus and O’Hanlon are willing to reduce defense spending in order to provide additional funds for the soft power supplied by [the State Department] and USAID,” they continue.

“Given that we now spend more on defense, in real terms, than we did during the Cold War and that bipartisan groups like Bowles-Simpson and Domenici-Rivlin have recommended cutting up to $1 trillion from defense over the next decade, it would seem logical that funds could be shifted from the DOD budget, which is 10 times larger than State and [USAID], so that we could not only not cut that budget but actually increase theirs,” Korb and Pemberton state. “For example, purchasing seven fewer F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, a troubled program that is 70 percent over budget, would … allow the administration to avert the cuts it made to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria,” they write, concluding, “In order to make these trade-offs, the U.S. government needs to develop a unified national security budget that allows the president and the Congress to make trade-offs like these. Until we do, agencies like State and USAID, which as Petraeus and O’Hanlon acknowledge, generally lack a strong constituency, will continue to receive less than they need to project soft power and enhance our national security” (5/8).