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Generals, Admirals Warn Trump Proposal to Slash State Dept., Foreign Aid Would Hurt National Security

Children watch U.S. military personnel unload USAID relief supplies from a helicopter in Anse d'Hainault, Haiti, on Oct. 14, 2016, after Hurricane Matthew devastated the region. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former commander of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, is among dozens of retired military leaders who have warned that a proposed slashing of U.S. foreign aid and the State Department would leave the country at risk.

Stavridis explained on MSNBC on Tuesday that foreign aid is “not about altruism,” but “about pragmatically improving the security of the United States.”

The Trump administration is reportedly talking about cutting the State Department’s budget by as much as 30 percent, with even more cuts at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Foreign aid accounts for about 1 percent of the total budget.

On Monday, more than 120 retired generals and admirals, including Stavridis and retired Gen. David Petraeus, sent a letter to congressional leaders and the White House stressing that “the State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”

They quoted now-Defense Secretary James Mattis’ 2013 remark while commander of U.S. Central Command: “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Stravridis told MSNBC that he helped organize the letter “in the hope of encouraging Congress to really look under the hood of this idea of slashing” foreign aid. “I’m for increasing the defense budget, but doing it on the back of development and diplomacy is a mistake,” he added.

“What we are about here is not altruistically simply giving money away for the psychological benefit of it. We do it specifically because it creates security for our nation by creating stability in places like Colombia, which then becomes a very important trading partner and a partner in counter-narcotics,” the admiral said.

“We want stability in the Balkans because it allows our European partners to participate with us on other missions that we take on. We want stability in a place like Afghanistan, so we don’t have another attack like we did at 9/11.”

But Trump’s budget is a wish list for Congress, and enough Republicans have already signaled that they’re not open to gutting foreign aid.

“It’s dead on arrival, it’s not going to happen. It would be a disaster,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told MSNBC. “If you take soft power off the table, then you’re never going to win the war. What’s most disturbing about the cut in the State Department’s budget, it shows a lack of understanding of what it takes to win the war.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) also said he’s “very much opposed” to slashing the State Department, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters Tuesday that the upper chamber would “probably not” approve it.

“I, for one, just speaking for myself, think the diplomatic portion of the federal budget is very important and you get results a lot cheaper, frequently, than you do on the defense side,” McConnell added.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told ABC that President Trump wants “to move spending from, say, overseas, back in this country.”

“That’s why you’ll see fairly significant reductions in his proposals regarding foreign aid,” Mulvaney said. “But he’s doing all this without adding to this year’s deficit. I think that is a very powerful message from the president of the United States to Congress.”

In a Tuesday floor speech, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) argued that there’s an economic benefit to foreign aid as well as national security imperatives.

“Seven of the ten fastest growing economies happen to be in the developing world. So if you are an American company that makes things — and I know we want to make things in America again — you have to sell them to someone. If you can only sell them to 5 percent of the world’s population that happens to live in the United States of America, that’s one thing. But imagine how much more you could sell, how much more money you could make, how much more value you would have for shareholders, how many more employees and jobs you would create if you could sell to more than that 95 percent of the people around the world,” Rubio said.

“But you can’t sell, people can’t be consumers if they are starving. They can’t be consumers if they’re dying of HIV-AIDS. They can’t be consumers if they’re dying of malaria. They can’t be consumers if they live in an unstable country. So there is an economic rationale for our investment around the world. We are helping people to emerge from poverty and ultimately become members of a global consumer class who buys American goods and services. We are in essence planting the seeds for markets to develop that we can trade with, that we can sell to.”

Rubio said foreign aid “gets to the fundamental question of what kind of a country do we want to be.”

“If America decides to withdraw from the world, if America decides to step back, if America declines and our influence around the world becomes less palpable, what will replace it? …Number one is totalitarianism. For the growing movement around the world led by China and Russia and North Korea and Iran, totalitarian regimes. That is the first thing that could step in and fill the vacuum,” he said. “And the other is nothing. The other alternative to America is nothing. It is a vacuum. And that vacuum leads to instability, and that instability will lead to violence, and that violence will lead to war, and that will ultimately come back and impact us, whether we want it to or not. This is the choice before us.”