Posts tagged ‘republicans’

July 26, 2012

Stranger in a Strange Land: Romney’s Overseas Adventures

This post is most certainly not about the United Nations. For those of you who came upon this blog once I’d taken in that direction, you probably don’t know that it started out as a way for me to vent about international relations writ large and the US’ foreign policy. So, we’re going to take it back to the roots and do a little bit on a topic near and dear to me: Willard Mitt Romney.

Today marked the opening leg of Mitt Romney’s No Apologies/You Really Like Me World Tour. In planning this jaunt, the Romney for President team made sure to pull out all the stops in making sure that things went well. The trip would only take the candidate to firm US allies, whom Governor Romney could accuse the President of ignoring. In the United Kingdom, Romney would be able to highlight his experience in saving the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Poland would be a chance to slam President Obama on his Russian “reset”. The crown jewel of the voyage would allow Mitt the chance to really hammer home how much better a friend to Israel he would be than Barack.

The trip to London was off to a rocky start as a piece in the Daily Telegraph has an unnamed Romney aide quoted as saying “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special” and that the “White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.. While this Anglo-Saxon claim might not be as historically accurate as depicted, it leaves the viewer wondering what Gov. Romney would bring to that relationship that President Obama doesn’t. This special relationship though would be a new attraction for Mitt, who in his book No Apologies doesn’t speak well of the island.

Gov. Romney hoped to put all that behind him and kicked off this morning with an interview with Brian Williams to help set the mood:

But he told US television there were “disconcerting” signs about Britain’s readiness. “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out,” he said. “There are a few things that were disconcerting: the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging.”

The comments weren’t well received by his hosts in the UK. Prime Minister David Cameron, who Mitt met with earlier today, has rejected the idea that Britain isn’t prepared. Mayor of London Boris Johnson later whipped a crowd into a fury by telling them, “There’s a guy named Mitt Romney who thinks we’re not ready. Are you ready?” The answer was a resounding ‘yes’. It’s also worth pointing out that both Johnson and Cameron are members of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.

The Israeli leg was scheduled to include a fundraising dinner on July 29th. The problem: that falls directly on the Jewish “Day of Mourning”, a day of fasting and prayer. While the campaign has made clear that the fundraiser will be held an hour after the breaking of the fast, the optics involved still aren’t the best. Adding onto Mitt’s woes is that in an attempt to block the enthusiasm Mr. Romney’s visit to Israel will generate, the White House is launching a counter-offensive. While Gov. Romney is in the Levant, the White House has President Obama signing the Israel-United States Cooperation Act, a boost to already strong US-Israeli ties. Maybe Poland will have a better reception for Governor Romney?

All of this though is merely having some fun knocking the Governor for style points. We can’t read overly much into these foibles, as the personal relationship that a President has with other Heads of Government is important, but by no means the only indicator of a successful foreign policy. Instead, the reason that we focus on these missteps by the Romney campaign are because they are quite literally all that we have to go on at this point.

The foreign policy statements from Gov. Romney have been exceedingly sparse. In his most recent speech, he offered up plenty of rhetoric, but nothing in the way of solid proposals for what he would do differently than the incumbent. Those things he has suggested in the past, such as building up the armed forces, directly contradict other things he has put forward, such as lowering taxes while cutting the deficit.

This trip will surely be compared to the Obama campaign’s world swing during the ’08 election, and not positively. The Romney camp will spin it that just because the Governor doesn’t have throngs of people cheering for him doesn’t mean the trip wasn’t successful. I’d point out that then Senator Obama also gave detailed policy speeches during his time abroad. Mitt’s itinerary has what was once a major foreign policy speech downgraded to remarks in Jerusalem. The foreign policy crowd is pretty attentive, Governor. Give us something real to discuss, and maybe we’ll stop talking about the little things.

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February 15, 2012

Extended Version: On Budgets, UNESCO, and Overwhelming Pessimism

It has been a unbelievablely slow day at work today. How slow you ask? So slow I felt compelled to write about the FY 2013 Budget over at UN Dispatch. That slow. Granted, there were several extremely interesting points in the State Department’s budget request, which formed the backbone of the UN Dispatch piece, copied here:

Buried in the full State Department Congressional Justification [PDF], though, is a piece of information that’s actually a bit more interesting.  During a briefing on the FY13 Budget at the State Department on Monday, posted above, Deputy Secretary Thomas Nides was asked about page 713, which involves the funding of UNESCO. While FY 2012 had the line zeroed out, the FY 2013 request showed an increase to $79M, the same as in FY 2011. Secretary Nides replied:

Well, let’s do UNESCO first. As you know, the Congress has prohibited us for funding UNESCO this year. And as you know, the President has also articulated quite clearly that he would like a waiver to allow us to participate in UNESCO. We have put the money in the budget, realizing that we’re not going to be able to spend the money unless we get the waiver, and we have made it clear to the Congress we’d like a waiver. So we will work with them and work with our friends and colleagues on Capitol Hill in hopes that we can work an agreement out for us to fund. UNESCO does an enormously – a lot of enormously good work, and we’d like to make sure that we have a contribution commensurate with their work.

Secretary Nides’ statement gives me at least some cause for cheer. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that Congress will pass a revocation of the law or even consider such a waiver in an election year.  The State Department’s budget is also likely to face renewed threats of cuts in the House of Representatives, and UNESCO’s funding will be a prime target. That being said, that the Obama Administration even calculated for providing dues to UNESCO shows that they haven’t given up completely on the body’s funding being restored.

That article was mostly reporting. As this is my own, personal blog, I feel a bit freer to throw around my opinion. My opinion being? Unless Congress flips in November, there’s no way this budget request comes through unscathed. Particularly the request for a waiver for UNESCO’s funding. And that is both a shame and a travesty. I wrote at length about last year’s budget fight, and how short-sighted Republicans have been when it comes to funding international affairs, those in the House in particular. None of which make any sense to me, several months later. Why wouldn’t we want to increase funding to peacekeeping, particularly as our own defense budget is slashed? When will Republican’s realize the value added in funding multilateral missions that require force? And I doubt that members of the House will appreciate the fact that the United Nations has passed a budget that actually calls for a reduction in spending for the first time in years. The time when Republicans were allowed to come out in favor of the UN, like former Senator Alan Simpson, seems to have passed, or at least has to be muzzled until retirement.

We’re likely in for a repeat of the events of the FY 12 fight for the next eight months until the election hits. Depending on the outcome of the election, the skirmishes over State’s budget, and the UNESCO waiver, will do one of the following. Should Obama win and the House remain under Speaker Boehner, they’ll likely continue apace, with the Senate acting as a vanguard against the House’s inevitable cuts. If the Democrats win enough seats to either flip the House or ease the Republican majority to a razor-thin margin, the calls for reducing Foggy Bottom’s budget will likely decrease, at least some. If the GOP manages to take control of the Senate, we would likely see an increase in pressure for cuts, as they join with the House in an assault on the re-elected Obama. Worst case scenario for State: the International budget gets trounced under a GOP White House and Congress.

As for UNESCO, I’m still pretty upset about that. There is zero chance that a waiver passes before November. I repeat: zero. Not in an election cycle in which candidates are falling over themselves to prove that they will be the most responsive to Israel’s security needs. While the Palestinian effort to gain acceptance into international bodies has certainly slowed, there’s always the chance of a resurgence, at which point more organizations could see a reduction in US funding. As that’s a chance I would hate to take, and I’m sure would leave the United States reeling as it realized just how much we depend on multilateral support, the responsible thing for Congress to do would be repeal the law. Then again, when was the last time Congress was responsible?

January 25, 2012

SPACE!: Newt, International Law, and the Extraterrestrial Commons

For those of you without Twitter streams fueled purely by snark, it may have slipped your notice that Newt Gingrich is, and always has been, a giant nerd, particularly when it comes to the territory beyond our atmosphere. Well, today, campaigning in Florida, Newt has managed to out-do himself:

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich called for the creation of a permanent lunar colony that could become the nation’s 51st state and a re-dedication to sending a man to Mars during a sprawling campaign speech Wednesday in Florida.

“I am sick of being told we have to be timid and I’m sick of being told we have to be limited to technologies that are 50 years old,” Gingrich told a cheering crowd.

Gingrich said that his vision was on par with President Lincoln’s call for a transcontinental railroad, the Wright brothers’ push for manned flight, and President Kennedy’s vision to send a man to the moon. Later, he described the rally as “the second great launch of the adventure John F. Kennedy started.”

And in what Gingrich himself described as “the weirdest thing I’ve ever done,” the former House Speaker called for a “Northwest ordinance for space.”

“By the end of my second term, we will have a permanent colony on the moon and it will be American,” Gingrich said.

From some politicians, this would be called “pandering”. For Newt, this is known as “Wednesday”.

Putting aside the untold scientific and logistical problems surrounding Newt’s goals, for all his excitement over development of space, I somehow doubt that he has very much of an idea of what the current law and issues surrounding the use of space consist of. Or if he did, that he wouldn’t like them very much. So I am hereby appointing myself the Gingrich 2012 campaign’s Chief Stellar Law Advisor. You’re welcome, Mr. Speaker.

So where to begin? For starters, let’s make clear that we can’t lay claim to the entirety of the Moon. While the temptation to revert to colonial rules of “We have a flag there, it’s totally ours” is strong, it doesn’t quite work that way. Why you ask? Because of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, better known as The Outer Space Treaty.

“A treaty,” you say, “surely we can’t be have signed and ratified such folly”. Well, we were actually one of the main authors of the text. Bear in mind, when this was drafted, the United States and Soviet Union were still mortal enemies and both possessed space-faring capabilities. It was in our best interest to declare that nobody get the entirety of the Moon, rather than fighting over it. What’s more, the Outer Space Treaty gave us the comfort of knowing that the Russians weren’t going to pull a Ripley on us and attempt to nuke us from orbit.

“Well, the Soviets aren’t a threat anymore, what’s to stop us from just taking the Moon?” That question would be fundamentally flawed in nature. First, there’s no viable weapons systems in existence to actual initiate combat in space. What taking the moon would involve includes arming whatever vehicles we design to replace the space shuttle to take us into orbit, which also doesn’t exist, with conventional missiles.

This leads us to a point that the Bush Administration recognized and fought against the Space Preservation Treaty to ensure: there is no law preventing weaponization of space with conventional missiles. The Obama Administration has backed away from this position, but you can bet that Newt would be heavily in favor of returning to it.

As Chief Stellar Law Advisor, I’d have to weigh in strongly against such a move. If the sea is a global commons, space is most certainly an extraterrestrial commons. There are currently a total of ten countries with the capacity to place artificial satellites into orbit. There are several more who can create satellites, but lack the mechanism to actually place them.

These satellites affect our daily lives in an ever-growing number of ways and to endanger the right of all states to launch items into space, free from the threat of molestation, is vital to our future. Only through international cooperation and dialogue through mechanisms like the Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (COPUOS), the UN’s body to discuss matters of space, can we hope to maintain the freedom of all states to launch satellites. As a sidebar, I would strongly press Mr. Gingrich to invest more heavily in the UN body with the best acronym in history: UN-SPIDER.

I’m sure there are several out there, including Newt himself, that will argue that the only way we ensure that space remain open is through the same way we do the seas, through being able to project force into the sphere. To that, I counter that the terrestrial methods that we use to influence other states on security matters will remain viable in any future that involves space. Much as the introduction of drones into the theatre does not affect warfare at its core, so too introduction of the space and cyber domains as potentially contested spheres will not fundamentally change the way that states interact with each other. And just as arms control can be achieved landside, so must it be striven for in space.

It’s with the openness of space in mind that the United States has recently announced that it  will be working with the European Union in drafting an International Code of Conduct for Space. As more states gain the ability to launch first satellites, then humans, into space, the already cluttered orbit above the Earth will become even more so. A Gingrich Administration would be doing the United States a disservice if it were to withdraw from these talks, as it almost inevitably would, as it is in our interest to ensure that states abide by a common set of rules of keeping the upper atmosphere clear of debris. Going it alone won’t cut it when it comes to space, especially if we’re to ever make it to the Moon and beyond.

So to sum up, even if Newt’s dreams of moon mining (and whaling) were possible, he’d find that the body of law surrounding his lunar activities more extensive than expected. What’s more, he’d discover that the idea of the United States maintaining exclusive control of Luna and other heavenly bodies would be becoming more and more laughable. It’s almost as ridiculous as the idea that we’re going to have a permanent moon base in just nine years. But still not as laughable as a Gingrich Administration.

October 11, 2011

A Smoot Point: Punishing China or Just Ourselves?

Just so you don’t think that I spend all of my time seething at the GOP, let me assure you: I take offense to any stupidity in statecraft, be it from the right or left side of the aisle in Congress. I maintain that Congress really should just stay out of foreign policy as a whole, and this particular issue cuts right to that belief, I feel. The Democrats, seemingly seeking to look tough, are in actuality looking extremely stupid. I presage the rest of this post by saying that I am in no way an international finance expert, but, to be fair, neither is Congress.

If you were to turn on CSPAN 2 later tonight, as wonks are wont to do, you’d see that the Senate has taken up a bill known as the “Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011”. In late September, Sherrod Jackson (D-OH) introduced on the Senate floor a bill to punish ‘currency manipulators’ who suppress the value of their currency in order to flood the market with cheap goods, boosting their exports to the detriment of other countries. I wonder who they could be talking about. I. Wonder.

In this attempt to take on China and the yuan, I originally opted to let it go, as a bit of political posturing. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has been the Democrat’s message man in the Senate for the last year and has been strongly backing the bill, which doesn’t surprise me, as he’s been backing the same sort of bill for the last six years. What makes this time different is that it might actually go somewhere. There was a bit of a scene made on the Senate floor the other night surrounding the bill, as GOP Senators sought to hang more amendments on after cloture had passed, resulting in a rules change that remains fascinating for parliamentarians  and giant nerds but overall pointless in the grand scheme of things. These amendments were defeated, leaving room for the bill to move forward to a vote later tonight.

This whole thing intrigued me enough to actually read the text of the Bill, which, written in legalese, is not the most incendiary of documents right off the bat. The short of it is that following passage, the Secretary of the Treasury would be mandated to provide to Congress reports on which countries are unfairly manipulating their currency. Should a country having been found to be manipulating their currency fail to change their ways within 90 days, several actions may be taken, including:

(1) ADJUSTMENT UNDER ANTIDUMPING LAW- For purposes of an antidumping investigation under subtitle B of title VII of the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. 1673 et seq.), or a review under subtitle C of such Act (19 U.S.C. 1675 et seq.), the following shall apply:

(A) IN GENERAL- The administering authority shall ensure a fair comparison between the export price and the normal value by adjusting the price used to establish export price or constructed export price to reflect the fundamental misalignment of the currency of the exporting country.

(B) SALES SUBJECT TO ADJUSTMENT- The adjustment described in subparagraph (A) shall apply with respect to subject merchandise sold on or after the date that is 30 days after the date the currency of the exporting country is designated for priority action pursuant to section 4(a)(3).

My eyes originally glazed over this, before realizing that this was intended to be the bulk of the punishment; my eyes instead gravitated towards the provision that has US officials at international banks refuse loans to the country in question. Which in and of itself is pointless, as while China has received various loans for infrastructure projects from the World Bank, managed to lend more to developing countries in the 2009-2010 period than the Bretton Woods system. But I digress. In any case, I was unfamiliar with the Tariff Act of 1930, or so I thought, so I went to look it up. Turns out, most people know the Tariff Act of 1930 by a far different name: The Smoot-Hawley Act. 

So let’s take a quick second to look at the Unfortunate Implications inherent so far. In the midst of an economic downturn that has shown signs of picking up again, Congress decides to go one step further, and impose tariffs to encourage people to buy local rather than importing goods. It worked so well in the past, why not bring about protectionism round two? This bill’s provisions have several flaws, which were summed up well in a Washington Post op-ed by Robert Samuelson:

Even if this becomes law — not certain — it wouldn’t work for two reasons. In 2010, our imports from China totaled $364 billion. (American exports to China were $86 billion, leaving a deficit of $278 billion.) To be effective, countervailing duties would need to apply to most Chinese imports, but in practice, companies bring cases only for individual products, affecting millions, not billions, of dollars. The process would be cumbersome and time-consuming.

Worse, China might protest any countervailing duties to the World Trade Organization, and it might win. WTO rules permit subsidies that are broad-based rather than those benefiting specific firms or industries, say lawyers. The undervalued RMB might pass muster. If so, China could then retaliate by imposing duties on U.S. exports to China.

Those duties would act in the same function as the counter-tariffs that states imposed on the United States following the passage of Smoot-Hawley. While the giant raise in unemployment that Smoot-Hawley preceded probably would not come to pass following enactment of this bill, it’s doubtful that the thousands of jobs proponents of the bill claim it will spur will actually come to pass. Samuelson goes on to say that what is needed is instead a stronger push-back against China to help prevent further unfair trade practices by Beijing in the future, when subsidized aircraft is the focus of trade disputes rather than textiles, which is where we differ. I will readily agree that China’s practices do more to harm the free-trade system than those of any other state, but I really don’t know that protectionist measures are the way to affect the sort of change that Mr. Samuelson and Senate Democrats are clamoring for.

Another nail in the coffin of this policy’s intellectual rigor is that the yuan has actually be strengthening against the dollar, as the below chart from the Economist shows, as the trade deficit has gone up. So even as the currencies have come closer to reflecting actual disparities of value, China continues to export far more to us than vice-versa. The actual value of the currency is still definitely under-appreciated, with one Wharton School graduate estimating in his thesis that is currently hovering around 35% undervaluation. A correction to a more accurate 4 yuan to the dollar may alter China’s overall economic outlook as exports decline and cheaper alternatives fill the market. However, I don’t think that such a correction, which this bill seeks, will manage to change much in the deficit that matters, the one between the United States and China.

The Economist Graph

Via @TheEconomist

Despite my reservations, it seems that the Senate isn’t listening to me. Given the ease with which the bill passed cloture, which requires sixty votes, the bill is certain to pass through the upper chamber of Congress. Even the normally uber-conservative Senator from Alabama, Jeff Sessions, has come out in favor of this bill.  The future of this bill is in no way certain though, and there are doubts as to whether it will become law at all. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is on the record saying that the House won’t take up the bill until the White House makes its position on it more clear, something that the Obama Administration has been loathe to do.  While President Obama has said that he supports the goals of the legislation if not the method, there’s been no release of an official Statement of Administration Policy on the matter.

I’m not saying that China’s trade practices aren’t a concern and don’t merit a healthy amount of condemnation. That’s not even mentioning the abysmal state of human rights in Chinese factories and the fair-trade standards that are routinely ignored for the sake of profits and feeding the Chinese economic engine. But the place for such determinations of fair-play are at the bilateral discussion table and at the World Trade Organization, not in the halls of Congress. I’m a solid Democrat, but when reactionary bills come forward and the lines are divided more clearly by “which party introduced it” rather than “is it a good idea?” something is horribly wrong with the way policy is created.

October 5, 2011

The GOP’s Mister Magoo Moment

First of all, I’d like to thank my friend Millie over at Fittingly for linking this blog in a post the other day. Also apropos are thanks to Capitol Hill Gang for linking as well, as it’s the first blog run by a complete stranger to actually read my work. Progress? I can guarantee that neither of you will see a spike in readership from your generosity but linked you are nonetheless.

In any case, after that last lengthy post, we now return to what is rapidly becoming our basic format on At Water’s Edge: an extended pop-culture metaphor serving as the framing mechanism for the IR-ish current events topic of choice. I may one day grow tired of writing these kinds of posts. But today is not that day. The comparison subject du jour is none other than The Nearsighted Mister Magoo. Why that man never invested in a solid pair of bifocals is beyond me. His stubbornness caused mishaps of the outlandish comedic variety, often drawing humor from the irony involved with Mister Magoo putting himself in grave danger unbeknownst to him but perfectly clear to the observing audience. The inability to see too much further than an inch past his face led me far too quickly to realize that he is the perfect symbol for Republican’s extremely nearsighted budget cutting mania, especially when it comes to the Foreign Aid budget.

In fact, ‘extremely nearsighted’ is putting it mildly and indeed gently when it comes to the overarching determination to shrink the size of the Federal government. I’m, if you could not tell, in favor of greater Federal power over the states, but I can understand the arguments that states’ rights people make in certain regards; when the country was founded, the Constitution was intended to truly bind the states into one country, while still preserving large swaths of independence. However, the world, the country, and even the Constitution, has evolved since those times, in ways that the established norms that were at the forefront of thought at the drafting of the Constitution could not predict nor would they be entirely applicable as a frame of reference in many of today’s issues. In areas like education, I can almost understand why some would advocate a reduction of government spending and an increase in the power of the states to determine their own course. When it comes to matters of national security and foreign affairs though, you really can’t make anything that resembles a Tenth Amendment argument. No debate is needed about the Constitutionality of the Federal government providing structures to advance foreign affairs. These are the issues that precipitated the very necessity of the Constitution; you need the Federal government to draw up the agenda and make the decisions necessary for the US to play on the world stage, in a way that fifty competing states just can’t.

Despite this need, the common defense provided for by the Preamble of the Constitution only extends as far as the armed services in the eyes of many. It’s ridiculously easy for GOP candidates and elected officials alike to take on straw-man Federal targets that the Republican Party thinks aren’t useful, or are over-bloated, or wasteful. These are all valid points in some areas, but not when it comes to the foreign policy mechanisms of the Federal government. The items in the budget under fire are some of the most important parts of the Federal government when it comes to keeping Americans safe, at home and abroad, at least on the same par as the deterrence that our armed forces represent. The United States is a poor target for states militarily due to the very basic fact that state-to-state, we still possess the hard power to take out almost any adversary in a blaze of blinding glory. There are maybe five states that could one day serve as an actual threat to the United States militarily, even less that would rate the level of existential threat. What you see instead of true sabre-rattling and actual military threats by states that disagree with or would wish to harm the United States is either support of various non-state actors who then act kinetically against the US and its allies or a slandering of the United States in the hopes that their views become a meme, part of the overarching narrative in global affairs today. The latter is what the US needs to get far better at preventing, because what’s the point of military deterrence when you lose every fight that isn’t on the battlefield? You can steamroll everyone’s army, but if nobody likes you enough to support any of your goals aside from at the barrel of a gun, what’s the point?

Arguments can be made that by sheer size of its economy that it makes it impossible for the US to be ignored, but the fact still remains that even trade alone does not make for partners whose goals align in lockstep with yours (see: the US and China). This need to influence other states without bombing or buying them makes particularly attractive Joseph Nye’s idea of soft power, a concept that the majority of Republican officials these days refuse to even acknowledge exists except to mock it. Strategically this makes no sense: When you can attract instead of deter, it makes things a lot simpler in terms of getting your way and is far, far cheaper in the long run.

As it stands, however, the Department of State is taking hits across the board, facing huge budget cuts as we (finally) begin discussing the FY 2012 budget.

As lawmakers scramble to trim the swelling national debt, both the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate have proposed slashing financing for the State Department and its related aid agencies at a time of desperate humanitarian crises and uncertain political developments. The proposals have raised the specter of deep cuts in food and medicine for Africa, in relief for disaster-affected places like Pakistan and Japan, in political and economic assistance for the new democracies of the Middle East, and even for the Peace Corps.

The financial crunch threatens to undermine a foreign policy described as “smart power” by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, one that emphasizes diplomacy and development as a complement to American military power. It also would begin to reverse the increase in foreign aid that President George W. Bush supported after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as part of an effort to combat the roots of extremism and anti-American sentiment, especially in the most troubled countries.

Given the relatively small foreign aid budget — it accounts for 1 percent of federal spending over all — the effect of the cuts could be disproportional.

The State Department already has scaled back plans to open more consulates in Iraq, for example. The spending trend has also constrained support for Tunisia and Egypt, where autocratic leaders were overthrown in popular uprisings. While many have called for giving aid to these countries on the scale of the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild European democracies after World War II, the administration has been able to propose only relatively modest investments and loans, and even those have stalled in Congress.

Emphasis on the last paragraph cannot be stressed enough. In a time of global upheaval, where the world is looking to the United States for more than just military support, we’re instead severing ties, making it all the more likely that incoming rulers in states affected by the Arab Spring and other revolutionary movements will be that much less influenced by the United States, let alone friendly.

And let’s bear in mind just how little cutting the budget of the State Department will affect the overall budget, deficits and national debt. Over on Duck of Minerva, they’ve come up with an impressive list of analogies, about how little these cuts will help the overall budget crisis. My favorite has to be “Cutting foreign aid to address the budget crisis is like getting your hair cut in an effort to lose weight.” Numerous polls have proven that the American public has no earthly idea how much the US spends on its foreign aid, in March calling for the foreign aid budget to be cut from 25% of the budget to 10% of the budget. The problem, as anyone who reads cares about this stuff enough to actually read this knows, is that the actual percentage is close to 1. 1%.  As Josh Lyman once put it “68% of respondents think we hand out too much in foreign aid, 59% think it should be cut”, once again proving that The West Wing is applicable in nearly any situation.

Also of concern is that the same spending cuts are also threatening the growth of the Foreign Service:

Among the largest House subcommittee reductions was a nearly 20 percent cut in the funds that pay for Foreign Service officers and the civilians who support them. In justifying this action, the subcommittee report said it eliminated funds sought for 184 new staff because since 2008, some 1,622 Foreign Service officers and 1,001 civilians had been hired above attrition.

Ramping down the Foreign Service is about the worst idea you could possibly have at this time. As we begin cuts in our military which will necessarily affect our global strategy, and many people on both sides of the aisle say are necessary, we have to have some way to leverage US power into actually policy decisions by other states that benefit us. The most cost-effective way that we can maintain American prestige is to hire more Foreign Service Officers as the number of soldiers decrease, a strategy that Secretary Clinton has followed over the past several years, as can be seen by the amount of growth since 2008. To slow that growth is a tremendous mistake right now.

Now, I said “majority of Republicans” earlier, because there are most certainly vocal advocates of the benefits of smart power, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Secretary Gates spoke together with Secretary Clinton numerous times on the idea of smart power, to Congress and to the public, in ways that you would think would carry more weight than coming from State alone. Here you have the leader of the Department of Defense begging and pleading that the military be given more civilian support in keeping the peace, and the Congress saying ‘no’. In fact, with the proposed cuts, it seems to be more of a ‘hell no’. Shouted through a megaphone. The fact that the all-star combo of Clinton/Gates was ignored by Congress on advocating smart power says a lot to me about how little I want the Legislative Branch determining foreign policy. Granted, given their power of the purse some involvement is inevitable. But to use their platform to dash foreign aid against the rocks by strangling it to death, to mix metaphors, is atrocious.

The State Department is not alone in the crosshairs. USAID also took a hit in the same House subcommittee, going from $1.5B requested to $900M, which could seriously undermine the strategy laid out in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. What’s more, that perennial foe of the Republican party, the United Nations, is a prime target this Congress. The 1980s saw the US withdrawing from UNESCO due to objections of the Reagan Administration over the agenda. The US went into arrears in the 1990s as the United States refused to pay the entirety of its dues. Only through a push by Ted Turner the United Nations Foundation’s Better World Campaign and the results of a bipartisan effort were we able to pay off our debt and become members in good standing again. Already, those efforts are under threat, as we are currently $736M in debt to the UN. Thanks, House of Representatives.

Well, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtenin is at it again. Earlier this year, after being handed the gavel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Congresswoman convened hearings in January titled “The United Nations: Urgent Problems that Need Congressional Action” and in April called “Reforming the United Nations: The Future of U.S. Policy” with Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice testifying. The latest salvo, H.R. 2829, the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act of 2011, was introduced in late August to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Despite the bill’s title, filled with words that few people could disagree with, the bill would put unrealistic pressure on the Secretariat to produce changes that would be more detrimental than actually improving the UN. The GOP has long called for a ‘voluntary’ model for paying for the UN, in essence cherry-picking what it does and does not want to support and pay for, else the US would reduce its payments by half. In addition, the bill, if passed, would end U.S. funding for any UN agency that does not sign a special “transparency certification” with the U.S. Comptroller General. And it would cut U.S. funding to any UN entity tasked with implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to have the US’ vote in the General Assembly withdrawn due to lack of payment? In addition, lawmakers seem to be missing out on the fact that the United Nations is the best foreign policy investment we could ever hope to make. In the January testimony, Better World Campaign Executive Director Peter Yeo stated that for every dollar of US investment in the UN, it delivers $1.50 in investment in American firms and companies. The same could most certainly not be said in the case of military spending in Iraq. Also, according to Ambassador Susan Rice in an interview on PBS in 2009, “if the US was to act on its own – unilaterally – and deploys its own forces in many of these countries, for every dollar the US would spend, the UN can accomplish the mission for twelve cents”.  So to fix the budget, the GOP would have us spend eight times as much on foreign intervention, or cut off all overseas missions. Sounds right to me. Thankfully, there’s been plenty of pushback against this bill, which never stands a chance of passage through the US Senate or not being vetoed by President Obama. That the GOP can score points this way though is highly disturbing.

Despite all of my arguments, it does stand to reason that it is hard to explain to American citizens why their money is going “over there” to build schools and roads when our infrastructure is crumbling, disaster relief when people are still struggling from last year’s oil spill in the Gulf, and food when we have children starving in our inner cities. The simplest of answers is “because we can”; that despite all of the economic hardships our country has had in the past three years, we are still the richest and most powerful state on Earth, and to turn our backs on the rest of the world would be callous beyond reason. The less altruistic view is the one that I ascribe to, that this foreign aid helps keep the world safer and America strong abroad, which is a necessity in a world that has shrunk down as we become more connected. To cut the knees out from under the foreign policy mechanisms now is amazingly short-sighted; this is a time where we need more friends abroad, not fewer, and withdrawing from the initiatives of the Foreign Service and the United Nations will undoubted prove detrimental in the long-run. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration floated the idea of combining the budgets of the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom, and DHS into a “unified security budget”. It’s an idea that’s worth discussing, but unfortunately, the GOP can’t see past their own face, or rather their next election, where the idea of cutting defense in favor of agricultural support seems downright un-American. The Mr. Magoo cartoons made light of the issue of myopia, but when it comes to the United States, it’s no laughing matter.