Paul Ryan's Budget Draws Fire For Foreign Affairs Cuts

The Wisconsin congressman wants to slash diplomatic programs and boost Pentagon spending, despite a number of experts being vociferously opposed to it.

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The budget unveiled this week by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan is drawing fire from critics who contend it would cut too much from foreign aid programs, stripping the president of tools they say are crucial to national security.

Ryan, the GOP House Budget Committee chairman, has a plan for 2013 that would boost military spending while slashing the foreign affairs budget by nearly $5 billion, or about 10 percent. The plan also proposes $554 billion for the Pentagon, nearly $30 billion more than President Barack Obama requested in February.

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Ryan's plan would cut foreign affairs spending from $47.8 billion in 2012 to $43 billion in 2013. Ryan wants to shrink those funds, used for the State Department and for development work in other nations, until 2016, when it would bottom out at $38 billion. He proposes steady increases after that--but significantly smaller than his desired military funding hikes.

"If this were to happen," says Gordon Adams, who oversaw national defense budgeting for the Clinton administration, "it would amount to the further escalation of the militarization of American foreign policy."

The Ryan budget goes on to use fiery rhetoric in arguing for more military spending. Under a section titled "Decline as a World Power," the conservative stalwart contends the $350 billion reduction to planned military spending that spans the next decade that is part of Obama's budget plan is an "unmistakable" sign that the Commander-in-chief "has chosen to subordinate national security strategy to his other spending priorities."

To Ryan and other conservative congressional Republicans, there is simply no greater political sin than cutting defense spending.

The House GOP budget calls for a bigger Pentagon budget in 2013. But it also proposes inflating it by tens of billions of dollars each year through 2022, when it would total nearly $710 billion. That figure does not account for any conflicts or other emergencies that might spring up.

The GOP spending plan "takes several steps to ensure that national security remains [the] government's top priority," according to a Republican summary of the plan. "The nation has no higher priority than safeguarding the safety and liberty of its citizens from threats at home and abroad."

The Ryan budget rekindles a debate from last summer, when congressional Republicans in both chambers moved--mostly unsuccessfully--to gut foreign affairs spending.

"This reflects more an ideological statement than any real discussion about what the international budget levels should be," says Russell Rumbaugh, a former senior Senate Budget Committee aide now with the Stimson Center.

In short, Republicans "only trust the military to do anything around the world," says Adams. Democrats favor relying more on the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Ryan and House Republicans want to "cut virtually every national security program that is outside the Department of Defense. They cut every tool in the president's toolbox that isn't a gun," says Michael Breen, an Afghanistan and Iraq war veteran working with the Truman National Security Project. "That is the absolutely wrong approach. It ignores the reality of modern warfare. And it ignores the lessons of our history."

As an Army officer in Afghanistan, Breen would "roll with four guys in a Humvee" along the Pakistani border "with three other guys. Two, Breen and another soldier, were paratroopers who had been "highly trained for combat," as he described them.

The third member of his team was "a Pashtun-speaking State Department diplomat, who was our eyes and ears [with] the local population ... who helped us figure out how to talk to tribal leaders that we needed to win over and work with to defeat the Taliban." The final member of the group was a "development expert" from USAID, who understood the needs of those villagers [and] what they needed from us if they were going to stand strong against the enemy."