The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA

Posted: 4:39 am ET
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Reporting for the Washington Post in 1996, Thomas Lippman wrote that “The total budget for civilian international programs, the so-called 150 account, started to decline in the mid-1980s. It leveled off during the Bush administration, then resumed a downward slide in President Clinton’s first year.” He noted that “the relentless budget pressure that began in the mid-1980s accelerated with the Clinton administration’s deficit-reduction plan, forcing the closing of consulates, aid missions, libraries, cultural centers and even a few entire embassies, from Italy to Indonesia, from Antigua to Thailand” (see U.S. Diplomacy’s Presence Shrinking).

Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States defeating incumbent George H. W. Bush in 1992Warren M. Christopher was nominated Secretary of State by then President-elect Clinton in December 1992.  Christopher was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 20, 1993, and sworn in the next day. Two months into the new administration, Secretary Christopher made his first official congressional appearance as Secretary of State before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary House Appropriations Committee to talk about redirecting American foreign policy, refocusing the aid budgets, and reforming institutions.

Secretary Christopher at that time said that “American foreign policy in the years ahead will be grounded in what President Clinton has called the three “pillars” of our national interest:  first, revitalizing our economy; second, updating our  security forces for a new era; and, third, protecting democracy as the  best means to protect our own national security while expanding the  reach of freedom, human rights, prosperity, and peace.”  He talked about Saddam Hussein, “If the lawlessness of [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein has taught us any single lesson, it is that weapons of mass destruction, especially when combined  with missile technology, can transform a petty tyrant into a threat to world peace and stability.” Secretary Christopher talked about the State Department budget, “It will be a tough budget for tough times.  It will be a flexible budget that seeks austerity, not as a hardship to be endured but as a challenge to innovate and do our job  better.  Above all, we hope that this budget will mark a transitional step to a truly focused budget that sets priorities and puts resources behind them.”

Oh, brother where are ya?

In February 1993, Secretary Christopher also sent a  message to State Department employees on the Implementation Directive on Reorganization.  Two months into the Trump Administration, and days after the OMB released Trump’s “skinny budget” we have yet to hear from Secretary Tillerson on where the State Department go from here.  We know that he supports the budget cuts for his department, and he has made no public effort of defending the funding and programs for his agency but the top diplomat of the United States still has not articulated the foreign policy priorities of this administration. If Secretary Tillerson has sent a message to his troops in Foggy Bottom, we have yet to hear about it or its contents.

The proposed FY18 budget slashes the international affairs budget by 28% or 36% with Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) funding factored in.  If passed by Congress, what happens to That Three-Legged Stool of American Foreign Policy?  As diplomacy and development will be hobbled by cuts, are we going to see an exponential growth in private contractors in support of DOD, diplomacy and development? Or are we going to just see staffing gaps and reduced diplomatic footprints from Algeria to Zimbabwe?

In Tillerson’s recent interview with IJR, he said about the State Department budget that “One can say it’s not going to happen in one year, and it’s not.”

He’s right.  The cuts may happen this year, and next year, and every fiscal year thereafter.  It sounds to us like an “American First” foreign policy does not see much use for diplomacy.  So we expect that the State Department budget will continue to be targeted during the entire Trump term. But if history is any indication, the decisions made today will have repercussions for our country down the road. Back in 1993, Secretary Christopher said, “when the time eventually comes to restore diplomatic relations with Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Libya, the money and personnel for those posts probably will have to come out of existing resources, officials said, thus increasing the pressure to close marginal posts elsewhere.” In 1996, the then Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) director John D. Holum warned that the agency “no longer has a U.S. technical expert assigned to the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq.”  

With the exception of Iran, we are back in Iraq, and Somalia, and we know what happened in Libya.  We don’t grow diplomats overnight. Expertise and diplomatic muscle grow with time, with every assignment, with every challenge. What happens when the next crisis erupts in Asia? Can we just pluck diplomats and development experts from the OPM growth chamber?  Or are we going to have a civilian surge once more with diplomats lacking experience and language skills thrown into a pit and then expected to do an effective job?

Remember, do you remember?

We should note that the Democrats had control of the House and the Senate after the 1992 elections but the midterm elections in 1994 resulted in a net gain of 54 seats in the House of Representatives for the GOP, and a pickup of eight seats in the Senate. That was the Gingrich Revolution.  By the way, R.C. Hammond who previously served as press secretary to Newt Gingrich (a vocal Trump ally) is now a communications adviser for Secretary Tillerson.

WaPo reported that between 1993-1996 “the State Department has cut more than 2,000 employees and shuttered consulates in 26 foreign cities. The Agency for International Development (AID), which runs foreign aid programs, has been hit especially hard by the Republican-controlled Congress and has closed 23 missions overseas.”

In 1995, according to NYT: The U.S. ambassadors to Italy, France, Britain, Spain, the E.U., Germany, Russia and NATO reportedly got together and sent a secret cable to Secretary Christopher, signed by all of them, telling him that the “delivery system” of U.S. foreign policy was being destroyed by budget cuts. They pleaded with him to mobilize those constituencies in the U.S. that value the work of embassies, and volunteered to come to Washington to testify before Congress in their defense. The ambassadors got a polite note back from Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott, telling them he understood their concerns but that there was a new mood in Congress. There was no invitation to testify.

The State Department at that time reportedly also promoted the concept of “diplomatic readiness,” similar to military readiness, “in hopes of persuading Congress to divert some money from the defense budget into diplomacy and foreign aid — activities that, in the diplomats’ view, save money over time by reducing the need for military actions.”

More than 100 businesses, trade associations, law firms and volunteer groups did organize a “Campaign to Preserve U.S. Global Leadership” without much success.

And this despite the fact that a 1994 GAO study indicates that only 38 percent of the U.S. government personnel in embassies work for the State Department, while 36 percent work for the Pentagon, 5 percent for Justice and 3 percent for Transportation. The other 18 percent includes representatives of the Treasury, Agriculture and Commerce departments.  We don’t know what is the current breakdown of federal agencies operating overseas under the State Department umbrella but if the Trump Administration starts turning off the lights in Africa, or Asia for instance, that could also prove problematic for the Pentagon.

What a 27% budget cut looked like for the international affairs budget?

By Fall 1995, the State Department released a Q&A on the International Affairs Budget–A Sound Investment in Global Leadership.  It includes the following:

Q. Since most Americans favor reducing government spending to balance the federal budget, have the State Department and other foreign affairs  agencies done anything to cut costs?

A. Yes, the Administration has done a great deal to cut costs. We have already:

— Cut the foreign assistance budget request by 20%;

–Trimmed more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department and 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA);

–Identified, for elimination by 1997, about 2,000 jobs at the U.S.  Agency for International Development (USAID);

–Decreased administrative and overhead costs by $100 million; and

–Closed, or scheduled for closing, 36 diplomatic or consular posts, 10 USIA posts, and 28 USAID missions abroad.

OVERSEAS POSTS CLOSED, 1993-96 Consulates, consulates general and State Department branch offices: Algeria Austria Australia Brazil Colombia Egypt France Germany Indonesia Italy (2) Kenya Martinique Mexico Nigeria Philippines Poland Somalia Spain Switzerland (2) Turkey Thailand (2) Venezuela Zaire Embassies Antigua and Barbuda Comoros Equatorial Guinea Seychelles Solomon Islands. AID missions Afghanistan Argentina Belize Botswana Burkina Faso Cameroon Cape Verde Caribbean region Chad Chile Costa Rica Estonia Ivory Coast Lesotho Oman Pakistan South Pacific Switzerland Thailand Togo Tunisia Uruguay Zaire (via)

According to WaPo in 1996, USAID’s overall work force “has been reduced from 11,500 to 8,700 and is heading down to 8,000. The number of full “sustainable development missions” — on-site teams promoting long-term diversified economic development — declined from 70 at the start of the administration to 30.”

That’s what a 27% budget cut inflected on the international affairs budget did in the 90’s.

By 1999, with the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the United States Information Agency (USIA) were both abolished and folded into the State Department.

Who ya gonna call?

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell was recently quoted saying, “America being a force is a lot more than building up the Defense Department. Diplomacy is important, extremely important, and I don’t think these reductions at the State Department are appropriate.”

According to the Washington Examiner, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn  apparently signaled that President Trump’s initial proposed budget “won’t dictate how the State Department gets funded.” “The president’s budget goes in the waste basket as soon as it gets here,” he said.

We should note that in the 1990s, both houses of Congress (GOP) and a White House under a Democrat worked together to slashed the State Department budget. It was not a question of how much to cut, but where to cut.  This time around, we have a Republican Congress and a Republican White House, but while the WH is gunning for these cuts, the Senate particularly, appears not to be quite on board with the slash and burn cuts.  Still, we are reminded what former Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Stephen J. Ledogar (1990-1997) noted in his oral history (PDF) — that “Not very many people will admit this, but the administration bowing to Congress on those consolidations was part of the price that was paid by the Clinton administration to Jesse Helms in exchange for him agreeing to let the Chemical Weapons Convention go through the Senate.” 

So … while there are differences in the circumstances during the budget cuts in the 1990’s and the proposed budget cuts in the current and FY18 fiscal years, we are mindful how things can change with the right carrots.

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Hopeless But Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in #Afghanistan (Excerpt)

Posted: 2:24 am ET
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Douglas Wissing previously wrote a book entitled, Funding the Enemy: How US Taxpayers Bankroll the Taliban.  He’s back with a new book, Hopeless but Optimistic: Journeying through America’s Endless War in Afghanistan. Kirkus Review calls it “a scathing dispatch” with “pungent, embittered, eye-opening observations of a conflict involving lessons still unlearned.”

As he gets into Kabul to embed with the military, the author notes “a USAID (United States Agency for International Development) billboard proclaiming women’s rights in English and Dari that few Afghan females can read, because almost 90 percent of them are still illiterate after more than a decade and $100 billion spent on grotesquely mismanaged US aid programs.”

That Ring Road?  Wissing writes, “During his frantic reelection push after the botched Iraq invasion, President George W. Bush decided that refurbishing the Ring Road on a yeehaw schedule in 2003 would show Afghans how things were done the American way. Well, it did. The highway is infamous for its poor construction and extravagant price.”

It’s that kind of book. It reminds us of Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well book on Iraq.

A couple of notes, Chapter 35 titled Embassy includes a nugget about Embassy Kabul refusing to allow the author to meet with SIGAR John Sopko who was also at post, without a minder. Sopko, according to Wissing was furious, demanding a private meeting without embassy handlers but “the diplomats won’t budge.”

Chapter 36 talks about Loss.  A cynical USAID financial officer earlier told the author that “given the amount of money the United States was pushing on the Afghan insiders who were “bankers,” he didn’t blame them for stealing it.” This is in relation to the Bank of Kabul scandal that involved an almost $900 million Ponzi scheme of fraudulent loans. The chapter also talks about Anne Smedinghoff and four other Americans, including three soldiers and an interpreter lost during a suicide attack in Qalat. The author previously meet Smedinghoff during a visit to the embassy compound in Kabul where the latter acted as his minder, assigned to escort him for an interview with a Justice Department official who was working the Afghan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC).

The author told us that he find audiences in the U.S. are often surprised to learn that Afghanistan remains our largest foreign military engagement–$44 billion requested for FY 2017 (vs $5 billion for Syria) “to add to the trillion dollars already wasted.” He also notes that around 10,000 US troops are still there, along with up to 26,000 defense contractors.

We’re posting an excerpt of the book courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

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Tillerson Visits Turkey, Gets Complaints Here, and There

Posted: 12:48 am ET
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Below is the transcript of Secretary Tillerson’s ‘meet and greet’ remarks at US Mission Turkey, his first one since his appointment as secretary of state. No photos of the embassy ‘meet and greet’ available so far.

Thank you, thank you. And it is, indeed, a pleasure to be in Ankara and to have the opportunity to visit the embassy here and get a chance to speak to all of you. And what a great way to be greeted, with a great-looking bunch of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and I’m well familiar with both of those organizations and a lifelong scouter myself, and I want to express my appreciation to the adult leadership that it takes to make those opportunities available to these young people. And to the parents that support them as they move down that advancement pathway to earn their way to higher achievement, I’d like to thank all of you as well.

This – and I don’t have to tell you how important this particular mission is to us in terms of its strategic value, its place in the region, but certainly the complexities of what we’re dealing with as a nation and as a world with what’s happening just on the borders here to the south of Turkey. I know it’s a high-stress posting, I know it’s been a difficult couple of years for everyone in terms of status changes in this mission, as well as the other three locations. And so we appreciate your dedication and your commitment throughout all of that, staying the course, keeping up and out in front of you what you know is important, and what’s very important to our nation back home. So I thank all of you for your commitment throughout that period of time.

I also want to talk about three values that I’ve been trying to talk everywhere I go within the State Department. I expressed these on day one when I made my first-day appearance at the Department, and that’s that I have three key values that I think will be useful to all of us as we go about our daily work in terms of how we interact with each other and in terms of how we interact externally as well.

And the first of those is accountability, that I think it’s really important with the work we do, because it is so vital and important that as we produce that work, we’re holding ourselves accountable to the results, and that’s the only way we can hold our partners accountable. We intend to hold other nations accountable in our alliances for commitments they’ve made, but that starts with us holding ourselves accountable, first as individuals, then collectively as an organization. So we ask that everyone really devote themselves to that, recognize that we’re not going to be right all the time. We may make some mistakes and that’s okay. We hold ourselves accountable to those and we’ll learn from those and we’ll move forward, but that it’s important that we always own what we do – that it’s ours and we’re proud to own it.

The second value I’m talking a lot about is honesty. That starts with being honest with each other, first in terms of our concerns, in terms of our differences, and we invite and want to hear about those. That’s how we come to a better decision in all that we do. And only if we do that can we then be honest with all of our partners and allies around the world as well. And still, I mean, we’re going to have our differences, but we’re going to be very honest and open about those, so at least we understand them.

And then lastly is just treating everyone with respect. I know each of us wants to be treated with respect. You earn that by treating others with respect. And again, regardless of someone’s stature in the organization or regardless of what their work assignment may be, or regardless of how they may want to express their view, at all times we’re going to treat each other with respect. And in doing that, you’ll earn the respect of others. So we ask that everyone devote themselves to accountability, honesty, and respect.

And starting with the scout promises and laws, that’s not a bad place either. If you haven’t looked at those, you ought to take a look at them. They’re a pretty good playbook for life, I can tell you that. They’ve been a great playbook in my life throughout all of my professional career prior to coming to this position, and they continue to guide me every day in terms of how I want to hold myself accountable is against those principles.

So again, I appreciate what all of you are doing on behalf of the State Department, in particular what you’re doing on behalf of our country, both those of you that are here on posting as well as those of you who are part of our national workforce as well. So I thank all of you for your dedication and commitment. I appreciate you coming out today. It is a rather nice, beautiful day, so I knew I’d come out too. (Laughter.) But again, thank you all for what you’re doing. It’s just a real delight to see you. Thank you. (Applause.)

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