The Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 State Department budget proposal irresponsibly cuts diplomacy and diplomatic security in a way that could cause “a lot of Benghazis,” according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C), chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee on the State Department and foreign operations. He promised that Congress would reject the cuts.
“If we implemented this budget, we’d have to retreat from the world and put a lot of people at risk,” Graham said on the day the Trump administration is releasing its detailed budget proposal for next year. “A lot of Benghazis in the making if we actually implemented the State Department cuts.”
Overall, the Trump administration is proposing to cut the budget for the State Department and USAID, from the $54.9 billion estimated total in fiscal 2017 to $37.6 billion in fiscal 2018 — a reduction of $17.3 billion, or 31 percent. Not counting emergency funding, known as Overseas Contingency Operations funding, the Trump budget would cut the State Department and USAID by 29 percent.
“A 29 percent cut means you really have to withdraw from the world because your presence is compromised,” Graham said. “That may be the goal of this budget. It’s not my goal. This guts soft power as we know it.”
Cuts in State Department funding, especially in the area of diplomatic security, were often cited by Democrats in attempts to cast blame on Republican lawmakers for the lack of more robust security at the Benghazi diplomatic outpost that was attacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2012. In reality, a mixture of bureaucratic and management failures led to the vulnerability at the site.
Regardless, the Trump administration’s new budget proposal would cut the overall Worldwide Security Protection budget by $562 million, or 13 percent, compared with the estimated budget for fiscal 2017. The vast majority of those cuts would come from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) part of the budget, which covers war zones including Iraq and Afghanistan and also diplomatic security for other “high-threat, high-risk” posts.
The budget for worldwide security upgrades would be cut by $1.7 billion, or 60 percent, in fiscal 2018, if the Trump budget were enacted. The State Department’s budget justification document says that cuts next year in overseas security won’t have a drastic effect in fiscal 2018 because of money left over from the supplemental appropriations passed by Congress for fiscal 2017.
“Those supplemental resources will be instrumental to maintaining security operations in FY 2018,” the document reads. “However, the increasing percentage of recurring [diplomatic security] operations at overseas facilities funded through OCO may present future year challenges as OCO funding is significantly reduced.”
Trump’s State Department budget also would drastically cut funding for U.S. contributions to international organizations, contributions to international peacekeeping efforts, bilateral economic assistance, international narcotics control, global health programs, nuclear nonproliferation programs, foreign military financing and nongovernmental organizations such as the Asia Foundation and the East-West Center.
Asked whether the Republicans are united in their intention to push back against these cuts, Graham said: “I think enough of us are.”
For his part, Ben Cardin (Md.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed Graham’s concerns in a statement Tuesday. “Luckily, the majority of Members of Congress know this budget is dead on arrival,” he said. “I look forward to working with my like-minded Republican colleagues to make sure nothing remotely close to this budget is enacted.”