The Post reported on an off-the-record briefing session hosted by the American Enterprise Institute in which former vice president Richard B. Cheney confronted Vice President Pence:
Cheney expressed alarm over news reports that Trump “supposedly doesn’t spend that much time with the intel people, or doesn’t agree with them, frequently,” as well as the high staff turnover rate at the intelligence agencies.
The former vice president then turned his attention to the situation in North Korea. He worried about Trump’s decision to cancel the decades-long U.S. military exercises with South Korea and referenced a recent Bloomberg News report about the president’s directive “to pursue a policy that would insist that the Germans, the Japanese, and the South Koreans pay total cost for our deployments there, plus 50 percent on top of that.” . . . The resulting impression, at least publicly, Cheney warned, is that “the decision gets made overnight or it gets made oftentimes without consulting anybody else — that he’s out there doing his thing.”
Well, good for him. You don’t have to be a Cheney fan in the least to realize he is articulating not some wacky adventurism but the most basic foreign policy principles. (It’s also reassuring that he thinks the media accurately portrays what is going on.)
These are policy disasters caused by a willfully ignorant, erratic president. What is stunning and disappointing is that none of the self-proclaimed hawks in office who vilified President Barack Obama for far less egregious errors — e.g., Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) — have the nerve to say anything about the chaos that now characterizes our foreign policy. They seem to think that throwing money at the Pentagon makes up for all the inane presidential missteps and the long-term damage to our diplomatic capacity. It doesn’t. Anyone who wants to have future credibility in foreign policy should be sounding the alarm now. And, frankly, Republicans who support Trump’s renomination are casting their lot with arguably the most inept foreign policy in history.
That’s not the only problem. There are also self-inflicted wounds on the operational/administrative side. Consider the huge cuts to the State Department that seem designed to hobble American foreign policy to the detriment of no one but the United States. (We went through this exercise once with former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, whose reorganization and massive budget cuts went nowhere.) “These [cuts] will leave the United States weaker and less competitive globally,” observes Thomas Wright from the Brookings Institution.
Foreign Policy magazine reported that the cuts suggest Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s promised “swagger” was empty:
By defending the budget, Pompeo is demonstrating that “he is prepared to enfeeble his own department in the face of congressional opposition,” Eric Schwartz, the president of Refugees International, told Foreign Policy.
The proposal drew fierce backlash from Democratic lawmakers and some foreign-policy experts, as well as a cadre of former top military commanders who argue continued cuts to diplomacy and foreign aid harm U.S. national security.
Retired Adm. James Stavridis observed in an NPR interview Tuesday, “So when you spend money on defense, on military solutions, it’s like surgery. It’s painful. It’s high-risk. Things go wrong. When you spend money on diplomacy, with our wonderful Foreign Service officers, it’s kind of like going to the clinic and using a variety of different drugs and physical therapy. And when you think about development and soft power, it’s preventative medicine.” He continued, “Secretary of Defense Robert Gates famously said, look, we have more people on a single aircraft carrier — and we have 12 of those . . . than we do in the entire Foreign Service. And another one is former secretary of defense Jim Mattis, who said, you can spend a lot more money on the military, but if you’re not going to spend it on our diplomats and development, you’re just going to have to buy me more ammunition.” The notion of cutting the State Department to the bone while shoveling money into the Pentagon in excess of what was requested and with little strategic purpose is nonsensical.
As Stavridis noted, “[T]he most important ships that I deployed to Latin America and the Caribbean were not aircraft carriers, they were hospital ships. They conducted hundreds of thousands of patient treatments all over Central America, the Caribbean, South America. And I, without question, will tell you the impact, long-term, on U.S. security in that region was much, much higher.”
And while Trump is slashing the State Department’s budget, he’s closing immigration offices overseas and dumping the work on the State Department. “The administration just asked Congress to cut the State Department’s budget by 24 percent and now it wants to put even more on its plate,” Max Bergmann of Center for American Progress tells me. “Closing 21 offices and shifting the burden to an underfunded and understaffed State Department will slow down critical consular services run out of U.S. embassies abroad, putting Americans in greater jeopardy . . . Making the U.S. a less welcoming place to visit and do business fundamentally weakens America. This is literally America retreating from the world under the thin excuse of saving money.”
Fortunately, Trump’s budget is dead on arrival. However, the waste of time, money and effort in compiling this mess of a budget, plus the effect on morale and planning for the State Department, reflects a complete failure of executive leadership.
If Democrats are smart, they’ll conduct wide-ranging hearings on the sorry state of our foreign policy operation, and Democratic presidential candidates will run as the sort of informed, competent and engaged chief executive we need to defend American history. Trump’s rule by whim and Twitter is a disaster waiting to happen.