“Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value” is a favorite aphorism of President Joseph Biden’s dating to his time as Senator.[i] Anyone looking at the U.S. budget will quickly conclude that the military is the top U.S. priority. Spending on national defense is thirty times greater than spending on poverty-focused development aid,[ii] and U.S. defense spending will increase at least 10% following the Russian invasion[iii]—and the President has outlined his reasoning for that. Reversing Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is rightly the top national security priority for the transatlantic alliance. As President Biden highlighted in his March 26 speech in Poland, however, the battle—his word—is not just military in nature. It is a fight between “democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression, between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force.”[iv]
The United States cannot influence friends or foes remotely and it cannot rely on Zoom calls alone.
As America’s experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq made abundantly clear, supporting democracy requires more than just military power. To achieve the long-term goals President Biden articulated, the United States must draw on all instruments of statecraft, including economic and development assistance, and public diplomacy. It is therefore heartening that the administration’s budget proposal for 2023 increases State Department funding by 18 percent.[v] As Woody Allen famously said, “eighty percent of success is showing up.”[vi] The United States cannot influence friends or foes remotely and it cannot rely on Zoom calls alone to promote its interests.
There is simply no substitute for diplomats engaging in person and on the ground. Fortunately, U.S. diplomats returned to Ukraine on May 8.[vii] Separate visits to Ukraine that same day (May 8) by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. First Lady Jill Biden, and musician/humanitarian activist Bono[viii] also highlight the importance of person-to-person contact. The Biden administration’s commitment to reinvigorating the Foreign Service, backed by congressional funding, will help restore U.S. diplomatic capacity, which was so willfully eroded during the Trump administration. As Secretary Blinken noted in his recent testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the State Department is now “on track for its largest annual intake in a decade.”[ix] Only with a robust diplomatic presence abroad can the United States promote its interests.
While the administration’s proposal to allocate $2.9 billion on democracy, human rights, and governance programming[x] pales by comparison to the Defense Department budget, it is a step in the right direction. On the other hand, the request for educational and cultural exchanges (which fund programs that have brought over 500 current or former chiefs of state or heads of government to the United States[xi]) remains essentially flat[xii] and does not even keep pace with inflation.
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The United States relies too much on security assistance to gain influence.
Arms sales do not guarantee strategic alignment. Russia’s invasion is a trenchant reminder that the United States relies too much on security assistance to gain influence. Long-standing friends and partners in the Middle East have, in effect, shrugged their shoulders and ignored the Russian aggression. Notwithstanding the security umbrella the United States provides Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (which includes billions of dollars of advanced weaponry sales), a Washington Post columnist recently commented that those nations are actively undermining U.S. efforts to thwart Russia.[xiii] Egypt (which has received over $50 billion in U.S. security assistance since 1978[xiv]) and Israel (which has received over $100 billion since 1946[xv]) have also been reluctant to antagonize Russia.[xvi] [xvii]
As Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. embassy in Egypt, I was in the audience at the American University of Cairo on June 20, 2005, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice observed that “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East–and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course.”[xviii] Secretary Rice was right in 2005 and her words ring even truer today.
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Military strength and sensible security assistance programs are essential elements of statecraft–but a robust diplomatic corps and fully funded development and cultural programs are also crucial.
Marie Yovanovitch (the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine until 2019) hit the nail on the head in the conclusion to her memoir. She wrote “To be clear, we need both military might and cultural diplomacy. We were willing to spend billions to develop the F-35 fighter jet; why not fully fund our exchanges with mere millions?”[xix] U.S. policymakers need to bear in mind her question and plan accordingly. As Ambassador Yovanovitch’s memoir makes clear, military strength and sensible security assistance programs are essential elements of statecraft–but a robust diplomatic corps and fully funded development and cultural programs are also crucial and complementary ingredients for U.S. global leadership.
[i] Senator Biden’s September 15, 2008 remarks, accessed on May 4, 2022: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/15/us/politics/15text-biden.html;
President Biden’s March 26, 2022 remarks, cited above.
[ii] “Foreign Aid 101,” Oxfam America, October 29, 2021, page 7, accessed on May 4, 2022: https://webassets.oxfamamerica.org/media/documents/Foreign_Aid_101_5th_Edition_Revised_for_Posting.pdf?_gl=1*1p5x6uw*_ga*MTA5MDUzNjExNS4xNjUxNjk2NjU4*_ga_R58YETD6XK*MTY1MTY5NjY1Ny4xLjEuMTY1MTY5NjkzMC42.
[iii] “Four Takeaways from President Biden’s Budget Proposal,” Rachel Siegel and Alyssa Fowers, The Washington Post, March 28, 2022, accessed on May 4, 2022: https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2022/03/28/biden-budget-takeaways/
[iv] President Biden’s March 26, 2022 remarks, accessed on May 4, 2022: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2022/03/26/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-united-efforts-of-the-free-world-to-support-the-people-of-ukraine/.
[v] Siegel and Fowers, op. cit.
[vii] “U.S. diplomats Return to Kyiv embassy on First Visit since Invasion,” Simon Lewis, Reuters, May 8, 2022, accessed on May 15, 2022: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/us-diplomats-return-embassy-kyiv-state-dept-official-2022-05-08/.
[viii] “First lady Jill Biden Visits Ukraine in Rare Trip to War Zone,” Tyler Pager and Matt Viser, The Washington Post, May 8, 2022, accessed on May 9, 2022: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/05/08/jill-biden-ukraine/.
[ix] “Opening Remarks by Secretary Antony J. Blinken Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” April 26, 2022, accessed on May 6, 2022: https://www.state.gov/opening-remarks-by-secretary-antony-j-blinken-before-the-senate-foreign-relations-committee-2/.
[x] “USAID Budget Fact Sheet,” undated, accessed on May 6, 2022: https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/USAID_FY_2023_BudgetRequest_FactSheet.pdf.
[xi] “International Visitor Leadership Program,” accessed on May 6, 2022: https://exchanges.state.gov/non-us/program/international-visitor-leadership-program-ivlp.
[xii] “Congressional Budget Justification, Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, Fiscal Year 2023” undated, accessed on May 6, 2022: https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/FY-2023-Congressional-Budget-Justification_Final_03282022.pdf.
[xiii] “America’s Gulf ‘Allies’ are now Putin’s Enablers,” Josh Rogin, The Washington Post, May 5, 2022, accessed on May 9, 2022: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/05/saudi-arabia-uae-helping-putin-hurting-us-biden-allies-gulf-russia/.
[xiv] “U.S. Relations with Egypt,” U.S. Department of State, April 29, 2022, accessed on May 9, 2022: https://www.state.gov/u-s-relations-with-egypt/.
[xv] “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” Congressional Research Service, Updated February 18, 2022, accessed on May 9, 2022: https://sgp.fas.org/crs/mideast/RL33222.pdf.
[xvi] “Russia’s War on Ukraine: Egypt’s Limited Room for Maneuver,” Khalil Al-Anani, Arab Center, April 6, 2022, accessed on May 9, 2022: https://arabcenterdc.org/resource/russias-war-on-ukraine-egypts-limited-room-for-maneuver/.
[xvii] “Why Israel Has Been Slow to Support Ukraine,” Elliott Abrams and Gideon Weiss, Council on Foreign Relations, April 8, 2022, accessed on May 9, 2022: https://www.cfr.org/article/why-israel-has-been-slow-support-ukraine.
[xviii] “Remarks at the American University in Cairo,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, June 20, 2005, accessed on May 9, 2022: https://2001-2009.state.gov/secretary/rm/2005/48328.htm.
[xix] Lessons from the Edge: A Memoir, Marie Yovanovitch, Mariner Books (2022), page 359.