Dear candidates, don't cut foreign aid
November 22nd, 2011
04:00 AM ET

Dear candidates, don't cut foreign aid

By General Michael Hagee, USMC (Ret.) and Admiral James Loy, USCG (Ret.), Special to CNN

EDITOR'S NOTE: General Michael W. Hagee, USMC (Ret.), was the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps from 2003 to 2006, and Admiral James M. Loy, USCG (Ret.), was the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard from 1998 to 2002, and Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security from 2003 to 2005. They are co-chairs of the National Security Advisory Council of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

The next Commander in Chief will face a complex and difficult set of global challenges.  Recently, many candidates for president have spoken of the need to listen to the advice of military leaders on national security, and we appreciate the respect shown to our men and women in uniform.  As former Commandants of the U.S. Marine Corps and Coast Guard, we believe our nation needs a smart power approach to national security that embraces a strategic investment in our foreign assistance programs.

When both of us entered uniformed service more than 40 years ago, the primary threats to America’s security were nation states with advanced militaries.  Today, our country faces a different array of threats and potential adversaries – from rising powers and rogue nations to terrorist and militia groups that thrive in environments of deprivation and stunted development.

That is why it is so critical for this country, in addition to maintaining a strong military, to strengthen effective diplomacy and international development programs that address complex threats in the most dangerous corners of the world.  From global pandemics and infectious disease, to instability caused by food shortages, natural disasters and sectarian strife, we can prevent crises before they require costly and controversial military intervention with effective foreign assistance.

For example, the wave of political change sweeping over North Africa and the Middle East – a region in which the U.S. military has been engaged, at great costs, for decades – presents great promise, but risks as well, should instability and deprivation empower extremist and violent elements within those societies.  By providing smart, effective assistance with governance and development, we can help the people of the Arab world build a better way of life, instead of allowing their countries to become breeding grounds for those who would do us harm.

And if armed intervention cannot be avoided, civilian capabilities are indispensable to the ultimate success of the military mission.  Indeed, one of the most important lessons learned again in Iraq and Afghanistan is that normal military operations – defeating an enemy army or providing area security – is only the first step.  In fact, when U.S. commanders at every level were asked what they needed most to be successful in their area of responsibility, the answer was often more civilian experts in agriculture, sanitation, governance, development, local culture or politics.

Our military has fought hard to set the conditions for success in Afghanistan as well as Iraq.  Now, with our troops leaving Iraq and preparing to drawdown in Afghanistan, the responsibility will shift to civilian efforts led by our diplomats and development experts.  Whatever your view of these wars, after so much American blood and treasure has been expended, it would be a travesty to skimp on the relatively modest expenditures in political reform and economic development required to assist these countries through to a stable and decent future – a future where they provide for their own security, do not pose a threat to us or to others, and become a contributing member of the global community.

For these and other reasons, more than 100 former three- and four-star generals and admirals have voiced their support for a strong and effective foreign assistance as an indispensable tool of national defense.  A recent poll showed that more than 90 percent of active duty and retired military officers agreed the tools of diplomacy and development are critical to achieving U.S. national security objectives.

Candidates running for office often say they will listen to the advice of military commanders on consequential national security decisions.  For the sake of our country and our leadership in the world, we hope this is a promise they intend to keep by taking a smart power approach to our engagement in the world.

Filed under: Afghanistan • Analysis • Arab Spring • Diplomacy • Foreign Aid • Foreign Policy • Middle East • Military • Opinion
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Robert j Lopez

    Stop all aid that goes to other country's tell are country is fixed please..

    November 25, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Reply
  2. rafael

    What a load of bull!! foreign aid is exaxctly what should be cut first. Spend that money here, fixing the economy. Get americans working again. Doesn't make sense to give away all that money, when we are suffering here

    November 22, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Reply
  3. D3C0D3

    Dear candidates, don't cut foreign aid stop it all together. Borrowing money from China to give it away to other countries is insane. We are laying off teachers closing schools here and building them in other countries. We are broke but are still giving money away? This is like being behind on you rent and buying a friend a big screen TV. You get it now? How about this 0 – 1,000,000,000= negative 1,000,000,000 see how that works? Quit being stupid.

    November 22, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Reply
  4. John Doe

    Foreign Aid? Really? That would only be feasible if:
    1. We could trust that it wouldn't magically disappear into the corrupt politicians hands
    2. We could trust that it wouldn't magically disappear into the hands of terrorists
    3. If these countries receiving our aid were actually our friends instead of wolves in sheep clothing
    4. It would actually make a difference

    This whole middle east is a region that doesn't want to modernize, doesn't want to make friends with foreigners, and doesn't want to be political partners with us. They want to keep their desert wasteland stuck in the dark ages. I say good for them. We should not have anything to do with them. That money should be spent on our true friends that would be there to help us in time of need. Does anyone really think that if something bad happened in the US that Pakistan (or any of the -stan) countries would come to our aid with anything more than a token gesture? Humans are confrontation and there will never be this global utopia of peace, accept it. The only thing you can do is try and contain conflict from spilling over and creating another WW.

    November 22, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Reply

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