A strong military is vital to the United States, but President Donald Trump’s budget seeks to limit other tools that keep America safe. (JUNG YEON-JE / AFP/Getty Images)
In a global era dominated by soft power, Donald Trump is declaring unilateral disarmament.
The United States needs two arms abroad — a strong military, to fight wars, and an equally strong diplomatic force, to keep those wars from happening. Trump’s proposed budget, ballooning military spending while slashing the State Department’s budget by nearly one-third, sends this country into a dangerous world with one of those two arms tied behind its back.
The State Department cuts are just a starter. The Trump budget also would cut spending on science, the arts, foreign aid, education — all the components of so-called "soft power" that have given this country not only strength but unprecedented influence and magnetism.
To be sure, a strong military is vital. All this diplomacy and soft power is backed by the world’s mightiest military. We already spend more on defense than the next seven nations combined, including all plausible enemies.
Most of the time, this military power is not needed. Instead, it lurks off-shore and out of sight, while diplomacy and the other arms of soft power operate on the front lines.
After all, it’s been more than 70 years since the U.S. won a shooting war. In that time, it won the Cold War with barely a shot fired and, since World War II, has overseen seven decades of the longest era of peace and prosperity in world history.
Diplomats had a lot to do with this, by doing what diplomats do — defusing crises, negotiating arms control agreements, making trade and investment deals and, in general, working daily to protect American interests wherever they may be, which is everywhere.
They had help, much of it also subject to Trump’s proposed budgetary ax. American education, public as well as private, draws in the world’s best students and thinkers and then sends them back, creating a diaspora of pro-American scholars around the world. Exchange programs do the same. Trump wants to cut funding for the United Nations which, for all its faults, does a lot around the world that the U.S. would otherwise have to do on its own — peacekeeping, fighting epidemics, working to alleviate poverty and the unrest that poverty creates.
And then there’s culture, which may be our most valuable export. During the Cold War, the best-known American around the world after the president was a disc jockey named Willis Conover, whose jazz program on Voice of America amounted to a nightly counterattack on Moscow’s anti-American propaganda.
The military makes us feared. The soft power makes us respected. It’s a potent one-two punch.
Not much of this — especially the diplomacy — is glamorous or dramatic, or often very satisfying. None of it produces instant gratification. A diplomatic cliche holds that a successful negotiation produces less than we want but more than we expected.
But it works. It’s still working. For all of Trump’s blathering about making America great again, this nation remains incomparably No. 1 in the world at large. China wants to be the richest nation, but we’re still richer. Much of Vladimir Putin’s petulance stems from his desire to have Washington take him seriously. Boat people and wall climbers still risk their lives to get into the United States, not Russia or China. We can’t snap our fingers and command results, but nothing much happens in the world without us.
And now Trump wants to throw this away. At a time when China is investing billions to win influence in Africa and Putin is manipulating information to sway Europe, the Trump administration wants to disarm itself. As journalist Fareed Zakaria wrote recently, Trump’s "vision for disengagement from the world is a godsend for China" and "a handover of power from the United States to China."
The big global problems of the future need soft power, not military power. These include measures to combat climate change, which Trump also wants to defund. They include immigration, which is much too complicated to be solved by a wall. They include global health issues, including pandemics — and Trump wants to cut back the National Institutes of Health. They include increased spending on science and technology, to enable America to thrive in the global economy.
None of these problems will respond to aircraft carriers. None will attract the global funding and the global talent that the country so desperately needs. As former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara said, "brains, like hearts, go where they are appreciated." Trump’s budget is a Dear John letter to the world’s best minds.
Mostly, solutions to all these problems will require day-by-day cooperation and negotiations with other governments. In short, they will require diplomats, backed by the institutional heft of the State Department and all the weapons — hard and soft — that this nation can muster. If Trump has his way, the American diplomatic arsenal of the future will be too empty to do the job.
Richard C. Longworth is a distinguished fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
This article was sourced from http://mathnews.net