Senators in Search of a Foreign Policy

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Thoka Maer

The range of problems facing the United States abroad is daunting: a volatile Middle East, an unpredictable, mischievous Russia, a truly menacing North Korea. To say nothing of destabilizing global challenges like the mass migration of desperate refugees, and climate change. President Trump’s “America First” approach, which calls for disengagement from old alliances and responsibilities, is a dodge, not an answer. What’s needed is a robust foreign policy led by a reinvigorated State Department that right now is suffering from presidential neglect, poor leadership and an absence of professional firepower in pivotal positions.

Two people who understand the urgency of helping the department recover from the damages inflicted by Mr. Trump are Senators Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont. Leading members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, they have sought to rally their colleagues around a bipartisan spending bill for 2018 that would strengthen the department and replenish important foreign aid programs.

Last week, the two won unanimous committee approval for a $51 billion bill for the State Department and foreign aid, about $11 billion more than the administration requested. While the total is less than what Congress allocated for 2017, and less than necessary given the international challenges, it’s nowhere near the 30 percent cut that Mr. Trump; his budget chief, Mick Mulvaney; and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had absurdly insisted was imperative.

As interesting as the bipartisan vote was the Republican-led committee’s report, which pulled no punches in blistering Mr. Trump and his aides for proposing a budget in May that amounted to an “apparent doctrine of retreat” from the world. “The lessons learned since September 11, 2001, include the reality that defense alone does not provide for American strength and resolve abroad,” the report said. “Battlefield technology and firepower cannot replace diplomacy and development.”

That argument strikes at the heart of Mr. Trump’s approach, which favors warlike rhetoric and a reliance on the Pentagon as the primary levers of American power, while negotiation and diplomacy are given short shrift. At more than $600 billion annually, the military budget accounts for almost 19 percent of the federal budget, and Mr. Trump would…

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