Murphy confronts Trump's isolationism, calls for boosting foreign aid
Earlier this month Connecticut’s junior senator, Chris Murphy, addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, argued that President Trump’s foreign policy proposals would take the nation in the opposition direction of where it needs to go.
Whereas Trump, in keeping with his “America First” agenda, would slash funding for the State Department and for foreign aid, Connecticut’s Democratic senator argued for boosting spending on diplomacy and assistance programs.
“President Trump’s medieval view of the world, in which the U.S. can protect itself with a big army and a bigger moat, is wrong and dangerous,” said Murphy in his April 10 address.
The speech, “Rethinking the Battlefield,” and an accompanying report, were further evidence that Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is burnishing his image as a player on the national political stage.
Trump’s budget proposal calls for a 28 percent spending reduction for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, with USAID, which provides food, health and other humanitarian assistance, hit particularly hard.
As Murphy noted, military and intelligence spending already outpaces the State Department and USAID by a 20-to-1 margin. “We have more people working at military grocery stores than we have diplomats in the State Department,” Murphy observed.
Yet calls for cuts in spending on foreign policy and international assistance are politically popular, a reality Trump seized upon in his campaign. With so many needs at home, why spend our treasure elsewhere? So goes the thinking of many.
Our competitors, said Murphy, recognize that international assistance pays dividends.
“In the global competition for foreign investment, China is lapping us,” Murphy said. “Our budget for public diplomacy is $650 million and their budget for creating economic and political goodwill is $10 billion.”
The senator called for doubling the foreign affairs budget over the next five years. That’s not going to happen in the current political environment, of course. But it puts down a marker where Murphy thinks the Democrats should stand in opposition to isolationism. It’s a tough sell, politically, but the wiser policy approach.
If U.S. assistance can prevent fewer countries from becoming unstable, either due to weather, natural disaster, health problems, or economic disruption (and often a combination of factors), that will mean fewer ungovernable places for threats to our national security to grow, be they terrorist organizations or untreatable viruses, said Murphy.
“As political instability grows all over the world — a record number of displaced persons; four current famines — states break down and extremist groups step into the vacuum,” he told his audience. “The emerging threats to global stability exert influence that cannot be checked with military power alone.”
Slashing foreign aid and diplomacy increases the chances that our military will be called on to fight in foreign lands or that a deadly virus will confront the U.S. population, rather than being dealt with at the source.
At the time of the Marshall Plan — which rebuilt Europe and set the stage for peace and prosperity there that has lasted 70 years — the United States was devoting 2 percent of GDP to international assistance. The investment is now 0.1 percent of GDP.
Murphy called for a wiser use of foreign aid, including an emphasis on energy assistance, attacking corruption, reducing red tape attached to economic development initiatives, and adding flexibility so that a president can quickly redirect money and aid where most critically needed.
The senator is making a name for himself. With these policy proposals, he is on the right side of history.
Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.