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“We Can’t Kill Our Way to Victory”

May 9, 2017


The Trump administration may believe that violence and its threat is enough to advance U.S. interests, but few policy experts or military leaders agree. Instead, they argue that an “America first” approach will be more expensive, feed cycles of crisis that allow extremism to thrive, and put U.S. troops in needless danger.

“The State Department, USAID ... and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way,” more than 120 retired generals told Congress in late February. These military leaders echo the bipartisan panel convened by FCNL last year, which concluded that early conflict prevention programs “help forestall open-ended crises that are far more damaging to American interests and power and far costlier to the American taxpayer.”

Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Command in Africa, was even more direct in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. He told senators, “We could knock off all of ISIL and Boko Haram this afternoon, but by the end of the week, those ranks would be filled. Many people, especially those in uniform, have said we can’t kill our way to victory here.”

We need more tools in our foreign policy toolbox, not fewer.

Yet the Trump administration’s budget proposal seeks to do just that. And Pentagon budget increases are likely to come at the expense of the very programs with proven effectiveness to prevent violence and build peace. At a time when the U.S. is facing multiple foreign policy crises, the U.S. should increase investment in the cost-effective programs that promote diplomacy, development, and international cooperation. We need more tools in our foreign policy toolbox, not fewer.

President Trump’s budget blueprint for 2018 calls for a 29 percent reduction in funding for the State Department and USAID. It specifically eliminates programs that effectively prevent violent conflict, mass atrocities, and genocide. These programs include the Complex Crises Fund, which allows USAID to respond quickly and flexibly to emerging and unforeseen violence; and the U.S. Institute for Peace, which works directly in conflict situations.

In addition, the budget proposes to “reduce or end funding for international organizations whose missions do not substantially advance U.S. foreign policy interests.” U.S. contributions to the United Nations could be cut by half. Those “savings” would enable the Trump administration to make good its promises to increase Pentagon spending.

The savings from eliminating these programs are modest at best. The Complex Crises Fund received $30 million in 2016 — less than one percent of what the U.S. spends each year on construction of a single F-35 fighter jet. The State Department’s 2017 budget is a mere fraction of the Pentagon’s $600 billion annual expenditure. For that investment, however, the U.S. is able to prevent violence before it breaks out and help to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world.

It is up to Congress to protect this essential funding, not give it away to the Pentagon. To achieve peace, we need to strengthen, not weaken our nation’s capacity to build it.

Washington Newsletter Washington Newsletter: Pentagon Spending 

When we blindly hand over our country’s resources to the Pentagon while starving successful programs that care for our neighbors, the earth, and each other, we have lost sight of our priorities as a country. We also deprive our leaders and our country of the necessary tools to avoid war.