We will honor our fallen troops and renew our appreciation of them today on Memorial Day. And well we should. They have given their labor, their commitment and their lives for our country.
But we might better honor them by figuring out how to reduce the number of troops we have in the future. Fifty retired generals and admirals from all the armed services and eight former secretaries of state from both parties are urging Congress not to cut funding for the international affairs budget, which includes diplomatic and developmental programs crucial to alleviating the conditions that cause war and that cause us to send Americans into battle and danger.
President Barack Obama has requested $58.5 billion to fund our entire international affairs budget. Yet our military costs run more than $760 billion. The Senate Budget Committee voted to cut $4 billion from the international affairs budget, cuts that could affect crucial programs in basic education, in health and prevention of AIDS, and in economic aid that helps lift people out of poverty. Volumes of research and decades of modern U.S. diplomacy show that as education increases and poverty decreases, the likelihood of terrorism decreases as well.
The budget committee's $4 billion cut is misguided and imprudent. The programs that will be cut are those that make a huge difference.
The eight former secretaries of state wrote to Congress, "Increasing the investment in our civilian international capabilities will keep America safer by, among other things, addressing the root causes of terrorism and extremism, supporting key allies, and demonstrating America's proud tradition of global leadership."
And the 50 retired military leaders wrote, "The critical programs in the international affairs budget invest in the non-military tools for development and diplomacy, foster economic and political stability on a global scale, strengthen our allies, and fight the spread of poverty, disease, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction."
And finally, listen to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has stated that "America's civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long — relative to what we traditionally spend on the military, and more important, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world." Gates and other military leaders believe, as I do, that our national security is dependent not only on a strong military force but also on increased investments in the full range of diplomatic, development and humanitarian tools funded through the international affairs budget.
I know that many people think that foreign aid and diplomacy represent a large part of our expenses, but it is only about 1.4 percent of the budget. And it is money well spent that will save us big money in the future as we are able to avoid situations similar to those in Afghanistan, Iraq and other hot spots. I ask Congress to truly support our troops by listening to the wisdom of experienced military and diplomatic leaders and restoring important money to the president's budget that will save our forces' lives as well as the lives of others around the world. That's my Memorial Day tribute to our troops.
Ken Schatz is a writer who lives in Tampa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.