Politics

Senate Appropriators Reject Trump Administration’s ‘Apparent Doctrine of Retreat’

Unusually blunt committee report rebukes State Department, OMB

Sen. Lindsey Graham is chairman of the State-Foreign Operations subcommittee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Senate appropriators are rejecting the Trump administration’s foreign policy, blasting what they call an “apparent doctrine of retreat.”

Appropriations Committee reports are not usually must-reads, but the report to accompany the next fiscal year’s State-Foreign Operations spending package might be the exception. The bill and report go beyond just dismissing the budget request.

“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.”

The most biting commentary came in the introduction to the report, saying that the purported “message of strength and resolve in President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget request, “is not reflected in the International Affairs budget request.”

“The administration’s apparent doctrine of retreat, which also includes distancing the United States from collective and multilateral dispute resolution frameworks, serves only to weaken America’s standing in the world,” the committee said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s vote to send the bill and committee report to the floor Thursday was 31-0, meaning the effort to spend just short of $51.4 billion — almost $14 billion more than what the Trump administration requested — had the backing of a broad swath of senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

The subcommittee is currently led by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and it certainly strikes the rhetorical tone of its chairman.

In the report, the Appropriations Committee blasted the budget request for an apparent lack of due diligence in its drafting by members of the Trump administration.

“The Office of Management and Budget arbitrarily set the topline funding level for the International Affairs budget without input from the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Security Council, or any other national security agency,” the committee report said. “This forced the Department of State and USAID to randomly establish country and program-level allocations that lacked any justification.”

The report details myriad concerns about personnel and prioritization, including the effect of a hiring freeze on potential staff needs related to a renovation of the U.S. Embassy Compound in Moscow. And that’s certainly not the only reference to Russia.

“Key allies and countries of strategic importance were demoted or abandoned [in the request],” the committee wrote. “For example, assistance for Georgia, a repeated target of Russian aggression, is cut by 75 percent, and aid for Sri Lanka, strategically positioned along key shipping lanes and emerging from decades of conflict, is cut by 91 percent.”

With Congress agreeing on a continuing resolution to keep the government running through Sept. 8, any potential standoff between the Trump administration and Russia hawks on the Appropriations Committee will wait until later in the year, perhaps during negotiations on a catch-all omnibus bill.

But Graham, Leahy and their colleagues certainly fired a warning shot in the committee report released Friday.

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