Support on the Right

September 29, 2011 By Joel Paque

In today’s highly fraught political climate, it is easy to assume that all issues are black and white—especially when it comes to government spending. Every federal dollar is coming under increasing scrutiny, and one area facing some tough cuts right now on Capitol Hill is foreign assistance.  However, there exists a long tradition recognizing how essential our engagement and leadership in the world is to our national security.  And now there are several new politicians with conservative bona fides who are speaking up in favor of U.S. engagement through our diplomatic and development programs.

Just this week in a speech at the Reagan Library, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spoke about the importance of American exceptionalism—in between dodging questions of whether or not he would run for President.  Governor Christie described why it is important for the U.S. to be investing in all of our tools for national security, saying, “We must be prepared to lead. This takes resources—resources for defense, for intelligence, for homeland security, for diplomacy. The United States will only be able to sustain a leadership position around the world if the resources are there.”

Governor Christie isn’t alone in his beliefs.  Senator Marco Rubio, another rising star in the Republican party, spoke earlier this month at the Jesse Helms Center and focused on the role of assistance programs in continuing America’s leadership.  He said, “Foreign aid is also an important part of America’s foreign policy leadership.  While we certainly must be careful spending money on foreign aid, the reality is that it is a miniscule portion of our overall budget, and is not the reason we have a growing debt problem.  If it is done right, and when done in partnership with the private sector and faith-based community, foreign aid spreads America’s influence around the world in a positive way.”

Senator Lindsey Graham has also endorsed the idea that our national security depends on a smart power approach in comments he made last Spring regarding the importance of funding the International Affairs Budget, “The account we’re talking about can make the difference between a safe America or an at-risk America… if you don’t see it as a national security tool, then I think that we are missing the mark as a nation.”

But threats to cut the budget will continue on the Hill.  Just two weeks ago Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced an amendment to a spending bill that would have devastated the State Department and USAID budgets, cutting it by a third. The amendment was voted down by a rare bipartisan majority 78-20 in an encouraging sign that members of both parties understand the importance of these programs.

While Congress may have a hard time agreeing on much these days, it’s clear some are looking past the rhetoric and seeing the value in a strong and effective International Affairs Budget. While many issues come down to a difference in political philosophy, the important role our engagement in the world brings to ensuring our national security and continued leadership is clear, and one that transcends today’s sharp political divide.