What Did We Learn This Week From Trump’s National Security Team?

January 13, 2017 By John Glenn

This week’s confirmation hearings gave a first glimpse into the views of the new Administration’s nominees on the foreign policy challenges we face today and on strategic investments in diplomacy and development. They also showcased strong bipartisan support in Congress for the International Affairs Budget.

Secretary of State

Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) opened Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson’s hearings with the Senate Foreign Operations Subcommittee, saying that the International Affairs Budget at “one percent of the U.S. budget” makes the military “much less likely to be in harm’s way.” Half of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked questions about global development: Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), as well as Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

Budget resources: Rex Tillerson said he recognized “the importance of ensuring the resources are available to advance our foreign policy and diplomacy goals,” and quoted General Mattis’ observation — “if you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition” — to the subcommittee.

U.S. development programs: Tillerson called USAID “an important part of the projection of America’s values around the world” and praised the Millennium Challenge Corporation as “one of the most successful programs I’ve seen… because it has country-ownership.” He called PEPFAR “one of the best projections of American goodwill and compassion into the continent that you’ll find anywhere.”

Investments in women and girls: Calling them “extraordinary important programs,” Tillerson noted that “study after study confirms that when you empower women in lesser developed parts of the world, you change the future of the country.”

Power Africa: “Nothing lifts people out of poverty quicker than electricity. That’s just a fact. If you give people light, you give them the ability to refrigerate food and medicine; it changes their entire quality of life. They no longer have to cook on animal dung and wood cooking in their homes, so their health improves. I think that it’s very important that we use wisely the American people’s dollars as we support these programs. That means whatever is the most efficient, effective way to deliver electricity to the areas that don’t have it, that should be the choice. That is the wisest use of American dollars.”

On aid effectiveness: Tillerson said, “It’s in my nature to look for inefficiencies and streamline – and that will start at the State Department itself…It’s not just about saving taxpayer dollars, it’s about the delivery on the issue.” He called for a comprehensive look on effectiveness, and mentioned exploring “our ranges of opportunities out there that might argue for greater funding.”

Secretary of Defense

James Mattis was largely asked questions about the military and security threats by the Senate Arms Services Committee, but he noted, “What the military can do by being strong” is “provide the strongest support for our diplomats to try to find a non-military option.”

Secretary of Homeland Security

John Kelly’s confirmation hearing focused on border threats, but his background as the former head of U.S. Southern Command was apparent when he noted that “improving the security on the ground and investment” is essential to preventing refugee flows. He also praised the Inter-American Development Bank and the Alliance for Prosperity in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as investments that have shown results.

National Security Advisor

Michael Flynn appeared across town at the U.S. Institute of Peace and shook hands with Ambassador Susan Rice at an event called “Passing the Baton.” Flynn praised Dr. Rice and Secretary Madeleine Albright, saying, “we are absolutely committed to continue carrying out those necessary reforms begun by previous administrations.” He described the Trump administration’s policy as one of “peace through strength as we examine and potentially re-baseline our commitments around the globe.”

Image: Source, DOD – U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr