Trump cuts would make troops ‘less safe,’ top retired generals say

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent
Retired U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department and U.S. development aid would endanger American troops and make the country “less safe” from terrorism, a group of senior retired military officers are warning Congress, urging lawmakers to reject the sharp spending reductions.

“Cutting the international affairs budget unilaterally will have the effect of disarming our country’s capability to stop new conflicts from forming, and will place our interests, values and the lives of our men and women in uniform at risk,” the former commanders said in the testimony, which was obtained by Yahoo News.

The signers included retired Adm. William McRaven, who headed U.S. special operations; retired Gen. David Petraeus, who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan before becoming CIA director; retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff; retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who commanded U.S. forces in Afghanistan; five former NATO supreme commanders; and past heads of the combatant commands in Africa and Europe.

“The severe cuts to the State Department and USAID that the administration has proposed will make America less safe, and Congress should reject them,” the group said. The testimony was to be provided on Tuesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee and other panels with jurisdiction over foreign affairs funding.

The retired officers noted that terrorist groups like ISIS, al Qaida, al-Shabab and Boko Haram have taken root in areas prone to poverty, corruption and poor governance — the kinds of things U.S. aid can often address.

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The former officers in part echoed Trump’s stated priorities by endorsing expanded military spending, but they cautioned that “in the 21st century, weapons and warfighters alone are insufficient to keep America secure.”

They argued that “kinetic activities alone cannot prevent radicalization, nor can they, by themselves, prevent despair from turning to anger and increasing outbursts of violence and instability. This has been our national experience of the last 15 years in Afghanistan, Iraq, in the Middle East and now in Africa.”

The testimony came as Congress engaged in an annual debate over government spending for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Many lawmakers, including Republicans, have balked at Trump’s call for deep cuts to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Trump’s budget, delivered in March, would slash the State Department and USAID spending by about 31 percent, according to some estimates.

The retired officers’ view is known to be represented inside the administration by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in March 2013, the retired Marine general warned that “if you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition, ultimately.”

Correction: This story initially said Petraeus commanded forces in Iran and and Afghanistan instead of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

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