Mat­tis, Tiller­son face heat over aid cuts, Rus­sia

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY GUY TAY­LOR AND CARLO MUNOZ

Pres­i­dent Trump’s top di­plo­mat and Pen­tagon chief de­fended the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to cut U.S. aid pro­grams, ar­gued for keep­ing the door open to Rus­sian co­op­er­a­tion and of­fered a sober­ing assess­ment of the Afghan War on Tues­day in a round of Capi­tol Hill hear­ings on the White House’s 2018 bud­get pro­pos­als for the State and De­fense De­part­ments.

In his most dire por­trayal to date of the sit­u­a­tion on the ground, De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that U.S., Afghan and NATO forces “are not win­ning” the war against the Tal­iban and other ji­hadist forces in Afghanistan.

“We will cor­rect this as soon as pos­si­ble,” he said.

Mr. Mat­tis and Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son — both ap­pear­ing be­fore Congress for the first time since their con­fir­ma­tion — de­fended Mr. Trump’s first fed­eral bud­get blue­print, which calls for dra­matic cuts in diplo­matic spend­ing but in­creases at the Pen­tagon.

Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man John McCain saved his sharpest barbs for what he said was the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­abil­ity to pro­duce a new war plan for Afghanistan.

“We’re now six months into this ad­min­is­tra­tion, we still haven’t got a strat­egy for Afghanistan,” the Ari­zona Re­pub­li­can said. “It makes it hard for us to sup­port you when we don’t have a strat­egy. We know what the strat­egy was for the last eight years: ‘Don’t lose.’ That hasn’t worked.”

Mr. Mat­tis told the panel a new Afghan strat­egy could be fi­nal­ized as early as mid-July.The ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­port­edly mulling a surge of 3,000 to 5,000 troops on top of the 8,400 U.S. forces cur­rently de­ployed to the na­tion.

Mr. Tiller­son, mean­while, faced sharp crit­i­cism from both sides of the aisle as he de­fended the pres­i­dent’s call for a 28 per­cent re­duc­tion in U.S. diplo­macy and for­eign aid spend­ing.

Mr. Trump’s 2018 blue­print calls for a com­bined State De­part­ment and US­AID bud­get of $37.6 bil­lion — in con­trast to a roughly 10 per­cent in­crease at the Pen­tagon that would bring de­fense spend­ing to $603 bil­lion next year.

The diplo­macy cuts are rooted in a be­lief that for­eign spend­ing in­creases since 2007 had to be pared back, Mr. Tiller­son said. The for­mer Exxon Mo­bil CEO told law­mak­ers the ad­min­is­tra­tion will “ask other donors and pri­vate sec­tor part­ners to in­crease their sup­port” to com­pen­sate for the fed­eral cuts.

Chair­man Bob Corker said he had no in­ter­est in se­ri­ously ex­am­in­ing the pro­posed cuts be­cause they sim­ply won’t be ap­proved by Congress. “This is a waste of time,” the Ten­nessee Re­pub­li­can said. “The bud­get that’s been pre­sented is not go­ing to be the bud­get we’re go­ing to deal with. It’s just not.”

Mr. Tiller­son ar­gued that the cuts are rooted in a be­lief that for­eign spend­ing in­creases since 2007 had to be pared back. The for­mer Exxon Mo­bil Corp. CEO told law­mak­ers the ad­min­is­tra­tion will “ask other donors and pri­vate sec­tor part­ners to in­crease their sup­port” to com­pen­sate.

Mr. Mat­tis was prod­ded over the pro­posed cuts as well. Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, South Carolina Re­pub­li­can, noted the for­mer Marine gen­eral strongly sup­ported such spend­ing when he was in uni­form as a com­ple­ment to mil­i­tary force. Say­ing his ear­lier com­ment was “rather sim­plis­tic,” Mr. Mat­tis ac­knowl­edged soft power re­mains an in­te­gral part to na­tional se­cu­rity.

“Amer­ica has two fun­da­men­tal pow­ers ... the power of in­spi­ra­tion, the power of in­tim­i­da­tion. You have to work to­gether and the State De­part­ment rep­re­sents in­spi­ra­tion over­seas,” he said.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s big stick ap­proach to Pen­tagon fund­ing com­pared to for­eign aid cuts is nec­es­sary, Mr. Tiller­son said, given the com­plex­ity of the threats — from Chi­nese mus­cle flex­ing in East Asia, to the on­go­ing Is­lamic State ter­ror threat and Ira­nian provo­ca­tions in the Mid­dle East — fac­ing the U.S.

Mary­land Sen. Ben Cardin, the com­mit­tee’s rank­ing Demo­crat, said he was con­cerned that Mr. Trump and Mr. Tiller­son are more in­ter­ested in cre­at­ing “a new game of great power pol­i­tics” than sup­port­ing U.S. al­lies around the world.

But Mr. Tiller­son warned law­mak­ers against tak­ing steps that might close off the prospect of bet­ter re­la­tions with Moscow, not­ing U.S.-Rus­sian ties are poor and de­te­ri­o­rat­ing rapidly.

While stress­ing the im­por­tance of be­ing able “to turn the heat up” on Rus­sia if nec­es­sary, Mr. Tiller­son urged cau­tion over fears such pres­sure could shut down com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Moscow.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.