Trump thwarted in attempt to bring business sense to foreign policy

By: Rachel Marsden

A group of senators has criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for treating Congress as if it's a teenager approaching him for "gas money" that dad is pretty sure will be blown on booze. Unfortunately for dad in this case, the kid has final authority over dad's wallet.

Earlier this year, Trump recommended about $40 billion worth of spending on State Department and foreign operations in the annual budget. The Senate Appropriations Committee decided last week that it wasn't enough, reaching into the nation's wallet for nearly $11 billion more.

You'd think that an increase would have to be argued on a line-item basis, just as it would be in the private sector, where shareholders demand bottom-line accountability. Nope. It's actually the other way around when you have "national security" as a carte blanche.

Released just a few days before the anniversary of the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks, the report included an introduction that cynically evoked the attacks to chastise Trump for failing to spend your money: "The lessons learned since September 11, 2001, include the reality that defense alone does not provide for American strength and resolve abroad. Battlefield technology and firepower cannot replace diplomacy and development."

The report even suggested that Trump is weakening America. "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."

Nowhere in this cri de coeur do the committee members explain how an increase in foreign spending translates into better diplomacy or a greater degree of homeland security.

Instead, we have to look elsewhere to evaluate national security programs. For instance, the inspector general of USAID (the government agency responsible for administering foreign aid) told a House of Representatives committee last year that humanitarian funding for Syria has been plagued by bribery and fraud.

Reducing foreign aid means decreasing the resources available to muck around on foreign soil while trying to convince increasingly skeptical American voters that such forays will keep them safe. From Pakistan to Syria, how exactly has foreign spending under the guise of "development aid" made America more secure?

The Senate report states that Trump's proposed belt-tightening "allowed America's competitors, notably the People's Republic of China and Russia, to hijack our national security narrative."

In reality, it seems like less of a hijacking and more of a prevented foot-shooting. Maybe some countries would like to avoid getting into bed with the CIA (which has long been closely associated with USAID) and would instead favor the kind of mutually beneficial business partnerships that other nations are offering.

Trump's budgetary thriftiness ought to have forced a massive strategy shift, from policies of foreign welfare and dependence to policies of mutually beneficial free enterprise. The problem is that Trump is one of the few successful businessmen serving in the federal government. Elected officials tend not to think of solutions in terms of business or capitalism because, despite what they may preach, they inhabit a world of bottomless spending, special interests, corporatism and lack of accountability.

If results mattered, the authors of that Senate committee report would have been embarrassed to want to spend nearly $11 billion more of the American people's hard-earned money without providing a thorough cost-benefit analysis on foreign operations.

America is the mecca of capitalism, and capitalism is the key to global prosperity. The more we use it to guide foreign policy instead of relying on underhanded, government-facilitated, military-industrial-complex cronyism, the better.

The cloak-and-dagger game needs to be replaced by a free-market approach. Entrepreneurs and businesses interested in helping themselves by helping other countries and their people should replace the intelligence officers who recruit foreign locals in order to obtain information -- and government should focus on facilitating this shift.

Russia and China have figured out how capitalism should be played globally. American foreign policy isn't working. Perhaps the senators who compiled that report should try behaving less like members of the clunky, cash-sucking bureaucracy of the former Soviet Union.