Since announcing war on Sept. 20, 2001, the U.S. has been on a war footing. War has cost the U.S. $6.4 trillion between then and this past November. The war in Afghanistan alone has lasted more than 18 years with 775,000 U.S. troops deployed (since 2001), 2,300 brave men and women giving the ultimate sacrifice, and another 20,589 wounded.
The U.S. has the might and economic power to sustain any war with any foe, but our efforts must begin to be used in other ways. Foreign assistance is that way. Foreign aid must be discussed as a strategy along with military planning.
The U.S. military budget in fiscal year 2019 was $685.5 billion, which was more than any other country on the globe — and most countries are our allies.
In this new world, we need more aid packages, not necessarily military options and packages. We cannot kill our way out of war. As we learned in Vietnam, body counts do not win wars. Instead of dropping bombs, we must drop aid and hope from the skies. Increasing and sustaining foreign assistance to nations in need would bolster our national security interest and our prominence around the globe.
The modern U.S. foreign-aid system began out of the Cold War to rebuild a war-torn Europe. Programs like the Marshall Plan were designed to counter the influence and spread of communism, which was the driver of our national-security policy. U.S. foreign-assistance policy is still used in providing stability in areas plagued by man-made and natural disasters. Today it is geared to counterterrorism as well.
The administration of President Donald Trump has cut foreign-assistance aid drastically. That’s despite a long history of bipartisan support for foreign assistance and its benefit to the U.S. national interest. The rhetoric and actions of the current administration reveal a misunderstanding of how aid can be a game-changer and can work with, not against, our national-security interests around the globe.
The administration of President George W. Bush (2001-2009) viewed foreign assistance as necessary in combating radicalism and poverty. Foreign-assistance programs and initiatives then received bipartisan support, led by former Republican Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee and former Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
If the U.S. wants to win at war, we must win the peace. If the U.S. does not begin to think in terms of rebuilding after the fight, we will continue to inherit other nations’ civil wars, and we will suddenly become occupiers asking, “Now what?”
Foreign-assistance programs should be as much in the Pentagon’s strategic planning process and budget as adding fleets of F-35 jets.
We must give the people around the world another reason not to radicalize. Appeasement to any of our enemies (terrorist or any future enemy) is not the answer. But changing our strategy from not only battle tactics but also assistance packages will better prepare the U.S. for overall victory.
I am a true believer of peace through strength, but we have to think in terms of not turning our swords into plowshares but keeping our sword in one hand and having the plowshare in the other. Aid is just another strategy that will work for both the nation receiving assistance and the country distributing the aid.
If we as the greatest nation on Earth with the most exceptional citizens do not change course, we will leave our children with never-ending conflict and continuous war.
If the U.S. wants to prevent another generation from becoming radicalized and end ongoing war, then we must meet other nations’ foreign-aid needs rather than providing military assistance alone.
Invading violent countries to make them peaceful is not the answer. If we plan to invade, we must also outline what the peace and reconstruction outcome will be. As my old unit’s motto stated, "Secure the victory."
Darryl Scarborough of Chaska, Minn., is a veteran of the armed services with overseas experience in humanitarian aid and assistance missions. He wrote this for the News Tribune.