Gen. Zinni, Adm. Stavridis: What Pompeo must do first if confirmed as secretary of state

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing Thursday on President Trump’s nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to become secretary of state. If confirmed as America’s next chief diplomat, Pompeo will immediately face a world of growing crises that demand U.S. diplomatic leadership and a renewal and strengthening of all of the tools of American power.

A West Point graduate, Pompeo says he intends to restore the State Department’s central role in national security. That’s a good signal.

But Pompeo is in the hot seat, because the State Department he hopes to lead is a shadow of its former self, as a recent letter signed by over 200 former diplomats attests.

Even the best soldier depends on a battalion, and the best sailor credits crew and fleet for success. To succeed where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson fell short, Pompeo must first end the proposals to gut our diplomacy and development budget.

Pompeo needs to stop the hollowing out of the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development. He must put civilian power back on the battlefield of American foreign policy to keep our nation safe and prosperous.

Between the two of us, we have spent a combined 72 years wearing the uniform in service to our country. We know the United States must have a military second to none, but we also know that wise warriors support and rely on their forward-deployed civilian partners to help get the job done and keep it done.

That’s how you keep wars won and prevent the next one – whether in Syria or elsewhere around the world. There’s no territory our military can’t secure – but there’s no battlefield gain that is sustainable for the long-term without the right diplomats and development tools.

We’ve argued against the danger of sequestration to the American military. We also led a letter signed by over 150 retired flag and general officers calling on Congress to reject proposals to slash America’s civilian power in these dangerous times.

We are equally opposed to new “rescission” proposals that dangerously cut resources for U.S. foreign assistance after Congress has exercised its power of the purse and urge lawmakers to reject any cuts that they have called a “doctrine of retreat.”

We’ve seen this movie before. We were in uniform when the Cold War ended and some predicted America could cut defense and diplomacy. Those cuts came back to haunt us.

Just as the Pentagon procures aircraft carriers many years before they ever deploy, the human capital of the State Department takes years to develop. One conservative senator calls the foreign policy investment “national security insurance; you pay a little now so it’s there when you need it.”

We’re deeply concerned because today a weakened State Department looks like a battalion in retreat. The Department has lost half of its most senior career leadership – diplomacy’s equivalent of three- and four-star generals.

Only two of the seven undersecretaries of state – and only 14 of the 22 assistant secretaries of state – have been nominated or confirmed. More than 30 ambassador posts remain open, including places with significant strategic interests like South Korea, Turkey and Jordan. The number of Americans applying to take the Foreign Service exam has fallen by 30 percent.

Our retreat has consequences for America’s security and our prosperity. Our absence is being exploited as our adversaries increasingly fill the void.

While America considers going backwards, a rising China has doubled its diplomacy budget over the last five years, and has granted development loans more than five times the size of the World Bank’s combined initiatives.

Meanwhile at home, the State Department budget is still just 1 percent of the federal budget. And the number of development officers working on foreign aid projects worldwide is less than a third the number of soldiers in a single Army division.

Resources matter, and personnel is policy – including their absence. We hurt our security and hamstring our influence when we shortchange the insurance we buy with investments in foreign aid. In a competitive world, we should be doing more, not less.

When we were combatant commanders, it was an article of faith that deploying development officers and diplomats today costs less in blood and treasure than deploying troops tomorrow. Foreign aid is not a reward for good behavior. It is a critical tool to advance American interests around the world and address the drivers of conflict and instability.

We hope that the warning about State Department cuts by the current U.S. European Command commander and NATO Chief Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti will be heeded. The Army general said that “diplomacy leads … a reduction of their abilities would not be positive.”

We hope policymakers will listen to Defense Secretary James Mattis’ conviction that America has “two fundamental powers – the power of intimidation and the power of inspiration” – and we need both to win in today’s world.

The next secretary of state will have to deal with a difficult and dangerous world. It’s time to stop the hemorrhaging of our top civilian talent and the proposals to slash the State Department budget by a third. To lead the State Department in a way that advances our national security interests, he must first save it.

Retired Navy Adm. James Stavridis is the former NATO supreme allied commander for Europe and is currently dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Together with retired Gen. Anthony Zinni they chair the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council, made up of over 200 retired generals and admirals.