President Trump’s speech to Congress and his proposed 37% cut in the State Department’s budget

Developing

President Donald J. Trump gave his first speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night, February 28, 2017. He has also presented his proposed budget.

Trump is a great performer. That we have known for a long time. Last night he stuck to his script, and sounded “presidential” as he read through his list of aspirational goals.

However, as was the case with President Barack Obama, it is his actions and not his words that count.

Looking at his actions, we note he proposed in his budget message a 37% reduction in the budget for the State Department, which encompasses the foreign assistance budget of the Agency for International Development and U.S. contributions to U.N. and other international agencies, including their aid and huamitarian relief programs.

While the budget will be dead on arrival at Ccngress, according to Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), it does signal the low regard in which Trump appears to hold Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the State Department which he leads. Trump has vetod Tillerson’s choice for Deuty Secretary of State, and not yet approvd a second choice.

The proposed budget cut may reveal enen more the low regard in which Steve Bannon holds the man and the agency which threaten to contradict his plans for an alt-right retreat from the world. Such contradictions would be particularly dangerous, since they would be based on facts and be articulated by officials who actually have deep experience in foreign affairs and who actually know something about foreign aid.

In any event, the budget has been signed off on by Donald Trump, and he owns it. The buck stops in the Oval Office, as Trump will undoubtedly learn.

What is particularly pernicious about the budget message is that it seems to be driven by political slogans and, insofar as the State Department is concerned, by alt-right ideology emanating from Bannon as well as the prsident.

Bannon has given himself a permanent seat on the National Security Council. From this perch, he will be able to push his alt-right ideology, and to try to inject politics into considerations of what constitute U.S. national interests and how they should be defended.

More significantly, Bannon — who is a strong admirer of Vladimir Lenin — appears to be using Bolshevik methods by appointing deputies in the principal departments whose loyalty is directly to the White House, not the titular head of the department. These deputies could potentially operate as “political commisars” much as they did in the Red Army under the Bolshevik and later Soviet systems. Given Bannon’s open admiration of Lenin, these possibilities at least deserve serious condideration and monitoring.

Even within the White House, moreover, Bannon has set up a strategic advisory council which has the potential to bypass or undercut the NSC.

The proposal to cut the State Departmen’s budget by 37% reveals the profound and willful ignorance of the White House on matters of international affairs.

One is reminded of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting of “The Blind Leading the Blind” (1658).

God save the Republic!

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.