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Ros-Lehtinen to Seek Cuts in Diplomatic, Foreign Aid Funding

The State Department budget should be cut, U.S. aid should be used to force overhaul at the United Nations and the administration should take a harder line toward rogue regimes, according to the incoming chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who will lead the committee when her party takes control of the House in January, has laid out positions that put her at odds with some policies and priorities set by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has pressed to increase diplomatic funding and shown a willingness to talk with Iran and North Korea under the right conditions.

“I have identified and will propose a number of cuts to the State Department and foreign aid budgets,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement yesterday. “There is much fat in these budgets, which makes some cuts obvious. Others will be more difficult, but necessary to improve the efficiency of U.S. efforts and accomplish more with less.”

State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said yesterday that, with the agency taking on greater roles in areas of conflict, consistent funding is essential. The State Department and other international programs had budgets totaling $55 billion in fiscal 2010, which ended Sept. 30. The Obama administration proposed $56.8 billion for fiscal 2011.

“A great deal of funding is focused on front-line states, such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq,” Crowley said. “It’s critically important that we continue to fund civilian operations in Iraq as we make the transition from a military-led strategy to a civilian-led strategy.”

Playing Hardball

Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Cuba, said the U.S. should “isolate and hold our enemies accountable, while supporting and strengthening our allies.

“Rogue regimes never respond to anything less than hardball,” she said.

The Democratic Obama administration has approached regimes such as North Korea and Iran with what Democratic former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright calls the “open hand versus the fist.”

Ros-Lehtinen also criticized foreign aid “that, in some instances, perpetuates corrupt governments.”

The Obama administration has poured billions of dollars in aid into Pakistan to help it recover from massive flooding and to win hearts and minds as U.S. troops battle militants on the border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan ranks 143rd out of 178 countries on Transparency International’s 2010 Corruption Index.

Three Ds

Clinton has lobbied hard for more funding for her agency as she and President Barack Obama have made it a priority to elevate civilian power. They envision diplomacy and development at a level alongside defense in foreign policy matters, a triumvirate Clinton calls “the three Ds.”

“We have to lead more with civilian power” because the U.S. military “cannot be the face of American power and influence everywhere,” Clinton said in a Nov. 17 address to the Overseas Security Advisory Council, a group made up of private sector and public sector groups. “In order to execute on a strategy of clear, hold, build, transition, the civilians have to be there right with” the military in places like Afghanistan, she said.

At a conference on women and girls yesterday in Washington, Clinton said that while diplomacy and development are as important to U.S. interests as defense, Pentagon Secretary Robert Gates will “still have 12 times our budget.”

Crowley said State Department officials recognize that “budgets are going to be tighter and tighter.” Even so, he said the agency believes it has the right strategies and programs on issues such as global health.

“There are compelling reasons to support the civilian component of a balanced national security strategy that we think is in the national interest,” Crowley said. “We look forward to engaging the new chairwoman of the committee, and we think we have a strong case to make.”.

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