WASHINGTON — As President Trump considers deep cuts to foreign aid and the State Department, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee joined a chorus of prominent Republicans critics.

HASC Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, at a press briefing Wednesday, emphasized the value of soft power for U.S. national security. 

"I very much believe we have to have a wide range of tools to advance our national interests, and that includes tools of the State Department, the intelligence community and the Department of Defense, and others," he said. "Can we spend more foreign aid, more effectively? Absolutely. But we can't look to the military to do everything that needs to be done."

Other Republican critics of deep State Department cuts include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. 

"President Trump, do not destroy soft power because we cannot win with military force alone," Graham said during a CNN town hall on Wednesday.

Asked if he would oppose a reported 37 percent budget cut to the State Department, Thornberry said, "I don’t think it’s a good idea. I also think we need to have reforms at the State Department and foreign assistance."

More than 120 retired three- and four-star generals have also sent a letter to lawmakers with a similar view.

On Monday, Trump proposed a 2018 federal budget blueprint that includes a $54 billion increase for the military, which would be offset by cuts on the non-defense side of the budget — his opening offer in a longer negotiation between the White House and Capitol Hill. 

Foreign aid cuts would dovetail with Trump's ally-jolting "America first" rhetoric, and his budget director repeatedly touted them when the budget blueprint was announced. While Americans tend to overestimate the size of the foreign aid budget, it actually makes up less than 1 percent of overall federal spending. 

Democrats continued to balk at the domestic cuts, while Thornberry and McCain say the $603 billion proposed for defense falls well short on the $640 billion they say the military needs to repair President Obama's cutbacks.

At Thornberry's briefing Wednesday, he largely emphasized the need to better fund military readiness, but asked about the State Department, he said, "Part of the reason we have asked the Department of Defense to do more and more over the years is that other departments of governments have not been able to do things."

Thornberry served early in his career as a deputy secretary of state for legislative affairs under Ronald Reagan. As a member of Congress in 2007, he served on both the Center for Strategic and International Studies "smart power" commission, which produced a report that emphasized the value of alliances, global development and public diplomacy, and on the bipartisan commission that drew up recommendations for winning the Iraq war with lethal approaches, diplomacy and foreign aid.

The HASC plans in the next few weeks to hold a hearing on countering hybrid warfare, a military strategy that blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyber warfare — widely understood to be Russia's practice in the Ukraine. 

"We're going to abide by the law and be true to our values, but it would be foolish for us to unduly limit the tools we have," Thornberry said. 

Past joint testimony from the secretaries of state and defense about the value of foreign aid, diplomatic and military funding has been, Thornberry said, "very persuasive." 

Email:   jgould@defensenews.com            

Twitter:   @reporterjoe

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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