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Coats sees risks in global disengagement

U.S. Sen. Dan Coats warned Thursday that federal budget constraints and public sentiment might reduce America’s influence in the world and hence its own security.

The Indiana Republican said many members of Congress “have come to the conclusion the world has changed and we really can’t afford, nor do we have the public support for, global engagement.”

As a result, U.S. military, intelligence and diplomatic efforts could be scaled back around the world, Coats cautioned the Council on Foreign Relations in a question-and-answer session broadcast by C-SPAN.

“I think a lot of the world is basically looking at America today and basically saying, ‘They’re not the power they once were. They don’t have the will or commitment to be that or the resources to be that,’ ” Coats told members of the nonpartisan think tank.

Coats is a member of the Senate Intelligence and Appropriations committees and a former ambassador to Germany. He predicted that a dwindling international presence for the U.S. – the Pentagon plans to cut its forces in Europe – will embolden Muslim extremists in North Africa and the Mideast and increase the threat of another terrorist attack on an American city.

Coats, a fiscal hawk on domestic spending, called for a strong commitment to diplomacy and intelligence in an effort to prevent “a defining event.”

“We don’t want that to be the impetus for changing our policy,” he said about a possible attack on U.S. soil similar to those on Sept. 11, 2001.

“We can’t solve everything through drones,” he said, referring to the use of unmanned spy planes.

Coats complained that sequestration – $600 billion in automatic cuts for the Department of Defense if Congress fails to trim spending elsewhere – “doesn’t have anything to do with priorities. … It is sort of the worst possible last thing we can do to enforce some kind of spending discipline. I did not vote for the Budget Control Act because of the sequester.”

bfrancisco@jg.net

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