Getting “Smart” About the Power of Diplomacy

It’s tempting to conclude, based upon so much of what we see and read, that Washington, D.C. is dysfunctional and our democracy is in danger of collapse, but it has been reassuring to spend a few days here in the capital and to observe that many of our lawmakers – of all political stripes – understand the importance of adequately funding the nation’s International Affairs budget.

The International Affairs budget is comprised of non-defense discretionary spending on everything from human development assistance (foreign aid), to the United States Trade Representative, to the State Department and to a host of other essential tools in our diplomatic kit.

Unfortunately, the budgetary blunt instrument known as “sequestration” threatens to cut this budget item by up to twenty percent (20%), which is both huge and disproportionate to other cuts being proposed in deficit reduction efforts.

It’s difficult to convey the impact of a draconian cut like this; after all, many Americans think that the so-called “I.A.” budget consumes twenty-five percent (25%) of the total federal budget and believe that if we would simply cut out foreign aid to countries who don’t appreciate us, we’d solve our budget woes.

The truth is, however, that the I.A. budget – from foreign assistance, to the State Department, to Ex-Im Bank, to the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and on and on – consumes only about one percent (1%) of the total federal budget. One percent!

With that one percent we are able to save millions of lives (literally five million children are alive today because of U.S.-funded AIDS prevention efforts in Africa alone), help American companies compete abroad, and dramatically improve the standing of our country in parts of the world that otherwise would be in even greater danger of unrest and, in the worst case, exporting terror to our own shores.

When our military leaders, the president of the World Bank, U.S. Senators from Virginia (Tim Kaine – D), Nebraska (Mike Johanns – R), South Carolina (Graham – R), and, I might add, Maine (Collins – R; King – I), and the Secretary of the Treasury (Jack Lew) agree that dollars spent on diplomacy save not only the lives of children abroad, but American lives and treasure, as well, it’s enough to make you believe that our government is, fundamentally, sound and in the hands of rational and thinking men and women.

There is simply no doubt that what we invest in diplomacy keeps us safe, saves us money and makes us a more prosperous and secure nation. This should a no-brainer … but as Washington watchers know, vigilance and issue advocacy are essential.

For those interested in learning more about the importance of the international affairs budget, and the concept of “smart power” generally, go to the website of the United States Global Leadership Coalition, at  The USGLC is the go-to organization that brings political bedfellows from all corners of the country, and from all aspects of the spectrum, together to support the diplomatic capabilities and smart power tools of the United States.  I am proud to serve on the organization’s Maine Advisory Board, and urge all to support these essential efforts.