This year's congressional debate on the foreign aid budget has brought out an unprecedented coalition of former secretaries of state, senior military commanders and Pentagon officials to argue that, especially in tough economic times, investments in civilian foreign affairs capacity are among the most cost-effective we can make. As five former secretaries of state representing both parties wrote this week, and military leaders of all branches have emphasized, America should continue to fund foreign aid -- not just for the political, economic and moral benefits, but for the strategic and security benefits. Funding the civilian tools of power is not only necessary for winning today's wars, as General David Petraeus has noted; it also helps prevent future conflict and avoid the need for costly military action.
In this time of fiscal austerity, the American public is looking to its government for smart investments and wise use of a limited treasury. With this as a backdrop, it is ironic that conservatives in the House of Representatives are taking an axe to the international affairs budget. Security experts, military leaders, business executives and bipartisan leaders agree that an investment in diplomacy and development is not only an essential part of maintaining our national security and economic security, it also has an extremely high rate of return. John Kerry’s Senate plan to match President Obama’s request for 21st century investments in global power and economic reach are more important than ever.
In his farewell address President Bush claimed many foreign policy successes, but his rhetoric belies the reality of his legacy. However, the President’s leadership in forging and funding a bi-partisan consensus emerged on the need for the U.S. to take action to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa is striking. It reveals the new approach that America must now deploy consistently as we turn the page on the Bush administration – an approach that seeks to integrate all elements of American power, economic, diplomatic, legal, cultural, and military. The confirmation hearings of the past week have teased out common strands, from State to Defense to the UN, of a new integrated approach toward the world that is strategic about our interests and consistent with our values.
The long-term success of counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan means denying the country to Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other extremist groups as a safe haven – which means helping the Afghan government become sufficiently stable, representative and effective that its citizens prefer it to the promises and threats of extremists.