Wrecking Foreign Policy
By David Anderson, J.D.
Spare a thought for thousands of our diplomats abroad who, despite danger, hardship, and middling pay represent our values and promote our companies abroad so effectively. To defund the State Department and USAID by 37%+ is the dummy’s play, ethically and commercially. Having such a “Great Businessman!” as president, this administration should see the wider implications. But read on: this isn’t a Trump Tizzy article.
The Department of State’s primary remit is promoting America internationally: our companies, exports, values, and administrative systems. Just meet these bright, well-meaning folks who take up this challenge when you travel – it’s not hard to: they’re out there. You’ll be rewarded if you do, and if you get into trouble, you’ll be really pleased to see them.Their Foreign Service Officer Exam is one of the hardest in government. Top shelf graduates only, please, even to get in the door at Foggy Bottom. Consider also the formal and informal training our diplomats receive on the job, in multiple foreign languages and cultures, and you’re really dealing with our best minds.
They skew a little left, ideologically, however. Remember, these are often altruistic people, by definition open to new, foreign experiences and lifestyles. That all smells very liberal, a fact not lost on Republican presidents who have, to a man, been suspicious at least, or in the latest instance actively hostile to the Department of State. Republicans hate the very concept of government or common good beside their own companies and tax brackets. Be that as it may, this current defunding is exceptionally brainless. And bad business. By pure R.o.I. (return on investment), as government departments go State is only beat by the IRS’s eye-popping profitability – as defined by per dollar of appropriation vs. revenue received. And the IRS doesn’t even wield any “soft power” to be collected in future, less calculable ways.
Not surprising, given his “transactional” personal psychology and lifetime of terrible business decisions, Trump’s defunding of State is also the obvious logical conclusion of decades of Republican policy.
Ethically we hurt our brand by leaving those out in the cold who have relied on our good word; democracy activists, multi-national jurists, and a plethora of global health initiatives. Think: vaccines, Ebola, women’s health, disaster relief, USAID, and simply a better-ordered world. All this damage done for the price of one new bomber made in Republican Congressional districts. Really?
The cuts reduce our “soft” power: Voice of America, the National Endowment for Democracy, scholarships, and hundreds of quiet little freedom-seeding human rights organizations funded through State.
For us to abjure our responsibilities is particularly self-lacerating because that big scary globalization system Republicans constantly skewer is actually more of an American system. It is our companies and institutions like the IMF, UN, WTO, ICANN (internet), our dollar, a bunch of treaties and other rule making standard setters, which define modern trade. All the aforementioned run on our terms and profit us.
While some nations and our current administration complain about America’s role and the various expenses of that role, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than Global America is No America. In that event we will see less altruistic, less rule-based actors like Russia or China rise steeper and faster than we think. Regional powers like Iran, Turkey, and what’s left of the EU will all struggle for dominance in our absence. Nature abhors a vacuum but the likes of ISIS, the illegal arms and people trades, and nefarious dictatorships all love it.
The replacement of Pax Americana begins from the top. Flush with cash but troubled by a slowing domestic economy, China is expanding in every way and pursuing a more muscular role abroad: witness their adventures in the South China Sea, the One Belt One Road policy of a cross Eurasian trade route, as well as the shockingly fast growing Asian Infrastructure Development Bank. The latter is an IMF-like institution but run by Beijing. It’s a popular club: 52 member states.
Countries which are not the U.S. seem to realize free, fair trade is profitable for all and are eager to team up with other players in our absence. President Xi’s remarks at the APEC summit in Peru last year were telling: “China will not shut the door to the outside world but will open it even wider,” promising to “fully involve ourselves in economic globalization”. Additionally, the “jobs killing” TPP is morphing into a new trade block which is looking a lot like TPP: the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – just without us.
Third in line is Russia, a country which doesn’t need much real trade and abhors our liberal rule-based international system. Russia only needs to sell oil and guns and destabilize the planet so they can do more of both. A Chechen, Georgian, Crimean, Ukrainian, or a citizen any other locale of Russia’s international hooliganism will attest to Russia’s motives. Their network, RTV, articulates their aspirations well.
Contrary to campaign ranting, the US economy is in fact doing better than nearly all economies: difficult in a time of technological advancement, multinational supply chains and cross-border corporate holdings. That’s a system we devised, promoted, and profit from, which we now want to abandon – Department of State first. Is this this “sick of winning” we were promised?
David Anderson is an Australian-American lawyer in NYC. He studied at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown U., and the University of Melbourne. He worked on Wall St. and now writes on law and international politics for Forbes, counterpunch.org, themoderatevoice.com, etc.
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