Guest Column: Honor our diplomats

Steffen Schmidt

On Memorial Day 2012, I blogged that we should also remember our diplomats and non-military who work every day in dangerous places. Without them, we would have to use even more troops and force at greater cost as we conduct our foreign and national security policy.

Now U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens; State Department information management officer Sean Smith; and security personnel Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, both former Navy Seals, have been killed in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. In their honor, I am reprinting my blog post because after Libya it is more relevant than ever. May our brave diplomats and military be safe.

Dateline, Monday, May 28, 2012. We just remembered and celebrated the millions of brave Americans who were killed in our many, many wars on Memorial Day. Politicians gave patriotic speeches about this heroism and about America’s pride in our many military successes. Freedom and peace require a robust and credible military defense and deterrence. Sometimes it necessitates a credible offense as well. Then we have casualties. I would say that war is peace by other means. Or, as the great Prussian military theorist von Clausewitz wrote, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” That’s how it rolls.

Martin Dempsey, U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman, said this morning “the military options should be considered” in dealing with the crisis in Syria. This is the latest example of diplomacy just about exhausted and the possibility of military action becoming the only option remaining. North Korea and Iran are two other examples where the diplomatic, sanctions and aid options may not achieve the policy goals.

According to Ben Armbruster, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has acknowledged that, “Military spending makes up 50 percent of the discretionary portion of the federal budget. And defense spending has accounted for 65 percent of the discretionary spending increase since 2001. Total defense spending in real dollars is now higher than at any time since World War II, and DOD’s baseline budget nearly doubled in the last 10 years.” We clearly support our military with extraordinary resource allocation.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we also had a day each year to celebrate all of our successes that resulted in no casualties or injuries? After all, the objective of war is to defend and protect peace, security and stability. There is no rule that requires those objectives to be achieved only in combat. We have used many non-lethal tools in our foreign policy black bag including:

Diplomacy. This includes jawboning, hectoring, talking, negotiating, cajoling, pointing out common interests and even threatening. When skillfully done, this has secured our nation far more consistently day in and day out than the use of force which is, after all, what’s used when all else fails.

Foreign aid. According to several polls, the average American believes that 25 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. That’s so off the mark. It’s only 1 percent, a tiny slice of our federal budget. According to the Washington Post, “Foreign aid is not designed to make countries like us. The United States wants stable democratic partners that are reliable allies in the long run. Aid builds these relationships, even when the countries we help don’t support us in the short run. For example, the Reagan administration didn’t approve when Costa Rica inserted itself into multiple conflicts raging in Central America during the 1980s. But U.S. assistance to Costa Rica helped that nation become a champion of democracy and human rights as well as of regional trade agreements.”

Friendship programs. This includes exchange programs of teachers, artists and musicians, business people and farmers.

Technical assistance. This is assistance to reduce disease, help countries improve their education systems, design and build better bridges, help people and communities implement better nutrition programs, engineer earthquake resistant structures, train entrepreneurs and promote market economics, or increase crop yields.

Human rights programs. These programs protect women, religious minorities, freedom of the press, political rights such as voting and political parties, the handicapped, sex slaves, and others.

All of these American initiatives are crucial to securing U.S. influence and security in the world and avoiding the need for the use of military force. Therefore, they are in fact a necessary component of national security, and men and women in uniform should be the biggest supporters of foreign aid and diplomacy. When it works, they can stay with their families, communities, jobs and friends. When foreign aid and diplomacy fail, they get deployed.

Today, foreign aid in particular is sometimes not recognized by the political class as a necessity. Therefore, it is often attacked as wasteful. As if the military did not also often waste a lot of money and equipment! Several Republicans, notably Rand Paul, want to eliminate foreign aid entirely. But as one U.S. president put it, “U.S. assistance is essential to express and achieve our national goals in the international community — a world order of peace and justice.” Can you guess who that was? Barack Obama? No, it was Richard Nixon in 1969.

We go to our family cemetery plot on Memorial Day every year to leave a flag, flowers and our love for our own military family members (by the way — also for others whose graves have no new flag). Most people just go shopping for a new air conditioner and mattresses and forget the purpose of that extra day off.

Perhaps we can add another worthy holiday for politicians to praise and for citizens to celebrate our amazing diplomats and non-military defenders of freedom and democracy as much as we memorialize the members of the armed services. That could help inform public opinion about their valor, sacrifices (they often work under conditions as challenging as the military), successes and sometimes deaths. On that day, politicians could give patriotic speeches about our diplomats to rally Americans around them.