Diminishing American diplomacy around the globe a dangerous prospect
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You’re robbed on a trip overseas. It’s late on a Friday night. A short message at the American Embassy informs you that due to budget cuts they no longer provide afterhours service. No help will be available until Monday. Even then, you’ll face long lines and limited options. Can our citizens really do without diplomats?

Arctic nations are gathering to define new rules for the region. No American official is present. They weren’t at the last meetings either. There simply aren’t enough funds to send them. Alaskan fishermen discover that as a result, they must now operate under costly new restrictions. Can our companies do without diplomats?

A young man in East Africa tried to warn the United States about an imminent attack against our embassy. No one is available to meet him in time. Our nation grapples with the tragic aftermath of another Benghazi. Can our country do without diplomats?

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President Trump thanked Vladimir Putin for slashing the payroll of the American diplomatic staff in Russia. This was sadly just the latest in a series of rhetorical and real efforts to undermine our foreign policy structures. His budget will slash our diplomatic capacity by a third.

 

Even if a Republican Congress restores some of that funding, Secretary Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonBolton says Russia, China seeking to promote discord in Trump administration Bolton says Russia, China seeking to promote discord in Trump administration Trump's nastiest break-ups: A look at the president's most fiery feuds MORE has detailed plans to significantly scale back the scope of the State Department’s work. It’s already happening: Tillerson this month turned down $80 million in Global Engagement Center funding aimed at countering propaganda from ISIS and from Russian. They are apparently content to let money allocated by Congress go unused.

Many have expressed concern and consternation about the global and long-term consequences of the cuts. Yet, they will be felt more acutely on a daily basis. Critical business meetings will be delayed and global deals will fall through because of the slow processing of visas. The United States’ voice will be absent from key international decisions. Lives – American lives will be lost as a result of weaker security and support.

In defending diplomacy, we too often talk in bold and broad terms. World peace. International trade. America’s standing on the global stage. These goals seem detached from the kinds of things that impact people every day. Less heralded are the concessions achieved by our negotiators that make the world a fairer place to do business. Few will connect the fact Americans need a visa to so few countries with the work of diplomacy. There are no parades for the war that didn’t happen.

It’s a bad time for the United States to diminish our international influence. There have never been so many global threats. The ability for foreign groups or governments to reach around the world has never been easier. Our need to understand an increasingly complex planet has never been greater. So why would we diminish our ability to prevent war, promote trade, and protect our citizens?

Some argue we will be safer with more weapons. Over a decade in Afghanistan ought to have taught us the limits of even our military might. There are those in the West Wing who doubt diplomats’ support for Trump’s foreign policies. Yet, every senior diplomat in Foggy Bottom served under Republican and Democratic administrations. They did so because they are guided by a belief in American principles, not party.

Yet, perhaps the best argument for maintaining a robust diplomatic corps is Trump himself. His nontraditional and nonchalant comments sow confusion and concern around the world. Our diplomats are preventing alienation from turning into aggression. They regularly convince world leaders to keep faith in the United States and key institutions like NATO and NAFTA. Imagine if they weren’t there to mitigate the consequences of an ill-considered comment. At a time of such upheaval internally and internationally, we simply cannot afford to have fewer diplomats.

Brett Bruen (@BrettBruen) is president of the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm Global Situation Room, and an adjunct faculty member at Georgetown University. He served as director of Global Engagement in the Obama White House and as a diplomat for 12 years in the Ivory Coast, Venezuela, Iraq, and Madagascar.


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