Restoring American diplomacy starts with leadership at home

Restoring American diplomacy starts with leadership at home
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April marks the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. The creation of an enlightened and visionary State Department, the Marshall Plan rebuilt war-torn Europe, resuscitated markets for U.S. exports, and thwarted communist expansion, at the cost of $135 billion in today’s dollars.

At a moment when diplomacy has been devalued and leadership of the State Department is in flux, I asked dozens of distinguished diplomats how they would renew American diplomacy in the 21st century. This group included 12 career ambassadors, the highest diplomatic rank, equivalent to a four-star general.

Our career diplomats described a competitive international system characterized by resurgent great power rivalry, rogue states, and persistent terrorist threats. But in their view, the most serious challenge to the U.S.-led international order was not foreign, but domestic.

Restoring U.S. leadership abroad, they insisted, required addressing the social and economic problems facing Americans at home, including wage stagnation, rising inequality, and drug addiction. They identified dozens of ways diplomacy could deliver tangible benefits to the American people. Here are five of their suggestions for the next secretary of State.

Make American foreign policy local

The State Department should deepen relationships with U.S. cities and states increasingly active in foreign policy. Diplomats embedded at the state level can link governors and economic agencies to federal efforts to promote exports and attract foreign investment.

The State Department should augment community-level speaking programs with rotary clubs and faith-based groups to discuss the local impact of foreign policy. U.S. ambassadors overseas should reach back to congressional districts to explain how their diplomacy and commercial advocacy abroad promotes prosperity for constituents at home.

Promote a free Indo-Pacific region

This month, President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE ordered his staff to explore rejoining the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement that would generate $131 billion in U.S. exports. Every single career diplomat said TPP is in our strategic and economic interest, but even if the Trump administration does not rejoin, the United States should not allow China to create an exclusive economic sphere in the world’s most dynamic region.

Building off former Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE’s call for a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” the United States should help countries understand the consequences of China’s assistance, including potential threats to their sovereignty, deepen cooperation with Japan, Australia and India, and strengthen regional institutions to promote rule of law, freedom of navigation, and free trade.

Create a transatlantic marketplace

Free trade negotiations between the United States and the European Union have stalled as citizens on both sides of the Atlantic question the benefits of economic openness. To inject positive momentum into the transatlantic relationship, the United States should shift from comprehensive trade negotiations to discrete agreements to promote workforce development and support small and medium enterprises. Developed in a paper by Johns Hopkins Professor Daniel Hamilton, the transatlantic marketplace would set an ambitious goal of creating five million jobs by 2025.

Write the rules for a digital economy

In the coming decades, the prosperity of American companies and workers will depend on data, rather than physical goods, crossing international borders. This transformation will not only affect technology companies, but every business online. Two-thirds of new American jobs now require a degree of digital skills. As a driver and beneficiary of the digital economy, the United States should lead international efforts to establish rules and standards to govern data protection and mobility.

Lead a global initiative to end opioid crisis

The opioid crisis involves a complex chain of producer, transit, and consumer countries. Fentanyl, the most dangerous drug in the United States, is produced legally in China, shipped to Mexico, and enters the U.S. supply chain through Mexican heroin and cocaine traffickers. The next secretary should lead the State Department effort to organize affected countries to promote common controls for legal pharmaceutical industries that produce these drugs, stronger trade regulations, and information sharing between U.S. and foreign law enforcement.

None of these initiatives are as sweeping or ambitious as the Marshall Plan, which was born at the apex of U.S. military and economic strength. But as the global distribution of power has flattened, imaginative diplomacy has become more critical, if more difficult, as the United States confronts rising competitors abroad and economic dislocation at home.

Seventy years ago, Secretary George Marshall aligned an extraordinary constellation of State Department officials to conceive and implement a plan to halt the spread of communism and prevent U.S. economic collapse by ensuring Europe had dollars to buy American goods.

Today, the State Department remains filled with creative and energetic diplomats eager to help the next Secretary of State shape a turbulent world. Under inspired leadership, an empowered State Department can reinvigorate American diplomacy and reconnect U.S. foreign policy to the citizens it is supposed to serve.

Maxwell J. Hamilton is a career foreign service officer with the U.S. Department of State and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow him on Twitter @MaxwellHamilton. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of the U.S. government.