America must use the power of inspiration to secure our future

Since the 9/11 attacks, United States national security and foreign policy have been dominated by what we are against. We counter terrorism and violent extremism. We counter Russian aggression and Chinese influence. However, being reactive and defensive does not play to our strengths. It is instead time to emphasize what we are for. Our nation needs to use what former Secretary of Defense James Mattis calls our “power of inspiration.”

Our best form of national security comes from having friends and allies who share our values and ideals. United States national security would be more assured if more of the world were on our side. History shows that the country with the most friends and allies prevails. Our allies will help us with what we are against, but they are with us because of what we are for. The only time Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has ever been invoked was to defend the United States following the 9/11 attacks.

The Fourth of July is a great time to reflect on what our nation stands for. Our founders declared that all are created equal. We have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration of Independence galvanized our citizens and established our can do attitude. America itself was a startup. It established itself as the land of opportunity, a place for a free and better life. This still inspires many people around the world today.

Our founders started a government for the people and by the people. Our adversaries view their people as a threat. They repress and exploit them. In America, our people are our greatest asset. They are the key to using our power of inspiration to strengthen our security. It starts with our troops and diplomats engaged on the front lines. They understand the local needs and are positioned to meet them. They reflect our ideals in practical ways that are relevant to all those we need to bring to our side.

The next necessary piece overseas is our private citizens. Consider these following examples. When Ukraine was reeling from an invasion by Russia, there was a flood of Russian propaganda targeting Ukrainian soldiers and seeking to demoralize so they would give up and go home. The United States Embassy team in Kiev identified a project that would help. Through the organization Spirit of America, our citizens provided the equipment and transmitters needed for a radio station to meet the information needs of Ukrainian soldiers and the local civilians who were on the front lines.

When a United States Army special operations captain was attempting to prevent war in northwest Niger, private American citizens stepped in to help. Besieged by Al Qaeda and other extremist groups, Niger was at risk of the kind of tribal rebellion that had plunged neighboring Mali deep into chaos and conflict. The tribes in Niger had been most concerned about livestock health and opportunity for their youth. Our citizens funded dirt bikes, vaccines, and stipends so veterinarians could reach the tribes and treat their cattle. Our citizens also funded scholarships for tribal youth to receive veterinary education and return to meet the needs of their tribes.

Many factors have been at work, but there has been no war in northwest Niger, and the country is a close friend of the United States. The support of our citizens played a crucial role in delivering a tangible demonstration of the America values of opportunity, progress, and hope. Private action in support of public good show you do not have to wear a uniform to serve the nation. Citizen service is well known in domestic areas like education and health care but is uncommon in national security. It is the last domain where many think the government can go it alone, but it is not the case.

The United States is hardly perfect, but we can certainly still inspire. With the help of our citizens, we can demonstrate that strong friendship and partnership with the United States offers the best path to the better lives that people seek. That will bring more partners to our side and strengthen our security. On July 4, 1776, the future of America depended on citizens serving the nation. It still does today, and more of us need to do our part.

James Hake is the founder and chief executive officer of Spirit of America. Kael Weston spent a decade serving as a State Department official and is the author of “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Tags America Citizens Democracy Government International Military Security

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