Global Engagement Pays off for U.S.

(The Tennessean, August 17, 2013)

By Sen. Bill Frist, M.D. and Gov. Phil Bredesen

During difficult economic times, there is a tendency for Americans to turn inward, to focus on domestic challenges, especially as this country emerges from a decade defined by two major wars and a crushing financial crisis. Though the urge to withdraw and retrench is understandable, it is shortsighted given the benefits that accrue to all Americans from our country’s continued leadership and engagement around the world.

While we come from different political parties, we are both committed to improving the lives of the people of Tennessee, a state to which we have both devoted much of our professional lives. And the record is clear that the U.S. government’s international development and diplomacy efforts represent a sound investment in our country’s prosperity and security.

Consider that more than 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside of the United States and, in Tennessee alone, more than $30 billion in goods and services are exported overseas, supporting 1 in 5 jobs. Furthermore, foreign investment in this state has paid off for Tennessee working families, most notably from the estimated 12,000 jobs created across the state by Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga.

Going forward, expanding exports will be critical to this region’s economic recovery and continued job growth. The fastest-growing markets around the globe are in the developing world, where more than half of the country’s exports already go. The work of our diplomats and development experts enables U.S. businesses to prosper in these emerging markets by supporting stable and representative governments, encouraging economic reforms that promote competition, and fostering respect for the rule of law.

In addition to economic returns on investment, these programs keep Americans safer by ameliorating conditions that too often lead to crises requiring U.S. military intervention. Threats to America’s national security are evolving rapidly and are markedly different from the conventional, state-on-state rivalries and conflicts that defined the 20th century.

To address this century’s unconventional security challenges requires robust, well-coordinated and properly funded development and diplomacy capabilities, alongside defense. That is why America’s most prominent military leaders have been outspoken in their support of the International Affairs Budget. In March, Gen. James Mattis, who formerly commanded all U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, was asked how important funding was for our civilian foreign policy tools. His answer: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Investing in these programs is not only the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. Countless lives have been saved and improved through the humanitarian and longer-term development assistance provided by the U.S. government working in partnership with private organizations. These efforts include combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other crippling diseases as well as leading the international response to natural disasters like the Haiti earthquake and South Asian tsunami. Showing compassion for the neediest and most vulnerable people not only lifts their spirits, but also lifts the spirits of Americans, enhancing our nation’s reputation, credibility and influence in the world. It defines the best of who we are as a nation.

For these and many other reasons we are co-chairing the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Tennessee Advisory Committee, a diverse association of community, business, military and faith-based leaders united in support of America’s tools of global engagement.

There is no question that in an era of high budget deficits, tough decisions must be made in Washington regarding the best use of taxpayer dollars. But contrary to what many believe, only 1 percent of federal spending goes toward the International Affairs Budget. And this modest investment yields enormous returns for the American people in economic growth, national security and international goodwill.

Even during these hyper-partisan times, it is important to remember that sustaining America’s global engagement and leadership has not traditionally been a Democratic or Republican issue. Nor should it be today. It is in the best interest of our state and our nation.

Phil Bredesen served as governor of Tennessee from 2003 to 2011. Dr. William H. Frist served as a U.S. senator from Tennessee from 1995 to 2007. They are co-chairs of the Tennessee State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.


This article was originially featured on 8.17.13  in the Tennessean