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🌐 Viewpoint | Is American diplomacy ready to protect U.S. interests | Dean & Ryan

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To mark the occasion of visiting distinguished speaker Ambassador Charles Ray’s Tuesday programs in Nashville, TNWAC Chairman Karl Dean and President Emeritus shared their perspective on American diplomacy and its preparation for America’s future on the world stage. This column, their own views, was published in The Tennessean on January 21, 2024.

Is American diplomacy ready to protect U.S. interests in the 21st century?

By Karl F. Dean and Patrick W. Ryan

The Defense Department was about to get a significant plus up in the FY 2018 budget but there were also going to be cuts made at the State Department. That’s when Defense Secretary Jim Mattis defended the international affairs budget, less than one percent of Federal spending, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” Mattis’ experiences as a career Marine, combat veteran and Pentagon chief were behind his view that American diplomacy was at the tip of the spear in protecting American interests, especially in the national security arena.

Mattis added, “It’s a cost-benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget as we deal with the outcome of an apparent American withdrawal from the international scene.”

Karl F. Dean

The international affairs budget enjoyed bipartisan support for years operating under the post-WWII notion that “politics stopped at the water’s edge.” Now the nation’s divisive politics are reflected in the current backtracking on budgets for State Department operations and international aid. The hold on continued aid to Ukraine and expanded aid to Israel are only two examples of Congress’ failure to act in America’s interests. Arbitrary holds on diplomatic nominations are another political maneuver that damages national security and American credibility. Support across the aisle in Congress for important international affairs votes could be a place to find common ground – the approach of both Democrats and Republicans not so long ago.

America’s expansive role in the world, made possible in part by “soft power” engagement, is a source of U.S. security and prosperity. “International development is a vital investment in the free, prosperous and peaceful international order that fundamentally serves our interests,” said Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State in George W. Bush’s administration.

Patrick W. Ryan

Beyond adequate financial support for the State Department and other components of the international affairs budget, focus should be on questions about modernizing the organization and operation of the Diplomatic Service— the 15,000+ men and women carrying out U.S. foreign policy, aiding American businesspeople and assisting U.S. citizens abroad in need.

A committee of distinguished career diplomats under the aegis of the American Academy of Diplomacy recently released the “Blueprints for a More Modern U.S. Diplomatic Service.” It aims to “improve serious weaknesses of US diplomacy, including division of responsibility, lack of ability to respond with agility to crisis, and limitations in continuing professional education.” The report provides recommendations for Administration and Congressional action. The Academy is briefing stakeholders in Washington about the “Blueprints” but is also opening the conversation about the role of American diplomats and how they’re organized among the public.

As part of the Academy’s outreach and the Tennessee World Affairs Council’s civic discourse mission, Ambassador Charles Ray, distinguished career foreign service officer – 30 years a diplomat following a 20-year military career, will hold talks with the Nashville community on January 23rd. Ray will present the “Blueprints” as well as share his hard-earned insights and perspectives on the troubled world America faces in the new year.

American diplomats have served with distinction, and they have sacrificed since the earliest days of the nation. They need and deserve the full support of the country, endorsing the sentiments of Robert Gates, former Secretary of Defense in Republican and Democrat administrations, “We must also use every nonmilitary instrument of power we possess to promote freedom and encourage reforms, with friends as well as rivals, because those objectives serve our national interest.”

Details on Ambassador Ray’s visit and the “Blueprints” document are at TNWAC.org.

Karl Dean is chairman and Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Ryan, USN (ret.) is president emeritus of the Tennessee World Affairs Council. Dean was Nashville and Davidson County Mayor from 2007 to 2015. Ryan served the U.S. Navy for 26 years in the Submarine Service and as a Navy intelligence officer. He is also founding president of the Tennessee Submarine Memorial Association. These opinions are their own.

THE MISSION of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Tennessee World Affairs Council is to promote international awareness, understanding and connections to enhance the region’s global stature and to prepare Tennesseans to thrive in our increasingly complex and connected world.

THE VISION of  the Tennessee World Affairs Council is a well-informed community that thinks critically about the world and the impact of global events.