I have to really wonder about what members of Congress are thinking. (Actually it is more likely that they are not thinking.)
One of the easiest targets for budget reduction is the State Department and all other foreign policy agencies. After all, the State Department does not have a natural constituency among the American people.
The Pentagon can hand out big defense contracts all over the country. Interior provides employment in all 50 states in a big way. Commerce has the backing of the business community. And so on.
The agency an American turns to first if he/she (or a family member) gets into trouble overseas is the State Department. This is the same agency that makes sure American products can be exported in a fair and equitable manner.
And it is also the agency that tries to solve a problem BEFORE troops have to be sent in.
But it does not hand out jobs or big contracts. So it has a limited constituency to make its case before Congress.
So it is no surprise that once again the budget cutters in Washington are looking at gutting the State Department.
I have long been a critic of the way the foreign service acted in the past. But “past” is the operative word.
This is not your father’s foreign service.
It more accurately represents the diversity of America.
It is also concerned with more than just talking to the powerful and ruling classes in a country. (Look at the attacks on the US ambassador in Syria by pro-government forces as he speaks out against that country’s dictatorship.)
Without a reasonably sized foreign service the decision makers in Washington will not have the information necessary to formulate policy. Without that information small matters can expand in larger ones that could eventually cause serious consequences for the American people.
And on the development side, there are actual jobs in the United States created by AID programs. The goods and services that are part of AID projects come from American factories and offices. While the jobs are nowhere as plentiful as a new bomber or government office building, the net impact is helping bring another country to a point where its citizens can then buy American goods and services.
Lastly, it is the State Department that looks after the human rights situation around the world. By cutting the State Department budget members of Congress are saying that it is not important that countries with fragile democracies receive help and support, strengthen and maintain their democratic institutions. And they are saying it is not the policy of the United States to help people ruled by dictatorships to toss off those shackles and develop a democratic society.
The links between Main Street and the rest of the world are there but only if one looks.
The State Department is just beginning to figure out how to make its case to the American people — something they have been derelict in doing for too many years.
I would also add that the American media are also to blame. If you can agree that one of the important functions of independent and free media is to keep the electorate informed so that they can knowledgeably participate in the social and political life of the country, then the media have failed in the field of foreign relations.