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American Soft Power Undermined In Trump Budget Blueprint

March 16, 2017

Some might wish to think that anything Donald Trump does will be met with scorn and rebuke on this blog.   Long-time readers, however, know I try to take each issue on its own merits and call them as I see it.

For instance I have a foundational belief that ‘soft power’ as used and strategized by the State Department has far more ability to create positive results for our nation than the same money being placed in a defense program.  Therefore I can place my rejection of the Trump budget blueprint released today on issues that I have knowledge of and not make it personal about Trump.

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has described the cuts to the State Department as “fairly dramatic.”  That is not an apt description as the cuts proposed are 28%!  To then place salt into the wound the Defense Department is provided a 10% spending increase.   I absolutely disagree with this thinking.

Soft power allows for our level of modernity to shine around the world through a wide variety of programs.  Living in Madison where a highly respected university opens doors for a large number of international students is but one very clear example of the use of soft power. Consider the academic exchanges that occur from these classrooms and research labs, and it is easy to see their value.  From all places around the world we showcase our openness, mobility, the importance of individualism, pluralism, voluntarism, and freedom.

It might seem odd that I would use the words of a former Defense Secretary to underscore my reasoning, but my love of reading history has left the following in my thoughts.   Robert McNamara said that “If we can’t persuade nations with comparable values of the merit of our cause, we’d better re-examine our reasoning.”

That is precisely the point of making sure the State Department has the resources both in terms of funds and staff to do the job with soft power.   When there are very sinister forces at work with attempts to make their message more popular (Russia and ISIS to name two) it is vital we work at convincing others of America’s worth with our goals.  The way to marshal such high-mindedness is by being pro-active.  Our State Department houses the professional and seasoned staff to do that very thing.

President Nixon was a student of international relations and also knew the value of soft power.  When pandas from China were used as a way to open and expose our two cultures it was the State Department which made the details all work.   A presidential visit to a country is an example of soft power as are trade concessions or economic embargoes–and again it is the briefings from the department which allows for smooth meetings with heads of state.

The folly of what Trump proposed today is easily seen.  I trust congress will address these matters in the months to come, and strike back at the immature way that Trump views the world.

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