Amid Trumpworld chaos, forum a reminder of the importance of diplomacy and development

It was obvious from a glance around the bustling Hard Rock meeting hall that the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition foreign policy forum would be well attended and include some of Nevada’s most powerful business and political leaders.

With a current congresswoman here, a former governor there, and plenty of bosses from a broad sector of the corporate community, speakers discussed the essential role American diplomacy plays in protecting our national security and expanding U.S. business opportunities in a world marketplace. Those opportunities are made possible in part due to the efforts of State Department and USAID employees who spend their careers working to keep the lines of communication open in a complex political system.

Unfortunately, the forum was missing the one person who most needed to hear the discussion. That early October day, President Donald Trump was in Washington tweeting himself into a frothing frenzy, crowing about half-baked trade wars, setting back relations with allies and enemies alike, vilifying “foreign aid,” and being exposed in a failed attempt to hustle the president of Ukraine for political gain. The Ukraine scandal has splashed all the way from Kyiv to Carson City and has exposed four stooges associated with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani in a failed attempt to fuel a conspiracy theory they thought would come in handy in the 2020 election. They also wanted to “donate” their way into Nevada’s booming recreational marijuana market.

In the light of current events, the forum couldn’t have been any more timely. (A video of the forum is available here.) Nevada Congressional District 1 Rep. Dina Titus, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a keynote stated something that would probably come as a shock to an administration that takes pride in hollowing out the State Department and crying out for cuts to foreign aid:

“Our nation’s diplomats and development workers play a vital role in promoting our country’s moral leadership around the world. Deploying our full set of diplomatic tools helps women lift themselves out of poverty in Nigeria and boosts jobs tied to tourism and trade right here in Nevada.”

With former Secretary of State Colin Powell as its honorary chairman, and 18 former cabinet secretaries signed on, the coalition includes a remarkable bipartisan network of 500 businesses and nongovernmental organizations, more than 200 retired generals and admirals, 3,000 state officials and another 30,000 “Veterans for Smart Power,” members of the military who realize the essential need to combine diplomacy and development with defense. In his opening remarks, former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller recalled the simple truth of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said, “Development is cheaper than war.”

Consuming 1 percent of the federal budget, the International Affairs Budget not only funds the dreaded foreign aid to key partners and strategic allies, but also pays for our embassies, diplomatic corps, and the Peace Corps. It helps battle viral outbreaks such as Ebola, terrorist propaganda programs, and humanitarian disasters.

Not to mention the fact that it assists U.S. businesses in opening new markets for products. With 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside our borders, some people think it makes good sense to invest in diplomacy and development. Contrary to the pabulum pouring out of the White House, diplomacy and development are smart business strategies.

As panelist Lionel Johnson, President of the Pacific Pension & Investment Institute, observed, “When we invest in U.S. diplomacy and development, we’re not only improving the lives of people worldwide, we’re helping American businesses reach new markets and creating jobs back here in the U.S— and in Nevada.”

Let’s consider Nevada’s own economic interests for a moment. The state exported $12.2 billion in goods in 2017, much of that in the form of metals, minerals, and computer electronics. But that also includes more than $120 million in agricultural products. In 2015, more than 3,000 Nevada-based companies, most of them small businesses, exported products and services.

Healthy employment in Nevada increasingly depends on the state’s relationship with bustling foreign markets. More than 308,000 jobs are supported by trade and nearly 50,000 are created by Nevada companies with least a 50-percent foreign-ownership.

One of the president’s most damaging conceits is the narrative that replaces consistent, respectful communication and negotiation with bellicose rhetoric, outright threats, and a retreat from the world stage. The proposition that we can turn back the clock and shirk our leadership responsibility is a folly that courts disaster.

The damage is being done on a daily basis, Titus said.

“We see it every day as Russia continues to push to influence those around its borders politically and militarily, and China extends its economic influence through the Belt and Road Initiative that reaches all around the world,” she said. “When we pull out, we are leaving the world open to undemocratic forces, and that threatens our national security.”

Real stability is possible through development and diplomacy, the Democrat added, “not through surrogate wars and the tweetosphere.”

It’s an important message – even if it’s falling on deaf ears these days in D.C.

John L. Smith is an author and longtime columnist. He was born in Henderson and his family’s Nevada roots go back to 1881. His stories have appeared in Time, Readers Digest, The Daily Beast, Reuters, Ruralite and Desert Companion, among others. He also offers weekly commentary on Nevada Public Radio station KNPR. His newest book—a biography of iconic Nevada civil rights and political leader, Joe Neal—”Westside Slugger: Joe Neal’s Lifelong Fight for Social Justice” is published by University of Nevada Press and is available at Amazon.com. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith