Development and Diplomacy in the State of the Union

January 21, 2015 By Lynne Weil

Domestic topics dominated last night’s State of the Union address, as they usually do. But on global affairs, I was heartened to hear President Obama repeatedly speak of the need to support diplomacy and international development right alongside defense – including a call to “invest in smart development and eradicate extreme poverty.”

Even as Americans focus on critical issues at home, we’ll continue to face complex crises around the globe: violent extremism, health emergencies, Russian aggression, and more. To do so wisely and strategically takes investment in a variety of tools.

Last night, the President framed the subject this way: “We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents.” That’s a point on which most Americans should be able to agree, no matter who says it, or when.

We know from the USGLC’s work in the months before the 2014 elections that the new Congress includes many internationalists. Even with the leadership shift in the Senate, significantly changing the power balance between the White House and the Hill, we can anticipate common ground in some areas of foreign policy and national security in the year ahead.

For example, there’s the transformative power of open markets to improve economies abroad, benefitting both the United States and our partners. We need to ensure a global environment conducive to trade, as was noted last night: “Let’s sell more of what we make and grow in America over there so we can boost manufacturing, wages, and jobs right here at home.”

Newly-elected GOP Senator Joni Ernst said that.

For his own part, President Obama noted that 95% of the world’s customers live outside the United States, and we shouldn’t close off those opportunities. Same point, but from a different perspective.

In his State of the Union address two years ago, the President challenged the world to eradicate extreme global poverty, and the USGLC has been working to ensure that this target remained in everyone’s sights and not just a line in a speech.

In last year’s address, he noted the unique global responsibilities of the United States, and many key Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have seconded that view in the year since. Some, of course, have called for even more robust and aggressive engagement.

Last night, President Obama made the case all the more emphatically: The question is not whether America leads in the world, he said, but how — and we need to keep leading with our values.

In 12 days, the Administration will unveil a budget proposal for the next fiscal year – a follow-up to the themes addressed last night, and more. Congress will then deliberate and shape the budget to its preferences through a months-long process. To borrow an idea from something Vice President Biden said a few years ago, when the White House and Congress show us their budget for the coming year, we’ll know what they truly value.