Giving Thanks for U.S. Global Leadership

November 28, 2013 By Ashley E. (Chandler) Chang

With a monster winter storm, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and delayed flights, it’s easy to lose sight, literally, of some of the extraordinary things our foreign assistance agencies are doing for the world, and America.

Tis’ the season to be thankful, however, so here are a couple of examples at the top of my list.

Leading in the wake of disaster

On November 8th, one of the most powerful typhoons ever recorded slammed into the central Philippines, destroying and damaging 1.1 million houses and displacing some 4.3 million people.  One area, Tacloban, was completely leveled by the storm, and the images and the survivors’ stories are truly heartbreaking.   In the center of this devastation, you’ll find the U.S. military and civilian agencies working together and alongside humanitarian NGOs like American Red CrossCAREMercyCorps, and others  to make sure the U.S. Government’s assistance reaches those who need it most.

The military’s “priorities,” stated Brigadier General Paul Kennedy, the commanding general of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade based on the Filipino island of Okinawa, “have been laid out since day one from our partners in the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.”  This USAID office is responsible for leading and coordinating the U.S. Government’s response to overseas disasters.  In Tacloban, they’ve focused “on getting the logistics up, on bringing in food, shelter, and getting the water system back on tap.”

While much remains to be done, “access to typhoon-affected areas continues to improve” and “aid delivery is increasing,” according to the United Nation.  For example, a successful collaboration between America’s troops, deployable civilians, and the United Nations Children’s Fund restored a major water system last week, and according to USAID Administrator Nancy Lindborg, “there are now 150,000 people in Tacloban being served by clean water.” (For more on the relief effort, see USGLC’s Global Impact Blog, “Helping The Philippines Heal”)

Bipartisan support for the battle against HIV/AIDS

Last week, Congress voted to reauthorize PEPFAR, which is the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.  At a time when Congressional approval rating is at an all-time low, it’s important to shine a light on their efforts to strengthen America’s role in the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

Because it’s working!

PEPFAR got its start thanks to President Bush’s direction and leadership to stop this disease from “wiping out an entire generation in Africa,” but credit also goes to a group of bipartisan champions in Congress for this groundbreaking legislation.  Their pioneering efforts and the Obama Administration’s continued support for PEPFAR means that by the end of last year, nearly 5.1 million men, women, and children received life-saving treatments.  And in 2012 alone, PEPFAR ensured 230,000 babies got the chance to start their lives HIV-free.

A decade later, bipartisan leadership returns to PEPFAR.

Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) introduced legislation to continue the program for another five years, along with new measures to strengthen government oversight (i.e., make it more impactful and accountable).    On the other side of Capitol Hill, Representatives Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ed Royce (R-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) also demonstrated their commitment to U.S. global leadership and this effective foreign assistance program.

Giving Thanks

From humanitarian disasters to global health crises, and from Asia to Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas, you’ll find America’s foreign assistance agencies at work, and the proof is in the smart power pudding:

  • To date, USAID has authorized over $30 million and the Defense Department around $25 million to support the recovery of a typhoon-affected Philippines
  • Since 2005, AIDS-related deaths have decreased by 26% globally and by 32% in sub-Saharan Africa

So this Thanksgiving, as you pile on the extra layers of clothing, pack up the car, and brave the roads or TSA security lines, take a minute to reflect on these two examples – and the countless others – worthy of our appreciation.  You just might find yourself giving thanks for the impact of U.S. global leadership, overseas and at home.