October 15, 2009

A Healthy Argument for Smart Power

“A Healthy Argument for Smart Power”

by Nancy Lindborg and William C. Lane

The Huffington Post – October 15, 2009

As hyper-partisanship continues to dominate the health care debate in the nation’s capital, it might be easy to overlook that a bipartisan consensus has quietly but unmistakably emerged for a smart power approach to foreign policy.

Lawmakers and foreign policy and national security experts across the political spectrum have come to agree that America needs to reinvigorate our civilian diplomatic and foreign assistance efforts. These important tools have been understaffed and underfunded for many years and must be used strategically to get better results and make us safer.

This is what’s called ‘smart power,’ a phrase that has recently joined the national lexicon because of its timeliness and policy relevance. Smart power is based on the view that in this increasingly interconnected world, America’s fortunes are inextricably linked to those of other nations and their peoples, and that our military cannot be expected or relied upon to resolve larger issues that are fueled by grinding poverty, poor health and lack of economic opportunity.

Smart power means strengthening our non-military tools of engagement — enhancing diplomacy to strengthen weak and fragile states, and upgrading and improving our foreign assistance and development programs to help poorer nations address critical infrastructure needs, enlarge their economies, reduce poverty and thereby build a more hopeful future for their citizens. It means doing more to help struggling nations wipe out hunger and infectious diseases and expand educational opportunities.

Simply put, smart power is an idea whose time has come. Over the past few years, more than 400 businesses and non-governmental organizations have joined a “strange bedfellows” alliance, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, which believes America needs to employ a smart power approach to the world. And when organizations as diverse as Caterpillar and CARE, or Mercy Corps and Microsoft, are brought to the same table to argue for these things, politicians take notice. Which could be why, in an era known for political divisiveness, the smart power approach is attracting extraordinary bipartisan support in Washington and beyond.

Throughout this year, momentum has been growing at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and on both sides of the aisle in Congress, for putting smart power to work. The White House has launched a review of all U.S. foreign assistance efforts across 60 agencies, with reform recommendations due in January. For its part, the State Department is using its Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) to create a blueprint for the future of diplomacy and development programs. And bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both houses of Congress to begin a comprehensive foreign assistance reform process.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, along with a growing military voice, has championed the smart power approach, calling for strengthening our civilian capacity. President Obama’s commitment to double foreign assistance and to elevate and strengthen diplomatic and development programs is an important step in the right direction.

So while the health care debate might lead you to believe that right and left cannot agree on anything these days, take heart. The call for a smart power approach comes from many quarters and is broadly supported. This is something we can get done, to the benefit of both America and the wider world.

Nancy Lindborg is the President of Mercy Corps and Bill Lane is the Washington Director of Caterpillar. They are co-Presidents of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.