Failed states are a leading indicator for future instability and conflict. We learned this hard lesson in Afghanistan, and we continue to learn this lesson from other countries today. We no longer have the luxury of isolationism as a fallback, though I don’t believe we really ever did. If we pulled all of our diplomats back to Washington, closed down all of our development programs, and proclaimed to the world that we wanted nothing more than to be left alone, those who want to do us harm would still find us, and our national security would be even more imperiled.
We can either pay now to help brave people build a better, democratic future for themselves or we will certainly pay later with increased threats to our own national security. In Africa, we are helping to midwife the birth of a new nation in South Sudan and to resolve the situation in Darfur. We are leading the fight against global challenges, like nuclear proliferation and climate change. And in countless communities around the world we are providing essential humanitarian assistance.
Why do we do this? Because it’s who we are. It’s in America’s DNA – from the Marshall Plan to our response to the earthquakes in Pakistan and Haiti.
Do we need to do a better job of unabashedly sharing with the American people why we undertake humanitarian and development programs and what benefits we get from them? Yes. By showing the world that we comprehend, and share, their destiny we engender goodwill and strengthen critical partnerships. And of course we must keep working to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the programs we implement. We cannot rest on our laurels.
But on one point we must remain resolute: This is not time for America to pull back from the world. This is a time to step forward.
Sen. John Kerry is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He has served in the U.S. Senate since 1985 and was the 2004 Democratic candidate for president.
In this roundtable:
Sen. John Kerry: Amid budget crisis, a defense of foreign aid
Astier M. Almedom: With Somalia,what should really scandalize the public
Bill Shore: A chronic political failure on humanitarian aid
Stuart Diamond: U.S. foreign aid: Business skills needed
Robert Goodwin: A new strategy for solving America’s foreign aid problem