Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is making the case against deep cuts in the international affairs budget, arguing that diplomats provide critical support to American businesses overseas.

“The 1 percent of our budget we spend on all diplomacy and development is not what is driving our deficit. Not only can we afford to maintain a strong civilian presence [overseas] — we cannot afford not to,” Clinton said Tuesday at a meeting of the Global Leadership Coalition, which includes business leaders, ex-officials and others advocating for the U.S. international affairs budget.

Clinton’s speech — the first of several she is planning on U.S. commercial diplomacy — comes as Congress is seeking to slash billions of dollars from President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget in order to lower the deficit.

The State Department is considered a likely target for cuts, since it has grown over the past decade and doesn’t have the kind of domestic constituency that the Pentagon and other agencies have.

For 2012, the House Appropriations Committee has proposed increasing State Department funding for a trio of conflict-ridden countries — Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq — but slicing the rest of the foreign affairs budget by 11 percent.

The Senate has yet to come up with its own budget numbers.

Clinton noted that the State Department had over 1,000 economic officers around the world and 200 in Washington, as well as 400 foreign staff working on business and economic issues.

“Other countries are, very frankly, providing much greater direct support to their businesses, tilting the playing field in their favor,” she said.

She said diplomats helped American businesses by promoting U.S. exports, negotiating trade agreements and fighting regulations and practices that discriminated against U.S. firms.

Clinton also portrayed U.S. development aid as something that created stable export markets — and wasn’t just a helping hand. That is an argument others in the Obama administration have also sought to make.

“As we help these nations meet their own challenges and grow their own economies, their men and women will buy their first cars, their first computers, and everything from movies to medical equipment. And many new consumers will buy them from us,” she said.

The House subcommittee on foreign operations is planning to take up the 2012 budget on July 27.