marlienebastien_fc.jpgA 12-year old died last year of a tooth problem because his family could not afford health insurance.  Many elders face an impossible decision to pay for the high cost of medication or starve. 50% percent of black students and 53% of Hispanics fail to graduate from high school every year due to overcrowded classrooms, inferior teacher salaries and poverty. Yet, last year, this country spent over $94 billion in the Iraq war alone.  By the end of September, the cost of war will reach a staggering $142 billion.  This custom made war has jeopardized our children’s future, depleted our social security trust funds, squandered our reserves and thrust us into deeper debt.

However, this budding investment did not translate into gains for the U.S., at least none that can easily be quantified.  If anything, our country is despised more around the world today, prompting concerned policymakers, political and community leaders to search for new solutions.

According to the U.S. Global Leadership Center, “We cannot rely on military power alone to make our nation secure…our prosperity and security have become inextricably linked to the prosperity and security of other nations and their people.  Diplomatic initiatives, anti-proliferation programs, international exchanges and long-term investments in the health, education, and livelihood of citizens of other nations keep America safer.”

This belief has galvanized the Center for Global Engagement, which for the past 10 years has championed the power of “smart diplomacy” as a way to foster goodwill toward the U.S., thus reducing terrorist threats.  CFGE is a “coalition of business, civic, military, faith-based, and political leaders” with the mission of “broadening America’s interests in building a better, safer world.”  Their annual conference held in Washington July 15th reunited 400 of the unusual collaborators.

Out-of-state participants hit the ground of Capitol Hill the next day, in a twirl of 50 meetings with House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees to advocate for the passage of
33.6 billion in International Support Funds.

A survey of 606 U.S. military officers by the bi-partisan polling team Peter D. Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies sponsored by U.S. Global Engagement indicated that 80% of all officers believe that “non-military tools such as diplomacy, food aid, and support of heath, education, and economic development programs are very important to helping the U.S. achieve its national security objectives.” 

The Conference ended with a dinner organized by the Center for Global Engagement with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice giving the introductory remarks.  The night’s award recipient, Defense
Secretary Bill Gates astonished most by his potent sense of humor. He suddenly appeared more approachable, more human.

Addressing the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign, Gates declared, “It has become clear that America's civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and under-funded for far too long — relative to what we traditionally spend on the military, and more importantly, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world.”


The unspoken link to last week’s smart diplomacy debate is immigration.  Most of this country’s 21 million undocumented immigrants would rather live in their native land close to family and friends. Many come to the U.S. because of political repression, poverty and violence. Others just yearn for a better, greener pasture.

If the wealthiest country in the world used its resources wisely to support infrastructure development in the Caribbean and around the world, then fewer would risk their lives to come here.  Of equal importance is inhumane deportation of tax-paying, contributing immigrants to countries in the Caribbean, Central and South America after they spent their entire life here. It is neither fair to them nor the receiving country.

Smart politics is about smart investment, planning and development.  It is also about empathy, humanity.

Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.