LETTER: Diplomats a worthwhile investment

To the editor:

Robert Lee’s Dec. 2 narrative about America’s founding years segues well into some considerations about the powerful global leadership we have assumed.

George F. Kennan spent over three decades as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service. His 1946 observations, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” informed post-World War II American policy toward the USSR. While the Cold War resorted to battlefields at times, Kennan, nonetheless, supplied sound reasoning to contain Soviet communist expansion rather than pursue direct military confrontation.

Secretary of State George Marshall’s post-WWII recovery plan, conceived by Kennan and U.S. diplomatic officials, rebuilt the war-ravaged nations of western Europe. Costing us about $189 billion (current value), it also removed Soviet temptations to exploit them during much longer recoveries. We may never fully appreciate the return value of that investment.

A diplomatically experienced president, George H.W. Bush, and his capable Secretary of State, James Baker, kept international tensions at a minimum as the Soviet Union and its eastern European satellites broke up during 1989-91.

Those examples illustrate the U.S. State Department at its best. The public imagination, though, is more enthralled by military exploits than about foreign diplomatic service. A Navy SEAL team’s takedown of a major terrorist leader is much more riveting than snoozing through another diplomatic briefing by the secretary of state.

Our vaunted military services, though, are not intended as substitute diplomats. A capable State Department can keep our G.I.s out of harm’s way.

Americans can reasonably ask, therefore, why President Trump has proposed a 31 percent cut to our State Department’s budget. On a day when Kim Jong-un was testing an intercontinental missile, how did the president find time to disgrace an occasion purported to honor WWII Navajo code talkers, yet little to send an ambassador to South Korea?

Mr. Trump’s time, further, seems spent revisiting the discredited issue of Barack Obama’s birthplace, rather than addressing critical diplomatic postings to volatile regions of the globe. He would rather send cruise missiles to bomb Syria than an ambassador to improve diplomatic relations.

If the president is serious about America’s security, and yes, our overseas economic interests, he should encourage a healthy diplomatic corps, and grow less infatuated with generals and tweets.

Douglas Smith