03/27/2014 03:53 pm ET Updated May 27, 2014

More Money for Diplomacy

The attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya in September 2012, in which four Americans -- including our ambassador to Libya -- were killed, was a reminder of how vulnerable our embassies are. In fact, U.S. embassies have become a popular target for terrorists in recent years at least partly because they are so vulnerable. Often, the host nations cannot or will not provide adequate security and we do not have enough Marines to go around.

I am concerned not only for the safety of our diplomatic corps, but also from the growing perception that they are not a priority concern. Over my long career in the U.S. Army, it was my privilege to work with many talented diplomats -- such as John Kenneth Galbraith in India and Raul Castro in El Salvador -- who ably represented our country and were able to defuse many dangerous situations. I have long been an advocate of "soft power" in which we promote our country's values with persuasion and economic assistance and rely less on our military.

I am concerned that the danger associated with diplomatic work along with the apparent diminishing status of diplomats may be discouraging able young people from seeking careers with the State Department. The untimely death of our special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke in 2010 left a void. He was a consummate diplomat with vast experience and intense energy who did an extraordinary job of promoting out nation's interests. Every victory he won saved lives of our young people in uniform. I take it on faith we have other people of Holbrooke's caliber working their way up through the ranks of the diplomatic corps, but they need more support and encouragement than they are receiving.

We need to understand that Defense and State are the yin and yang of our campaign to influence world events. Right now we are busily chopping the Pentagon's budget, which in my view is long overdue, but at the same time we need to beef up our diplomatic budget. With fewer ships, planes and troops to project our power, we will need more high level diplomacy by people who know what they are doing and who have the full support of our government.

I can't resist adding also that the State Department should be given a mandate to support U.S. companies seeking to export products to other nations. You can be assured that the diplomats of Germany, Japan and China invest much of their time in promoting their country's commercial interests -- to great effect -- and we should do the same.

Unfortunately, Congress is not only in a budget slashing mode, but many legislators are openly hostile to any and all foreign affairs. They want to withdraw from Afghanistan, deter immigration and curtail foreign aid. This attitude is shortsighted and dangerous to our country's interests. We need a dramatically bigger commitment of people, funding and attention to diplomacy.


Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications, published by The History Publishing Company.