Steven Browning: America’s diplomatic service delivers for America
As a retired member of the United States Foreign Service I was proud to represent the interests and values of America in the eight countries in which I lived and the more than 30 countries in which I worked during my 34 years of service.
This week, my active duty colleagues in the Foreign Service will celebrate Foreign Service Day, designated by the United States Senate in 1996 as the first Friday in May each year.
On this occasion I would like to take the opportunity to recognize the critical work done by America’s diplomats and development professionals at U.S. embassies and consulates in almost every country in the world. America’s network of embassies is operated and staffed by members of the U.S. Foreign Service who have learned the local language and customs and know how to navigate the terrain. They act on America’s behalf to enhance our national security and advance our economic prosperity at home.
Today, nine in 10 Americans support strong U.S. global leadership. Such leadership is unthinkable without a strong professional Foreign Service deployed around the world protecting and defending America’s people, interests and values. If the United States retreats, we leave a vacuum that will be filled by others who do not share our values or interests.
American businesses depend greatly on U.S. diplomats to work with countries to establish rules and remove obstacles to enable them to compete and operate overseas on a level playing field. When American businesses expand their reach across the globe, they create new opportunities and open new markets. Our embassies’ commercial work supports California companies, farmers and citizen entrepreneurs in selling abroad.
Did you know, for instance, that State Department advocacy for U.S. commercial interests abroad helped achieve record exports, reaching an all-time high of $2.21 trillion in 2016 and supporting 11.5 million U.S. jobs?
The work of the U.S. Foreign Service benefits California and its citizens in many other ways as well:
American embassies and consulates abroad facilitated the ability of 156,000 international higher education students to study at California institutes of higher education in the academic 2016-17, the vast majority paying full tuition and contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to the California economy;
The Strong Cities Network, a State Department program that includes Los Angeles and San Diego, is a global network of mayors, municipal-level policy makers and practitioners united in building social cohesion and community resilience to counter violent extremism;
The U.S. Embassy in Canberra signed the Wildland Fire Management resources Agreement between the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior and Emergency Management Australia to help facilitate resource sharing to combat wildfires. In October 2017, under a separate state-to-state agreement, the State of Victoria sent 33 emergency management staff to help fight wildfires in Northern California; and,
The Los Angeles Police Department and the State Department have partnered since 2016 to help police in Guatemala and El Salvador learn policing strategies in response to gang activity and to learn community outreach strategies in areas impacted by gangs, programs designed to help stem the flow of people fleeing north to escape gang violence.
These examples illustrate the wide range of programs and initiatives that the Foreign Service undertakes to advance America’s interests abroad, increasingly critical as our country faces growing challenges to our global leadership, particularly from rising powers such as China.
I, for one, support the full use of our diplomatic efforts to help maintain American global leadership in all areas, because if we don’t lead, who will?
Last year on Foreign Service Day, a memorial ceremony was held at the State Department to honor those Foreign Service members who gave their lives serving the United States overseas. The 249th and 250th names of Foreign Service personnel who did not make it home were added to the memorial plaque in the State Department lobby. Six U.S. ambassadors have died in service to their country since 1949, including Northern California native son Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Like the armed services, whose 1.3 million members defend this country in uniform, the 14,000 professionals in the U.S. Foreign Service serve our country in over 270 posts around the world to advance American interests, keep America safe and promote American prosperity. Foreign Service Day is a good time to acknowledge their sacrifices and contributions to our country.
Ambassador (ret.) Steven A. Browning lives in Nevada City.
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