America still has an unrivaled level of influence in the world, but the key to achieving long-term peace is marrying military strength with moves to boost education, health and economic development in conflict areas, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said Monday.
While he sees “peace through strength” as a valid doctrine, American “soft power” portrayed through trade and humanitarian outreach globally will help solidify stability won through power.
“Strength will get you the peace originally but it’s good soft power that keeps the peace,” Mr. Isakson said at the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead during a speech on foreign aid hosted by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.
Focusing heavily on Africa, Mr. Isakson sought to debunk the idea that American influence in the world is waning, using travel tales to support the idea that the American reputation is alive and well thanks to the work of the U.S. government as well as corporations and nonprofits around the globe.
“It’s about telling America’s story to the American people themselves. I know sometimes we forget,” the senator said.
From Coca-Cola’s clean water work in Ghana to MANA’s nutritional paste made from Georgia peanuts saving lives in Somalia to the decision to hand out U.S.-backed micro loans to Iraqi merchants after the invasion, America is still invested in using its strength for the good of the world, he said, mentioning multiple times the PEPFAR program, which provides antiretroviral drugs to help stem mother-to-child transmission of HIV in Africa.
Formerly the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s sub-committee on Africa, he contrasted the U.S. approach in Africa to that of China, framing one of the U.S.’s largest trade partners as a “competitor” on the continent that exploits African resources and builds infrastructure but not capacity.
He was also unequivocal in labeling the air strikes aimed at debilitating and destroying ISIS in Iraq constituted a “dangerous war, the ultimate war between good and evil.” When the U.S.-led coalition has won, it will have to provide those affected by the war the same type of redevelopment assistance it gave Germany, Korea and Japan after emerging victorious in conflicts with those nations.
“America doesn’t bomb and leave; America stays and builds, and that’s the difference in us and any other nation on the face of this earth,” he said.
Retired U.S. Army Gen. George Casey, who joined Mr. Isakson for a discussion after the speech, said he has seen time and again in war zones – starting with Bosnia and later in Iraq – how economic development serves to solidify military gains. The goal in Iraq was “one team, one mission,” with the military working arm-in-arm with the State Department’s diplomatic strategy, he said. Neither he nor Mr. Isakson addressed whether ISIS’s emergence constituted a failure by the U.S. to “win the hearts and minds” of the people and build an effective government in Iraq.
Asked a question on providing toilets for the 600 million impoverished Indians, he noted that there are limits to what American power can achieve, but Mr. Casey did note that access to mobile phones and Internet connections are giving people in developing countries a view on the world, “and they don’t like what they see.” A wealth gap where 45 percent of the world’s population only has access to 5 percent of its wealth must shift, Mr. Casey said.
“These are the people who need to see improvement,” he said, praising Coca-Cola Co.’s 5-by-20 initiative to empower 5 million female entrepreneurs by the year 2020. “I think the economic well-being of people in developing countries is absolutely essential to long-term stability in the world,” he said.
On the threat of ISIS, both men were wary of entering too quickly into an alliance with Iran, with Mr. Casey saying its aims in the region are “diametrically opposed” to those of the U.S. and its allies and that Iran was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans by backing Iraqi rebels.
“The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend when it comes to Iran,” Mr. Isakson said.
That said, they did point out the need to build regional coalitions of Sunni Muslim countries against Sunni Muslim extremists, a task that has proven difficult.
“The only thing worse than going to war with a coalition is going to war without a coalition,” Mr. Casey said. “I believe we are involved in a long-term ideological struggle against global extremism, and it’s not a struggle that we, the United States, can do by ourselves.”
Economically, the future of the U.S. is overseas, Mr. Isakson said, and solidifying new markets for American goods helps national security.
“America is a maturing economy in almost all sectors. In order for us to grow our businesses we must reach beyond our own borders. We cannot be isolationists; we must be internationalists.”
Mr. Casey, a former Army chief of staff, said military leaders back foreign-aid programs because they know that if they don’t, “we’ll have to buy more bullets.”
The U.S. still brings economic, military and moral strength to bear like no other nation, he said.
“We are the indispensable catalysts in bringing people together to act on problems facing the global community.”
Correction: A previous version of this article said Coke’s 5×20 program seeks to empower 5,000 women entrepreneurs by 2020. The figure is actually 5 million.