Beware politicians spouting simplistic soundbites about foreign policy. It's always complicated. Believe it when you hear that al-Qaida has been weakened substantially on President Obama's watch. Expect the United States to work more closely with other nations, and less often on its own, to affect change in other lands.
That's some of what Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides shared with a Minneapolis audience Monday. It was day one of a visit to his native state (he's from Duluth) capped by his presentation of a Humphrey School Public Leadership Award to the guy who gave him his start in Washington, former Vice President Walter Mondale.
Nides may be the most powerful Minnesotan in Washington whose name most Minnesotans don't know. His D.C. career began with an internship in Mondale's office. He held leading staff positions in the U.S. House, then Fannie Mae, then the U.S. Trade Representative's office. When the Clinton administration ended he moved to the private sector, and rose to chief operating officer at Morgan Stanley before returning to Washington.
Nides is, in essence, COO at Foggy Bottom.That doesn't mean he stays in Washington and minds the store while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton jets around the world. He was in Pakistan earlier this month working to improve the U.S. Pakistani relationship. It's one key to the larger effort to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan and draw down U.S. troops there.
One of the biggest threats to the State Department's peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts is not foreign. It's domestic, in the form of congressional desire to cut non-defense spending, he said.
"If you ask Americans what percent of the federal budget is spent on everything the State Department does, all of our foreign assistance, all of our embassies, all of our 65,000 employees, people say 25 percent. Actually, it's 1 percent," Nides said. "We have to build the case about what we've done and what we do. It's all about national security. We get involved in Sudan, in Somalia, in Afghanistan, not because it's a nice thing to do, but for our own national security. We have to connect our work to the realities of Americans' everyday lives."