CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Americans should be deeply proud of what our military has accomplished throughout its history. Our brave men and women in uniform put their lives on the line every day to protect American freedom and to keep us, as President Reagan always said, that "shining city on a hill."
Current events around the world tell us that U.S. leadership is needed now more than ever. The threats we face today, though, are not the nation-based enemies they once were, but terrorism, pandemic disease, and extreme poverty. As an Iraq War veteran, I know our military must remain second to none, but the national security challenges of the 21st century require a "smart power" approach, using all the tools of foreign policy -- Diplomacy and Development alongside a strong Defense -- to keep us safe and advance our interests.
Recent television advertisements (sponsored by RANDPAC) decrying Sen. Manchin's commitment to aid for Libya, Egypt and Pakistan are dangerously wrong and foolhardy. It is moments of global transition like this when our light must shine the brightest, and when our policy should always be to send the troops in last.
We have the capacity to cool down hot spots around the world and prevent conflict through diplomacy and developmental investments, without having to send our troops in at all. Doing everything we can to keep our troops out of harm's way is something we owe to our troops and their families.
Development and diplomatic programs work to prevent conflict by cutting off the roots of so many of today's problems. People around the world are looking for the same things we are. They want to feed their families and see their children thrive. The difference when we provide education, opportunity, agriculture assistance to the developing world is that we replace the desperation and hopelessness that feeds violent extremists with a renewed hope for a bright future. This helps us prevent another 9/11.
With the drawdown of troops in Iraq and the transition to a civilian-led mission in Afghanistan, these diplomatic and development based programs are essential in preserving the hard-fought gains made by our military and furthering peace in the region. The recent tragedy in Libya shows us that our diplomats are not just nameless "suits" but brave men and women who risk their lives on behalf of their country. Our engagement in the "Arab Spring" countries is critical to the stability of this region, and thus the security of the United States.
History has also shown us that a robust economy advances our national security, and our engagement around the world is a key to getting our economy moving again. With 95 percent of consumers living outside of the United States, West Virginia businesses need open access to these new markets through our diplomatic and development programs.
Right now, more than one in five jobs in West Virginia depends on international trade, and last year we exported more than $9 billion in goods and services. The world's fastest growing economies are in the developing world, and if we are going to expand our economy at home, we must continue to invest in these countries.
This year's election focused so much on our economy, and our leaders in Washington now face some tough decisions as our nation approaches the "fiscal cliff." But as a mere one percent of our federal budget, it makes no sense to cut our international affairs programs. This small investment yields huge benefits for us in terms of national security, jobs here in West Virginia, and underwrites the values that make us Americans. This is something Democrats and Republicans both agree on.
Our newly elected officials must ensure America remains a global leader. As we save lives and expand freedom, we strengthen our own security and economy. This is not just the right thing to do, but it's also the smart thing.
Gensler, a graduate of Huntington East High School and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, is a Bronze Star Medal recipient from the Iraq War and a Fellow with the Truman National Security Project.