By Chris Stewart and Sen. Bill Frist M.D.
We partnered Friday to organize an event at the Utah State Capitol to discuss the critical leadership role that the United States plays globally and to highlight Utah’s longstanding commitment and contributions to this leadership. Whether rebuilding Europe and Asia following the devastation of World War Two, promoting economic and political freedoms throughout the Cold War or responding to the scourges of hunger and disease, the United States has embraced its role as the leading force for good in the world both as a strategy to protect and advance our national interests and as a demonstration of American values and compassion.
The challenges we face in the world today are different but no less severe: Chinese military activities in the South China Sea, Russian aggression in Ukraine, Cyber-attacks, North Korean nuclear ambitions. But they also include softer threats ranging from unprecedented food insecurity and famines to mass migration and refugee flows to the threats of violent extremism and pandemic disease. Yet the solution to these problems still depends in large part on strong and clear U.S. leadership. And while U.S. foreign assistance is often criticized for being a large and ineffective part of the federal budget, this could not be further from the truth.
In recent years, the United States has led an unprecedented and incredibly successful global effort to combat global poverty and disease through bipartisan initiatives such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the Feed the Future global food security program. These programs are representative of the U.S. leadership that has helped reduce the deaths of mothers and children under five worldwide by more than half since 1990. A few other U.S.-led success stories include providing HIV/AIDS treatment to more than 11.5 million Africans who otherwise faced a death sentence, reducing malaria incidence by more than 75 percent in the hardest hit countries, reducing global hunger and malnutrition by nearly 30 percent since 2000, and expanding access to life-saving vaccines to more than 500 million children around the world. The US has led these initiatives that have saved tens of millions of lives with a foreign assistance investment that represents less than 1 percent of the US federal budget.
For over 30 years, LDS Charities has helped millions of people in over 189 countries. The University of Utah School of Medicine’s Global Public Health program is working with partners throughout the world to increase the capacity of health systems to respond to disease, and the Salt Lake City Rotary Club supports programs to provide access to clean water and immunizations. These are just a few examples of the tremendous global work that is being led by organizations and individuals in Utah.
When you combine the reach and capabilities of organizations like these in Utah and across the United States with our government led foreign assistance programs, the United States is second to none in its ability to influence and shape the world of today and tomorrow. However, we must be smart in how we engage internationally, and apply newer models of foreign assistance that reward effectiveness and results, that promote innovation, and that recognize the indispensable role of economic growth as the engine that lifts populations and countries out of poverty. As our new USAID Administrator Mark Green often says, U.S. development assistance is a “hand up, not a handout.” We must empower leaders like Administrator Green by giving them the authority and flexibility they need to reform and improve our foreign assistance programs so that they achieve maximum impact.
In an increasingly complicated and dangerous world, we must not lose sight of the irreplaceable role the United States plays in promoting stability, prosperity and dignity throughout the world. There are far too many who would exploit the absence of this leadership in ways that would threaten our security and harm those who are most vulnerable. Challenges such as pandemics, violent extremism and forced migration will be exponentially more difficult to deal with if the United States retreats from its leadership role in global development and health.
This story was originally featured on The Salt Lake Tribune.