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Why are American Businesses Isolating Themselves from the Global Market?

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By Thomas Armbruster:

The State Department believes in universality.  Meaning the United States should have a diplomatic presence everywhere.  That does not mean every European Consulate ever opened should stay open.  As part of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s “transformational diplomacy” initiative, diplomatic personnel in relatively tranquil Europe were transferred to India, China, Brazil and other more critical locations.  Not that the Consulate in Tromso was not nice and probably was a good lookout location for Soviet activities, but Secretary Rice recognized the shifts in world power centers and reacted accordingly.  Having served in some remote locations around the world, I can say the U.S. does have national interests everywhere, and American citizens need consular services around the world.  There is a price for universality of course.  Benghazi is just one example.  If you visit the State Department lobby you will see memorial plaques honoring the hundreds who have died in diplomatic service since 1780.

Not all U.S. businesses believe in universality.  In part, American businesses recognize the risks of operations overseas and decide to limit their markets.  Others like Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Caterpillar have embraced world markets and been rewarded for it.  Those companies, aside from doing a great job of creating their own brand, have also contributed to the American brand.  What I found again and again in developing countries is a hunger for American business.  We are the gold standard.  We are known to be honest, hard-working, willing to engage in social development, and in general better businessmen than just about anyone else.  Given a choice between a Chinese company and an American company, most countries would opt for the United States.  American businesses have capital to invest these days.  Many companies have large cash reserves that could be invested in overseas operations.  Some investments will work; some will not. But in every overseas venture we will learn and get better.  And American companies do not have to go it alone.  Thanks to diplomatic universality, there are Ambassadors in Tajikistan, Gabon, and Palau ready and willing to give you intrepid businessmen the lowdown on local politics, trade, and on the ground intel on how to find a good partner and succeed.

The other gold standard is American education.  Again, many educational institutions have well-funded endowments.  Those institutions would benefit their students and the world by reaching out and growing internationally.  If we really want to outpace the rest of the world we will invest in our educational system and teach other languages and cultures and promote international exchange programs.    Congress might do a little less bickering if there was a consensus that one of our primary goals should be promoting the U.S. brand everywhere, in business, in diplomacy, and in culture.

The U.S. military’s combatant command structure is also predicated on the U.S. being a global leader, or in the case of NATO, a leading partner in a global effort for security and stability.  Isolationism, although a consistent minor key in American history, has never been a major chord and is out of step with our capabilities, responsibilities and potential.

It is possible to look at the world, be fearful and want to pull up the drawbridge.  But if the U.S. had the fortitude during World War Two to face major adversaries on multiple fronts, and then the vision to rebuild the world and its institutions, how can we now shrink away from the world when faced with what are really minor skirmishes compared to the scale of the military challenge posed by the Nazis and Imperial Japan?  Even the Cold War period was more dangerous to world stability than the present situation, Vladimir Putin’s sabre rattling notwithstanding, and we were able throughout the Cold War to be a global leader, albeit not every step was a sure-footed step in the right direction.  Even when we get it wrong, our founding principles tend to put us back on the right track.

America never really belongs on the sidelines.  Teddy Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in a Republic” could have been called “Leadership in a Globalized World” and his words still hold true:

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The two major presidential candidates focus inward much more than outward.  Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan “Stronger Together,” could refer not just to America’s disparate constituencies, but also to the U.S. and our allies.  Donald Trump’s call to “Make America Great Again” only makes sense if that means making America the global leader we should be in education, business, health care (yes we have the world’s leading medical technologies), and trade.

Otherwise, we are just North Korea with Walmart.

Thomas Armbruster is an OpsLens Contributor and former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In his long career as an American diplomat, Thomas Armbruster served as the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok, Russia, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan, Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Political Affairs Officer and Nuclear Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia; and Vice Consul at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he was a reporter for the CBS affiliate KGMB-TV in Hawaii. Mr. Armbruster holds a B.A. from McDaniel College, an M.A. from St. Mary’s University, and an M.S. from the Naval War College.

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