S.C. wants candidates to address global engagement

A Boeing 787. (File/Provided)


With less than three weeks to go before South Carolina’s “First in the South” presidential primaries, national security and foreign policy rightly continue to dominate the discussion at candidates’ rallies, town halls and roundtables.

South Carolina voters recognize the United States faces growing threats overseas — and they want to know what the next president will do to confront the Islamic State, Iran and North Korea.

But we also need to hear from all the candidates on how they will strengthen American global leadership to both grow our economy and demonstrate our values.

The truth is, there is much that candidates can celebrate as they criss-cross the state seeking our voters’ support. In this last 25 years, America has helped cut extreme poverty in half worldwide and deaths from malaria fell to new lows.

Just this year, we helped end the Ebola outbreak in Africa and a drought in Ethiopia didn’t result in a famine. Today, mothers in Sub-Saharan Africa are able to give birth to babies free from AIDS thanks to American generosity.

South Carolina Peace Corps volunteers work around the globe to empower communities and build a better world. Workers from Greenville to Columbia to Charleston and everywhere in between have jobs because their companies are able to sell overseas. These are the stories that should be front and center of speeches and campaign ads.

On the national security front, it’s true that some problems require military intervention, but our top generals are the first to say that the military alone cannot keep us safe. USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief are but a few of the agencies and programs that play a significant role in preventing conflict and instability and keeping our troops out of harm’s way.

As Gen. James Mattis testified before Congress, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.” Military leaders alongside our enlisted servicemen and women trust our development and diplomacy programs will help ensure they are able to return home to their families.

With 95 percent of consumers living outside our borders, these programs are also vital to our continued economic prosperity. Our nation’s development and diplomacy programs often open the door for the private sector to invest overseas: building new markets, enhancing the rule of law in developing countries, and creating familiarity with American brands. These programs help ensure our companies remain competitive around the world.

With one in five South Carolina jobs relying on trade, the next president will need to be a global leader for American exporters and strengthen our economic engagement around the world.

Many people believe we spend a significant amount on foreign assistance. Estimates of 20 or 30 percent of the federal budget are common.

But here’s the reality: Our global development programs account for less than one percent of the federal budget. The return on these strategic investments is profound for our national security, economic prosperity, and for promoting our interests and values around the world.

South Carolina has played an outsized role in world affairs since before it even became a state. Home to the first attempt at a permanent settlement in America — and site of the Battle of Cowpens, which proved to be a key turning point in the Revolutionary War — the Palmetto State was a significant part our nation’s early history.

Today, this legacy remains very much alive. From the numerous major military bases located in South Carolina to the exports by local companies overseas, few states have the same worldwide impact as ours. Boeing and BMW are just two of the numerous global brands that have established a major presence here. South Carolina is winning in the global economy.

Sitting alongside Charleston’s East Bay or Concord streets at night, we can admire the massive freighters that glide silently by on their way to deliver our nation’s exports to consumers across the world. Filled with goods headed to Hamburg, Dubai and Shanghai, nearly 2,000 vessels called on the Port of Charleston last year, bringing $53 billion in economic impact to South Carolina. As the eighth busiest port in the country, the trade it facilitates is an economic driver not only for the city and state, but for the entire country.

As the leaders the Democratic and Republican parties in South Carolina, we certainly don’t always agree. But support for American global leadership is one of them. Not only does it make our country safer, but it ensures our ports, farms and manufacturing plants remain busy.

In February, voters across our state will cast their ballot in the presidential primary.

What do South Carolinians expect from the candidates? A clear vision for America’s role in the world and how you will use all our tools — diplomacy, development and defense — to advance our nation’s interests and values.

Campaigns should lay out clear visions for the future of America’s engagement around the world and how that will affect workers, service members and families in South Carolina.

Jaime Harrison is chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party. Matt Moore is chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party.