The cost of foreign affairs, it’s not as much as you think

Despite what most Americans think — and obviously some members of Congress as well —  non-military foreign affairs does not take up a quarter of the federal budget.

The core State Department budget for 2012– that part that pays for embassies and the salaries of diplomats WORLDWIDE — is $14.2 billion. That works out to about $46 per year for each person in the United States.

Once you add in non-military foreign aid — you know the stuff that allows other countries to grow enough so they can buy U.S. products and services — the entire non-military foreign affairs budget is $47 billion — $152 per person per year.

And yet what Americans think about the foreign affairs budget is way off.

According to a survey by Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland late last year the American people think the U.S. spends 25 percent on foreign affairs.

The public thinks 5 percent is the about the right amount.

The real number is ABOUT 1 PERCENT.

But it seems that even this small amount is too much for some.

It seems that those who want to cut the civilian foreign affairs budget look at just the cash and not the human cost. (Think about the men and women in the military who would have to go into harms way once the diplomatic corps is gutted.)

There are damn few talking about how the small foreign affairs budget provides a large positive impact both for U.S. security and for U.S. jobs.

There is a disconnect between the day-to-day diplomatic and development work and the American people. The folks on Main Street get the idea of a strong military defending freedom and all, but they don’t see how diplomacy fits in.

And part of the blame for this disconnect is the inability of local news organizations to see how global issues affect local events.

The mantra of “Local! Local! Local!” has led the accountants at news organizations around the country to think that anything that touches on international news should be avoided. Such a view denies the every increasing connection between Main Street and the rest of the world.

A local paper or radio station can always find a church group that sends a mission to some country. The trick is to find economic and political connections.

For example, the state of Florida is highly dependent on tourism from Brazil. For every 82 visas issued in Brazil to visit the United States 1 job in Florida is created. The U.S. mission in Brazil (3 consulates and the embassy) issued 620,000 visas last year. (For the math impaired that is 7,500 jobs created in Florida as a DIRECT result of visas issued to Brazilians by U.S. diplomats. No diplomats. No visas.)

Miami NBC got the connection a while back with its story about how Brazil was the #1 trading partner with Florida.

It is not difficult to make the connections between the world and Main Street. Stories that make these links put international events into a local context. And with context comes a better understanding of the world.

The stories might also help dispel myths about  the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. If nothing else, the public would be educated as to the real cost and value of the civilian foreign service.

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