In more than 25 years as a U.S. diplomat, I spent about half of my career serving abroad from Japan to Panama and Germany to Cote d'Ivoire, and I have been fortunate to witness the great things our country can do around the world.
Our diplomats work to enhance our national and economic security interests by promoting political stability and economic prosperity abroad. We do this at a cost of slightly more than one percent of the entire federal budget -- in fact, my colleagues in the Foreign Service and I barely could staff one aircraft carrier.
I know that we face a difficult budgetary climate, but American taxpayers get an excellent rate of return on their investment in diplomacy. Let me reflect on my career to show how drastically reducing State's budget is short-sighted.
In the 1990s, I served in Cote d'Ivoire when its neighbor, Liberia, slipped into a brutal civil war. U.S. citizens in Liberia suddenly found themselves surrounded by flying bullets, exploding mortars, and human atrocities.
From our embassies in Monrovia, Liberia's capital, and Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire's capital, my colleagues and I -- working with our military -- carried out a massive evacuation.
I watched as my fellow citizens walked off airplanes and literally kissed the ground.
In 2010, American travelers faced a crisis created by nature when an Icelandic volcano erupted and brought air traffic in Europe to a halt. Flights were shut down for more than a week because the ash would have caused serious damage to airplanes. As a result, nearly 30,000 U.S. citizens were stranded in Europe.
Some were elderly -- including a few World War II veterans -- and some needed medicine.
Others ran out of money and risked being kicked out of their hotels. From our embassy in Berlin, I led a task force to coordinate assistance to those who needed medicine or lodging until the crisis passed.
I spent another part of my career making sure that taxpayers were getting their money's worth in other ways.
In the late 1990s, drug lords and rebels operated with impunity in Colombia. They terrorized the country and made billions from selling drugs in the United States.
The Clinton and Bush administrations, with full congressional support, put into effect a multibillion-dollar effort to reverse this trend.
Our efforts made a difference by significantly reducing the flow of cocaine into the United States and ending the rebel insurgency that had destabilized the Colombian government.
These programs strengthened Colombia's law enforcement agencies, legal system, and local governments to bring drug lords to justice. That success let us improve our security and economic relationship with Colombia.
Looking back, I have had a rewarding career. I knew that when U.S. citizens needed their government in a crisis, my colleagues and I could help.
When presidents and Congress wanted to change policy in Colombia, we made sure our programs were effective and enhanced our national security.
But without an adequately funded State Department budget, our embassies and missions could struggle to perform the central and elementary tasks: protecting Americans, implementing programs that eradicate illness, hunger and economic deprivation, and opening new markets to American businesses.
Deep and draconian cuts would be penny wise and a ton foolish.
Editor's Note: This entry first appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.