Editor's Note: This entry first appeared as an opinion piece on Politico.
Just six months after the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization began supporting the Libyan people's efforts to overthrow a brutal dictator in power for 40 years, U.S. diplomats returned to raise the U.S. flag over our embassy in a new Libya.
In Tunisia and in Egypt, as well, citizens have claimed their freedom -- a remarkable achievement. But the struggle does not stop there. As these new democracies emerge, our diplomats and development experts will be on the ground, supporting the people as the build new and stable governments; jump-start and reform their economies, and create the foundations for enduring peace.
Why? The people of the region will benefit enormously from this democratic transition -- but so, too, will the American people. A peaceful, prosperous and democratic Middle East will likely create economic opportunity for U.S. businesses and enhanced national security for every American.
As President Barack Obama said at the United Nations last month, "[T]he United States will continue to support those nations that transition to democracy -- with greater trade and investment, so that freedom is followed by opportunity."
In the aftermath of each Middle East revolution, the State Department and USAID stepped in with humanitarian, development and security aid to help people defend their hard-won gains. Under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's leadership, we are creating and implementing longer-term strategies, working with allies, partners and -- especially -- the people of the region to build democratic governments and open economies.
In Libya, the State Department and USAID are working with the Transitional National Council to promote democratic governance, establish legitimate institutions and provide for the needs of the Libyan people. We are helping them build vibrant political parties and civil society groups -- to prevent corruption and encourage political change.
The State Department is also leading U.S. efforts to prevent shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles from falling in to the hands of terrorists. While our teams on the ground are helping Libya's new government recover, secure and destroy the previous regime's dangerous weapons.
In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Awakening, the United States is helping Tunisians organize credible elections and an inclusive political process, advance the rule of law, promote human rights and foster equitable, private-sector-led economic growth. Clinton just last month announced the U.S.-Tunisia Joint Political and Economic Partnership -- a framework for collaboration with the Tunisian people and their new government.
In recognition of Tunisia's commitment to democratic and economic reform, the country last week was selected to be eligible for a Millennium Challenge Corporation threshold program. In 2012, we hope to launch negotiations for a bilateral "Open Skies" Air Transport Agreement -- to open direct air routes between Tunisia and the United States and spur economic growth in both of our countries.
In Egypt, Washington moved quickly to provide urgent assistance for the political transition now underway. We are working with the Egyptians to promote an inclusive and transparent transition, train political leaders from all parties and support civil society. From debt relief and loan guarantees to new policies to increase trade and investment, we are committed to making sure the Arab Awakening is also an economic awakening, which delivers results for the Egyptian people.
As these positive changes emerge in the Middle East, we face challenging economic times here at home. Some question whether we should continue providing assistance overseas.
While this is an understandable concern in the current economic climate, significant cuts to the State Department and USAID budget would do serious, long-term harm to our national security -- and our economy.
Fortunately, here in the United States, leaders from both parties agree about the value of humanitarian and security assistance. Earlier this month, 78 Democratic and Republican senators came together to defeat an amendment that would have slashed State and USAID's current budget by 15 percent, or $6.9 billion.
Cuts of that magnitude would have stymied our work around the world -- including in Iraq and Afghanistan. But 78 senators makes it abundantly clear that foreign assistance is a key tool for advancing U.S. interests abroad.
The State and USAID budget -- all personnel, operations and programs -- is only 1 percent of the entire federal budget. One percent. That tiny share of the federal budget includes everything from protecting U.S. citizens overseas; to curbing violent extremism and nuclear proliferation; to helping U.S. businesses connect with new customers; to rolling back HIV/AIDS, malaria and child malnutrition; to maintaining our embassies. It funds everything we do to make the rest of the world safe for Americans to live, travel and conduct business -- and everything we do to keep our homeland secure.
We don't spend money on diplomacy and development just to feel good about ourselves. We fight hunger, stop oppression, prevent global pandemics and respond to crises abroad, because that is the most cost-effective way to enhance U.S. national security -- to protect America and the American people -- and to create jobs here at home. It has the additional benefit of also being the right thing to do.
Our national values, moral compass and self-interest are all perfectly aligned.