by Chris Miller
Chris Miller is a decorated combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient, having served nine years in the U.S. Army as an expert in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense. Chris is currently running for Congress in the 12th congressional district in Illinois. Chris is a Fellow with The Truman National Security Project.

In our political discourse it is quite often the most easily understood version of the facts that tends to win arguments, especially when that version can be compressed into a sentence or a soundbite. Explaining to Americans the pairing international development with military action and how or when to choose one over the other is not something that fits neatly into such a segment. International development is not simply American troops kicking a bag of rice off of a helicopter to stranded refugees in a third-world country or buying off tribes playing for both sides. International development is a tool that when fully, properly and effectively utilized reinforces the narrative we have developed to explain to ourselves and to the world why America is a force for good.

The story America has told the world since the end of WWII is that we extend an open hand to our friends and our fist to our enemies. When Russia tried to starve West Berlin, we built an air bridge to feed the people. When communists were building walls, we were building libraries and dancehalls. But we also faced down our foes with military might using our tanks at Checkpoint Charlie and our Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We told the evil empire to tear down their wall and used our economic as much as military strength to see it done. We built strong relationships of mutual transatlantic economic, political, cultural, and military support and cooperation. We stepped in diplomatically as well as military in the Balkans to broker what seemed to be an impossible peace which has lasted until today.
Though we stumbled and had to relearn lessons from wars of previous generations, we have once again seen the benefits of pairing international development and assistance with military action in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. During my two tours in Baghdad, we learned that quite often repairing electrical plants was as beneficial to intelligence gathering as interrogating prisoners. We found that the insurgency was as frightened of us reestablishing waste collection as they were of U.S. checkpoints. We found that giving out soccer balls and inoculations to kids at newly built schools was as effective as raiding their homes for weapons or Baathists in the night. We found that smoking cigarettes on the street corner with the local tough kids got us further than shoving them around in front of their neighbors and that having tea with the local elders at their home was easier than rounding them up in the back of a truck.

Throughout our history and ever more so today, we are learning that applying equally the open hand as well as the fist works. The idea that Americans are generous to their friends and relentless against their foes is engrained in our culture and our story and is at the core of our message to the rest of the world. We have to make and to keep this story true.

It isn’t easy to explain in a sentence or a soundbite why international development is as effective and important a tool to our national security as a strong military and robust intelligence capability. But it is a story that we have been telling ourselves and the world for the last 66 years. It isn’t any less true today. Anywhere the light of American generosity and strength does not shine, our enemies move in darkness. We will keep America strong by helping our friends develop into stronger independent nations and societies and at the same time defeat our foes by pursuing them anywhere they hide.