As the country awaited President Donald Trump’s first address to Congress a letter was released that should be an important reference in any discussion regarding the United States’ role on the world stage. It is a letter that should not be ignored.

Experience speaks

The best people to judge the effects of American foreign policy are the ones who put their lives on the line. They are the first to see the human cost of military interventions and also the affect of these policies on other countries.

As reported by all the major newspapers and news sites, on Monday over a hundred retired generals and admirals wrote a letter addressing issues of foreign policy and diplomacy.

Amongst the signatories there were former CIA Director David Petraeus who was one of the possible candidates to replace Michael Flynn as Scenario Security Advisor and Chairman of the national security Council and also Admiral James Stavridis, the former NATO Supreme Commander.

The letter was sent to the Congressional leaders, two Cabinet officials and the White House national security advisor.

Quoting new Defence Secretary James Mattis in 2013 when he was the head of the US Central Command that "If you don't fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition", the generals and admirals state clearly the importance of foreign aid and diplomacy in finding long term solutions to the world’s hot spots.

Stop gap measures

Too often in the past, such as in Libya and Iraq, military intervention only caused bigger long term problems when the troops were withdrawn before the countries had been properly organized.

These failures to complete the tasks did as much to generate anger and opposition to the United States and subsequently provided assistance to such groups as Al-Qaeda and ISIS as any failure of military tactics on the field.

Too often in recent decades American diplomacy has forgotten the lessons of the two world wars.

World wars

At the end of the Great War the victorious allies wanted to punish the Germans and thus created the conditions that led to the rise of Hitler who started another international catastrophe in 1939. The end of the Second World War showed that American diplomats had learnt from the mistakes of Versailles and the foreign aid given to even defeated countries created the conditions that brought peace and prosperity to Japan, Germany, Italy and built the foundations for the European Union.

That peace is still holding today.

To borrow a term from the presidential campaign, these steps towards helping the countries recover from the wars were part of what “America Great” in the eyes of the world. Yet there was no mention of these past achievements in President Trump ’s speech last night.

Quoting President Theodore Roosevelt's saying “Speak softly, but carry a Big Stick” would be the best advice for the current international situation. Caution and not big words should be the keywords to resolving the issues in many countries and this can only be done with diplomacy and foreign aid.

The big stick already exists with a military that spends more money than any other country, even without the proposed $54 billion dollar increase.

If the soft words work then the big stick is not needed and countless lives are saved, including American soldiers and also the women and children that are the most tragic victims of all wars.

True costs

The generals and admirals who signed the letter know the cost of the “big stick”, they have seen the loss of friends and fellow soldiers in battles. They have seen the devastation of bombings and the remains of bodies of the victims of war.

Who better than these soldiers knows that the costs of diplomacy and foreign aid are far less than the cost of weapons and human lives?

President Donald Trump would do well to heed the words of those generals and admirals and to remember that America was made great by what it did in peacetime and not in war.