General David Petraeus visits Tampa to discuss smart power

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The head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus spoke to a crowd of several hundred people in Tampa last night. Members of the military, government, and business communities attended the event at the Renaissance hotel, which was hosted by the Tampa Bay Council on World Affairs, and the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. It launched the “Putting Smart Power to Work” campaign in Florida. Petraeus promoted the use of defense, diplomacy and development as what he calls smart power tools for U.S. Central Command to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Petraeus claims that violence in Iraq has decreased by 90% since President Bush ordered an escalation in 2007, but the country still faces many challenges. He also says that a responsible draw-down of troops by next year is possible.

The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition consists of hundreds of businesses and NGOs, and aims to re-balance civilian and military authorities and resources between the Department of State and the Department of Defense. Petraeus said the military cannot go it alone, and the U.S. must increase its emphasis on working with civilians for a 2011 troop reduction in Afghanistan to be realistic.

In addition to military operations, Petraeus said diplomatic efforts are essential to using smart power.

The U.S. has had especially difficult diplomatic relations with Iran, as world powers on the UN Security Council are seeking more sanctions against the nation. Petraeus distinguishes Iran as a challenge to status quo powers.

The goal of the event was to also engage Florida businesses in development and diplomacy. CEO of the Tampa Port Authority Richard Wainio has long advocated for a change in the US policy towards Cuba, saying that such a change could be one way for international affairs efforts to improve local business.

Earlier this week President Barack Obama proposed a $768 billion Defense budget for 2011, although the deficit continues to hover around $1.5 trillion.

Former State Representative Dick Batchelor is a member of the newly created Florida Advisory Committee, which is the local chapter of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. He says that defense expenditures could be lower with a timely reduction of U.S. troops abroad.

Tim Sweeny is the president of the International Marketing Research firm, the SIL Group. He believed U.S. resources are overextended in Afghanistan.

The groups hosting the event advocated for an increase in the international affairs budget, which gets about 1% of the federal budget. They also support rewriting the Foreign Assistance Act, to ensure greater transparency and effectiveness in U.S. development programs.

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