For Clinton, who came into office vowing to promote U.S. "smart power" by ramping up both U.S. aid and civilian engagement around the world, the threatened downscaling of U.S. involvement is both dangerous and disappointing.

American bilateral aid is essential to maintaining American influence through a soft-power, or "smart" power, approach. American cultural and economic influence grew throughout the Cold War, in large part because of bilateral American aid through the Marshall Plan.

October 9, 2011

The financial crunch threatens to undermine a foreign policy described as “smart power” by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, one that emphasizes diplomacy and development as a complement to U.S. military power.

September 17, 2011

China has talked a great deal about using its currency reserves to project “soft power,” but when it comes to pulling the trigger, it has been extremely cautious about putting its money anywhere besides the safest and most liquid instruments. ... but there’s little evidence that China has actually weighed into these markets in any sizable way.

Declining U.S. military budgets not only would affect AFRICOM’s military-to-military activities but also could result in the command having to shed many of its support contractors. No specific orders to cut workers or contractors have yet been received, but are anticipated, Ham says.

Food aid to hungry countries, training for political parties in young democracies, improved medical services for expectant mothers and the U.S. response to natural disasters such as earthquakes and droughts could be hit in a major scale-back of U.S. assistance.

"The government does not trust the Foreign Service, does not understand public diplomacy and is only belatedly awakening to the re-emergence of the Asia-Pacific as the centre of the global political economy," said Copeland, now a fellow at both the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs and the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy.