China is nonetheless active in bilateral relations with member states, and this involves both commercial diplomacy, high-level visits and public diplomacy. The last increasingly revolve around the notion of “helping friends,” whether these are nations on the periphery of Europe in need of investment or simply cash.

The U.S. government hashas funded thousands of programs that not only help people in the developing world, but work to maintain vital transnational relationships... The foreign affairs budget also funds scholarship and exchange programs that bring foreign students and community leaders to the United States to study, network, and engage in cultural exchange.

With great fanfare, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched a Quadrennial Development and Diplomacy Review (QDDR)—modeled on the Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review—which promised a new era in foreign relations. In the President’s 2010 budget, State and USAID were the clear winners (with defense spending a clear loser).

We could overhaul our approach to national security, creating a more strategic, collaborative, less-is-more, and system that features engagement and soft power while we still have most of the decision power to do so, or simply wait for events to overtake us and be handed our fate.

More broadly, a default would leave America a global laughingstock. Our “soft power,” our promotion of democracy around the world, and our influence would all take a hit. The spectacle of paralysis in the world’s largest economy is already bewildering to many countries. If there is awe for our military prowess and delight in our movies and music, there is scorn for our political/economic management.

Last year, the State Department said it needed 1,250 more positions to handle work in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East, besides expanding public diplomacy and increasing foreign language training. But in this year's budget belatedly approved in April, lawmakers only provided enough money to fill jobs left vacant by attrition.

Powell said he remains convinced that the United States should use its political and economic influence, so-called soft power, instead of military might to achieve its goals. "We should use soft power as much as possible. But when hard power is necessary, we have to use it in the right way," he said.

The funding, provided over the next three years, is a response to the Arab Spring — the pro-democracy movements that have arisen in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and other Arabic countries.