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This article originally appeared on the ctpost

Few people who have experienced war would suggest armed conflict as anything but a last, strategic resort. Yet in times of geopolitical uncertainty like the present, we find ourselves groping for tactical, short-term responses to crises we have neither prevented nor anticipated, and all too often the proposed solutions involve military force.

Obviously, we must defeat entities like the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham that are a cancer on world civilization. But we also need to broaden opportunities for peace by preventing competitors from becoming adversaries and giving violent extremism a chance to flourish. In my view, employing American leadership to expand international trade presents precisely such an opportunity–one we squander at the risk of US interests, lives, and national honor.

Promoting robust international trade contributes to national prosperity–a simple, empirically based fact of modern economic life. A strong economy won’t solve all our problems, foreign or domestic, but without it we can solve very few of them. Among the enduring lessons of the past century is that a prosperous America is far better able to protect the country’s values and advance its interests in a dangerous world. Last year, U.S. exports supported 11.7 million American jobs. Since-mid 2009, the increase in U.S. exports has accounted for one-third of our overall economic growth. Striking deals that continue to boost these exports will bolster our economy, protecting the military edge and global influence that economic vigor affords.

More broadly, however, trade runs right to the heart of international security in the 21st century. Maintaining global stability, essential to America’s peace and prosperity, is no longer a function solely of our ability to deploy and defeat, but rather of our capacity to engage and endow–and ultimately to turn promise and opportunity into jobs and a higher quality of life. By leading on trade, the United States tightens our bonds with allies around the globe, strengthens our influence in would-be hotspots, and fosters greater global stability through expanding economic cooperation.

Three initiatives underway epitomize the importance of US trade leadership in these challenging times.

In Asia, approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will help stabilize a region in flux. An ambitious and comprehensive trade accord among the United States and 11 other countries that touch the Pacific Ocean, the TPP is essential for expanding our market access and influence in this strategically critical area. These 12 nations account for nearly 40 percent of the world’s GDP and about a third of all trade, creating not only an enormously lucrative trading bloc but a vital geostrategic counterweight to China.

Likewise, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is the next great step forward in the US-European economic relationship. It is already the world’s largest such alliance, encompassing $1 trillion in annual trade, $4 trillion in investment, and 13 million jobs. TTIP would enable us to build on this powerful foundation and scale it to loftier heights through even greater economic integration and collaboration. Vibrant U.S. and European economic cooperation means a stronger and more capable NATO–a 28-member military alliance that remains indispensable to keeping the world free and safe.

In Africa, updating and renewing the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) will boost human development and advance U.S. economic and national security interests in this continent of fast-growing markets and unparalleled human potential. Africans want and need greater economic engagement with the United States to build a better future. Our relative absence, commercial and otherwise, creates a dangerous void being filled by rivals who don’t share our ideals and aspirations–a bad outcome for all. On the African continent, as elsewhere, implementation of a trade-based US economic engagement strategy today may well obviate the costly need for security-based crisis response tomorrow.

If the United States–home to the best products and companies on the planet–squanders these three opportunities to build prosperity and relationships through enhanced trade, then we lose. If we fail to set the example needed to help lift millions out of poverty, not by the caliber of arms but by the power of free and efficient markets and healthy economic competition, then the world loses.

As always, American leadership remains the indispensable element. That leadership should begin with Congress granting President Obama trade promotion authority. For four decades, that’s how Congress has worked with every President–Republican and Democrat alike–to help America speak with a single voice and strike deals that advance our nation’s economic and strategic interests.

The words of General Eisenhower ring as true today as when he first uttered them: “If we fail in our trade policy, we may fail in all. Our domestic employment, our standard of living, our security, and the solidarity of the free world–all are involved.”

General James L. Jones served as National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and Commandant of the US Marine Corps.

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