Grand Strategy: The Four Pillars of the Future
Tectonic shifts in international affairs and in political and economic conditions within the United States call for reconsideration of the first principles of American grand strategy—the fundamental tenets guiding the nation’s statecraft. The global landscape is fast changing due to the ongoing diffusion of wealth from the West to the rest and the social awakenings taking place in the Middle East and beyond. At home, Democrats and Republicans are locking horns on most foreign policy issues and on how to control debt and stimulate growth; the resulting political stalemate risks compromising the purposeful exercise of U.S. power and eroding the economic foundations of national strength. Meanwhile, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a shrinking defense budget have diminished the political appetite for sustaining the full portfolio of America’s global commitments.
American grand strategy needs to adjust to these potent international and domestic constraints. The alternative is an erratic statecraft that switches direction as power changes hands in Washington. Worse still, partisan paralysis, especially when coupled with economic duress, has the potential to stoke isolationist sentiment, just as it did during the 1930s. A world in the midst of tectonic change can ill afford an America that is not up to the task of providing steady and enlightened leadership.
In this new era, a progressive grand strategy for safeguarding the nation’s interests should rest on four first principles. To begin, grand strategy and national power start at home—with political and economic solvency. Only if the United States recovers consensus and prosperity will it have the political purpose needed to provide effective leadership in a changing world. Second, the United States must rebalance means and ends by pursuing a judicious retrenchment; the nation needs to bring its strategic commitments back into line with its interests, resources, and public will. Third, Washington should work with emerging powers to fashion a more inclusive and representative global order—one that updates, but preserves, a rules-based international system. Fourth, the United States should breathe new life into the Atlantic community. As countries that practice authoritarian capitalism rise in power and influence, the democracies of the West need to continue to serve as the anchor of liberal values and progressive change.
On each of these four fundamental dimensions of grand strategy, conservatives offer stark alternatives—but ones that promise only to lead the United States astray. Progressives are the inheritors of the liberal and internationalist foreign policy traditions that have served the United States so well since the 1940s. They must now reclaim and rejuvenate these traditions and ensure that they triumph over the illusory alternatives.
Restore Political and Economic Solvency
The conduct of American statecraft is traditionally viewed as a preserve of bipartisan cooperation. But as Peter Trubowitz and I have argued, political division over foreign policy has been the norm, not the exception, in American history. Indeed, polarization over matters of foreign policy has frequently frustrated efforts to advance the nation’s security. During its early decades, the United States was deeply divided over whether to tilt toward Britain or France, whether to embrace protectionism or free trade, and whether to industrialize and amass military power or remain agrarian and distant from geopolitical aspiration. The discord continued into the twentieth century, contributing to the Senate’s rejection of U.S. participation in the League of Nations and to the retreat to isolationism in the 1930s.
Following World War II, a bipartisan foreign policy consensus emerged, which, although sorely tested by the Vietnam War, continued through the end of the Cold War. But that consensus has since been lost. Congressional bipartisanship on foreign policy has sunk to lows not seen since the 1930s. Partisan confrontation on issues ranging from defense spending to global warming means that party often gets put before nation, that diplomatic inconstancy follows power shifts in Washington, and that the United States is poised to respond to global change with political stalemate rather than timely strategic adjustment.
The progressive response to the collapse of bipartisan cooperation on matters of national security should be two-fold. First, Democrats should follow President Obama’s lead and continue efforts to restore the postwar tradition of stopping partisan politics at water’s edge. A combination of ideology and party discipline encourages Republicans to make this task singularly difficult, giving progressives legitimate reason to question the merits of reaching across the aisle. But Democrats have little choice; although the president is commander-in-chief, many aspects of statecraft—resources for diplomacy and defense, treaties, the sustained use of force, trade deals—require congressional consent. Like it or not, progressives must continue the fight to rebuild consensus behind America’s role in the world.
Second, renewing the nation’s economic health is vital to advancing its national security. Fiscal solvency, industrial capacity, and technological prowess are essential ingredients of military primacy. So too is broadly shared prosperity a precondition for political solvency. The bipartisan consensus that emerged after World War II rested on the rising economy’s dampening effect on partisan cleavages. Today, unemployment, stagnating wages, and growing inequality are all contributing to ideological polarization. Accordingly, progressives should be unequivocal in linking American leadership in the world to a responsible domestic program of spending cuts, revenue increases, and strategic investment in infrastructure and jobs. Reviving economic growth, reducing unemployment and income inequality, improving education—these are prerequisites for rebuilding the economic base on which national power rests and restoring the political consensus needed to guide U.S. statecraft. The first first principle of a progressive agenda is that political and economic renewal at home is the indispensable foundation for strength abroad.
Post a Comment