A Liberal Patriot Foreign Policy
Five pillars for America’s global strategy
When it comes to U.S. foreign policy, over the past twenty years it’s been the best of times and it’s been the worst of times.
On the one hand, it was a rough period: the 9/11 terrorist attacks, two long and inconclusive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a global financial crash, the increasing impact of climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic all strained an international system already under pressure. A gated community mindset led to harsh anti-immigration measures in America and Europe, while illiberal political movements on the right and left rose in America came at a time when freedom in the world continued to recede.
At the same time, America’s overall economy doubled from around $11 trillion at the start of this century to nearly $24 trillion today. Technological progress and globalization produced major gains in the lives of ordinary Americans and lifted billions out of poverty overseas even though it created new political challenges at home and abroad. As economic gaps between haves and have-nots opened wider, some of the deadliest threats to Americans come from within: guns, drug abuse, and other social ills.
Step back for a moment from the daily discord in America’s politics and social media, though, and a more clinical and balanced picture of U.S. foreign policy emerges: an approach to the world that has some problems, yes, but still retains significant advantages over geopolitical rivals.
Freedom: Values remain a critical element in global competition, and America still holds an edge - as the war in Ukraine and ongoing protests in Iran attest. The contest of ideas remains central to today’s geopolitical competition, with some countries such as China touting their own political-economic system as a viable alternative to liberal democracy while others like Russia aim simply to tear down others. U.S. foreign policy needs to operate with a clear values framework, and America should be pragmatic about how it seeks to blend efforts to advance its values with traditional interests – all the more so when we’re in the midst of a global democratic recession and face strains on America’s democracy at home.
Security: Protecting Americans from threats remains a top priority, and to do that most Americans want their country to remained engaged in the world with partners. Accordingly, America needs a defense and security policy that matches its global responsibilities. Keeping citizens safe is still job number one for any democratic government, and the United States can do this effectively and efficiently only if it continues invest in its own defense and foster an unparalleled network of alliances and partnerships around the world.
Prosperity and Abundance: America’s still-unrivaled economic power should benefit ordinary Americans, but the U.S. government still needs to find ways to link America’s foreign policy with an abundance and prosperity agenda at home. Americans are looking to their leaders to boost our workers and companies at home by investing in our ability to compete with others in the world economy. America’s emerging national industrial policy has become a vital component of a pro-America foreign policy, one that’s come from the middle lane of America’s foreign policy debate rather than its extremes on right or left. As it advances this new national industrial policy, the United States should look to build economic ties with like-minded partners around the globe rather than dabble in nativism or protectionism.
Unity: Most Americans want to see their leaders work together to protect them from threats and give America’s workers and companies a competitive edge in the world. Too often, elite U.S. foreign policy debates result in bitter divisions that only confuse the American public and create openings for America’s competitors and adversaries in the world to meddle in our own politics. Instead, we should seek to widen the center lane of America’s foreign policy debate. After all, most Americans want to see their leaders work together to protect the country and give Americans a competitive edge in the world.
Solidarity: America’s leaders and foreign policy experts need to talk about global affairs in ways that connect with ordinary Americans. Political leaders and foreign policy experts need to speak more directly and clearly about U.S. foreign policy to wider audiences – not just fellow think-tankers and government officials. America likewise needs a shared national story, and this includes the need for America’s leaders to communicate a clear narrative about foreign policy that shows they recognize the deeper need for national solidarity felt by many Americans.
A foreign policy that adopts these principles can win political support at home and strengthen America’s position in the world. Conversely, a foreign policy that grants too much credence to voices on left and right who call for America to retreat behind its own borders will face bankruptcy gradually, then suddenly. That’s something neither America nor the world can afford given the challenges freedom, prosperity, and democracy now face.