James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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A Bipartisan Strategy for U.S. Global Leadership

by Guest Blogger for James M. Lindsay
March 7, 2013

President Barack Obama shakes hands with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) before Obama's 2012 State of the Union address (Larry Downing/ Courtesy Reuters). President Barack Obama shakes hands with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) before Obama's 2012 State of the Union address (Larry Downing/ Courtesy Reuters).

A bipartisan task force calling itself the Project for a United and Strong America (PUSA) released a report today, entitled “Setting Priorities for American Leadership,” outlining its ideas for a national security strategy to guide the Obama administration’s second term. PUSA is co-chaired by Kurt Volker, who served as ambassador to NATO under George W. Bush and is now executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, and James Goldgeier, a member of the National Security Council staff under Bill Clinton and now dean of the School of International Service at American University. [Full disclosure: Jim and I have co-authored one or two things over the years.] My colleague, Mark Lagon, helped write the report. I asked him to explain the strategy that the report is advocating. 

Despite pressures to scale back in a time of fiscal austerity, the report calls for setting priorities and targeting resources more strategically based on three core principles: (1) a foundation of American strength, (2) a proactive global leadership role, and (3) a values-based foreign policy that advances democracy and human rights.

As for fiscal matters, the strategy calls for getting the U.S. economic house in order as a high priority, echoing the CFR’s Renewing American Initiative.  The report notes that “sustaining the resource commitments that advance our long-term national security interests will require a serious bipartisan effort to reduce the national debt.”

The report calls for a pro-active U.S. global leadership role, stressing that the United States must not let declinism become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But as its most significant “takeaway,” this bipartisan report stresses that strategic prioritization must not myopically interpret the values of markets and democracy as lying outside of core U.S. interests.  The bloom is off the rose of the “Washington Consensus” and neoliberal economics of the Clinton era.  There is broad discomfort with the way promotion of democracy over tyranny (recalling President George W. Bush’s second inaugural) was implemented, or failed to be, in places like Pakistan and Egypt.  The Arab Spring in the Obama era seems to be stalled or foundering, from Cairo to Damascus.

Yet the report strongly makes the case for promoting markets and democracy as integral to U.S. interests in a reprioritized U.S. global strategy.  As such the Task Force also calls for sustaining foreign aid levels, which it says can often be more cost effective than other means of advancing American interests.

In fact, one of three new strategic opportunities the blueprint emphasizes is a more robust approach to support democratic transitions in the Middle East.  The other two are pursuit of new free trade and open market initiatives—including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and transatlantic single market—as well as a new initiative to advance prosperity and development in Africa.

Despite their rise, powers like Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey, South Africa, and South Korea have not become burden-shouldering stakeholders, and global governance still depends on the U.S. as the central catalyst, if no longer the unipolar hegemonic guarantor of the rules of the road.  The report’s premise is that there is a dire need to rejuvenate bipartisanship behind a common vision to sustain U.S. leadership in the world.

Two days after last November’s election, in the winner’s hometown newspaper, I weighed in that the party under which I served in Congress and the State Department needs to embrace that dire need for comity across the aisle.  The kind of cooperation I witnessed firsthand and staffed between then-Senators Joe Biden and Jesse Helms to reform the UN and pay up U.S. dues must become the norm again, not the exception.

In short, this strategy is best seen as “by two parties, for two parties.”   More aptly, it is seen as “by all of America, for the world.”  I encourage you to read the strategy and to weigh in with your thoughts on what  it argues in the comment box below.

 

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  • Posted by David Shorr

    I was one of the participants in the project and also am a friend and sometime co-author of Mark Lagon’s. The last graf of your post is well put. While we participants were all approaching this as Americans, realistically there was no way to shed our partisan perspectives — a point I just stressed in the following blog post: http://bit.ly/XVDc3X

    Then on the issue of the national debt, this was an issue very much on my mind as a progressive. The freak-out over deficit spending in the American political has elided the key distinction between our short- and longer-term challenges and given short shrift to recovery and employment. A closer reading of a paragraph you quote shows the report’s attempt to be more balanced about debt and growth.

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