- By Will InbodenWill Inboden is Executive Director of the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for History, Strategy, and Statecraft at the University of Texas-Austin. He also serves as Associate Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Distinguished Scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.
In the prevailing debates about American foreign policy, it seems that some of the emerging fault lines fall across each political party more than between them. Tom Wright argued this point persuasively here the other week when he identified the competing camps of "restrainers" and "shapers" among the Democrats contending for control of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. A similar dynamic is in play among Republicans as emerging Senate leaders such as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio seek to point the party either in the foreign policy tradition of Robert Taft‘s restrained unilateralism or of Ronald Reagan‘s assertive internationalism.
Against this backdrop, I wanted to follow up on Dan Twining’s thoughtful post on the release today of the "Setting Priorities for American Leadership" report by the Project for a United and Strong America. [In full disclosure, along with Dan and several other Shadow Government contributors, I also served on the task force that helped produce the document]. Notably, the report was crafted by a bipartisan collection of foreign policy experts with experience in the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama administrations and offers a blueprint for a national security strategy for the United States. During this season of acute partisan division, I think the fact that such a bipartisan group could come together in agreement is notable in its own right, and I hope it is at least a modest indicator of the possibilities of bipartisan consensus on American national security priorities and policies.
Of course many articulate critics of American foreign policy from both the left and the right lament this very notion of "bipartisan consensus." In their minds, American national security policy has been captured and institutionalized by a Beltway monopoly in both parties that overpays for the defense budget, overcommits American resources abroad, overstretches our military, and overpromises what American foreign policy can actually deliver – regardless of which party controls the White House. In a time of almost unprecedented fiscal constraints and national exhaustion from multiple prolonged wars, such a critique is understandable and must be considered. But it also has its own internal contradictions and inadequacies and in my mind is ultimately insufficient as a guide to what America’s role in the world should be. I hope the Obama administration will resist the seductions of adopting a more passive international role, though recent signs are not encouraging. Hence I’m happy to endorse the effort by the Project for a United and Strong America to reassert the need for American global leadership even amidst austerity — not because it is easy or without its downsides, but because it is a better course than all of the other alternatives. I hope Shadow Government readers will also find the report an edifying read.