Republicans need to start taking foreign policy more seriously, thinking hard about the thorny task of managing a superpower and not leaving it as a plaything for right-wing interest groups. Failure to do so quickly could be catastrophic, ceding this ground to Democrats for the a generation at least.
THE GENERATIONAL CHALLENGE
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that killed nearly three thousand Americans were signposts of a new era, a turning point in our history. Terrorism is a historic and existential challenge that redefines traditional notions of security, and combating it must be at the top of the nation's agenda and therefore at the core of a Republican foreign policy. But the war on terrorism cannot be considered in isolation, without taking into account the wider crisis of governance throughout the developing world, especially in the greater Middle East.
In taking military action against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, President George W. Bush understood that the war on terrorism must be more than the rightful use of military force. There must be a U.S. purpose commensurate with our use of power. As President Bush told a joint session of Congress on January 29, 2002, "we have a greater objective than eliminating threats and containing resentment. We seek a just and peaceful world beyond the war on terror."
A wise foreign policy recognizes that U.S. leadership is determined as much by our commitment to principle as by our exercise of power. Foreign policy is the bridge between the United States and the world, and between the past, the present, and the future. The United States must grasp the forces of change, including the power of a restless and unpredictable new generation that is coming of age throughout the world. Trust and confidence in U.S. leadership and intentions are critical to shaping a vital global connection with this next generation.
The challenges to U.S. leadership and security will come not from rival global powers, but from weak states. Terrorism finds sanctuary in failed or failing states, in unresolved regional conflicts, and in the misery of endemic poverty and despair. Rogue regimes that support terrorism seek legitimacy and power through the possession of weapons of mass destruction, rather than from the will of their people. Terrorism and proliferation go hand in glove with the challenges of failed and failing states.
Five billion of the world's six billion people live in less developed regions. Most of the world's population growth in this century will come from these regions, where nearly one in three people is under the age of 15. As this younger generation grows into adulthood, it will be the greatest force for change in world politics in the first half of the twenty-first century. Many governments in the developing world, especially in Africa, the greater Middle East, and Asia, will not be able to meet the basic demands of their growing populations for jobs, health care, and security. Although poverty and despair do not "cause" terrorism, they provide a fertile environment for it to prosper. The strains of demography, frustrated economic development, and authoritarian governments contribute to radicalized populations and politics. The developing world's crisis of governance thus cannot be separated from the United States' greater global interests. This is the context in which discussions of current foreign policy must be understood.
A REPUBLICAN FOREIGN POLICY
Traditionally, a Republican foreign policy has been anchored by a commitment to a strong national defense. The world's problems will not be solved by the military alone, but force remains the first and last line of defense of U.S. freedom and security. When used judiciously, it is an essential instrument of U.S. power and foreign policy. Terrorists or states that attack the United States should expect a swift and violent response.
Republicans recognize that strength abroad begins with strength at home. U.S. resources require wise and judicious management. Deficits and entitlement programs, if unchecked, will undermine confidence in our economy, impede economic growth and investment, make the United States less competitive, and erode our position as a world economic leader. U.S. policymakers will then be forced to make hard choices between national security and domestic priorities.
Americans must be educated about the realities of the global economy and the commitments of global leadership. Our education policies should emphasize foreign languages, culture, and history, and create more incentives and programs for study abroad. We must also prepare students and workers for those industries and services that will provide the United States a comparative advantage in the global economy in the first part of the twenty-first century.
Republicans understand that a successful foreign policy must be not only strong but sustainable. A sustainable policy requires a domestic consensus and commitment. This begins with strong presidential leadership and vision about the United States' role in the world. The president's national security team must be unified and cohesive. That does not mean different points of view should not be tolerated; different perspectives are imperative in the formulation of any sustainable policy. But once a decision has been made, palace intrigues and personal dramas must not be allowed to infect policy and the implementation of that policy. Only a president can bring this effort together. Congress also has a constitutional role and responsibility to help shape U.S. foreign policy. Without congressional engagement and support, U.S. foreign policy will lack legitimacy and sustainability.
A lack of consensus at home means foreign policy trouble abroad. This was one of the lessons of Vietnam, where the United States, divided at home and isolated abroad, failed to succeed in Southeast Asia.
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