Grand Strategy for a Divided America

MIND THE GAP

The United States is in the midst of a polarized and bruising debate about the nature and scope of its engagement with the world. The current reassessment is only the latest of many; ever since the United States' rise as a global power, its leaders and citizens have regularly scrutinized the costs and benefits of foreign ambition. In 1943, Walter Lippmann offered a classic formulation of the issue. "In foreign relations," Lippmann wrote, "as in all other relations, a policy has been formed only when commitments and power have been brought into balance.... The nation must maintain its objectives and its power in equilibrium, its purposes within its means and its means equal to its purposes."

Although Lippmann was mindful of the economic costs of global engagement, his primary concern was the political "solvency" of U.S. foreign policy, not the adequacy of the United States' material resources. He lamented the divisive partisanship that had so often prevented the United States from finding "a settled and generally accepted foreign policy." "This is a danger to the Republic," he warned. "For when a people is divided within itself about the conduct of its foreign relations, it is unable to agree on the determination of its true interest. It is unable to prepare adequately for war or to safeguard successfully its peace.... The spectacle of this great nation which does not know its own mind is as humiliating as it is dangerous." Lippmann's worries would prove unfounded; in the face of World War II and the onset of the Cold War, the bitter partisanship of the past gave way to a broad consensus on foreign policy that was to last for the next five decades.

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