FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: Essays for the Presidency

A Democrat Looks at Foreign Policy

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton reaches out to shake hands during an airport rally in Wilkes-Barre, November 1, 1992. Win McNamee / Reuters

The world has turned upside down, but U.S. foreign policy has been slow to change. We have failed to develop a coherent strategy for the future—a successor to containment. A Republican sits in the White House, but Democrats also bear responsibility for foreign policy inertia. Democrats have ceded the field of foreign affairs to the president, let him set the agenda and not challenged him often enough on the specifics of policy. The result has been drift.

It is now up to Democrats to articulate a more compelling American foreign policy. Democrats have the opportunity to redefine the concept of national security and to strike a better balance between domestic and foreign affairs, and between leadership and partnership. The issues are no longer communist expansion and nuclear survival, but economic competitiveness, weapons proliferation, support for democracy, protection of the environment and the fight against human misery. The task is one of redefining America’s role in the world.


America is the preeminent power today. Its economy is still the world’s most productive. Militarily it is the world’s only superpower. Countries and peoples around the world still admire its democratic political system and free-market economy.

Nevertheless, while we find reasons to celebrate our foreign policy successes, we find ourselves threatened at home: by recession, crises in our cities, in our education and health care systems, persistent budget and trade deficits, and a growing sense of political paralysis.

Domestic problems have made the American public ambivalent about the U.S. role in the world. Americans are proud of their country’s international leadership, but they worry about its burdens. They want to see greater contributions from our allies. They are convinced that we could better solve domestic problems if we scaled back commitments overseas. Public opposition to foreign assistance is strong. Calls for deep cuts in defense spending are growing. Yet, when asked, Americans say they do not want the United States to relinquish its special place in

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