A recent article authored by Foreign Policy’s Robert Zoellick sheds light on a disturbing contemporary trend: U.S. leaders’ unwillingness to tackle the macro-level issues of national stability and prosperity. Zoellick correctly implies that policymakers (as a whole) appear content to focus on security and economics as if they are separate and mutually exclusive, when in reality that is far from the case. He observes:
“Consider the foreign-policy debates of this U.S. election year. Journalists and commentators expound about wars and rumors of wars, political leaders and upheavals, human rights and duties to intervene, missiles and their defense. All serious and important topics. But how about a question on the eurozone crisis that threatens the integration of Europe, one of the 20th century’s greatest security-policy achievements and America’s closest ally and partner? What about America’s connections to growth in East Asia, where economics is the coin of the realm? The reply is that these topics concern economics, not foreign policy”
This trend manifested itself yet again last Thursday in the vice-presidential debate, where Joe Biden and Paul Ryan dutifully hashed out their respective platforms on a plethora of topics from domestic entitlement programs to diplomatic security in the Middle East. It’s certainly reassuring to know that top-level officials have a grasp on the nitty-gritty details necessary to make informed policy decisions that have ramifications on Americans’ security and economic well-being. But the political rhetoric over seemingly minute details or “he-said, she-said” games causes the officials most responsible for America’s continued international preeminence to lose sight of the national overarching goals.
Strategy, at the national level, should not be limited to a particular military operation or budget reduction measure; rather, it should address how foreign and domestic policies must be coordinated in the best interest of the country. It’s true that strategic thinking is necessary in more limited realms, but a well-reasoned response to Iran or a decreased credit rating must be considered in a global context. Executive branch agencies and institutions like the Federal Reserve have the tools – both in terms of personnel and budget allocations – to tackle the details that sustain America’s security and prosperity, but the president and Congress must drive a cohesive effort by federal bureaucracies.
Economics and security are the dual purview of foreign policy. The three D’s – defense, diplomacy, and development – all depend on the strength of the nation as a whole. With foreign and domestic policy so closely intertwined, it is a huge liability for any policymaker to treat the issues as if they exist in isolation. The American electorate must be aware of the need for a unified national strategy and use the upcoming election to hold the president-elect and 113th Congress accountable to follow through on it.