Reviving Liberal Republicanism in America
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Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy

 
 

Haass, Richard A. Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America’s House in Order. New York: Basic Books, 2013.

 (This book’s subtitle could be “Make America Great Again: A Non-Delusional How-To Guide”)

 As the actual title of Richard Haass’ excellent book Foreign Policy Begins At Home suggests, Dr. Haass argues for an American foreign policy he calls “Restoration.” He argues that the historic strength of the US economy and political system, and the example it has set for other countries around the world, has been one of America’s most important foreign policy assets. He also argues that after the 2008 economic blowout, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, these assets have been tarnished.

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 “The biggest threat to America’s security and prosperity comes not from abroad but from within. The United States has jeopardized its ability to act effectively in the world because of runaway domestic spending, underinvestment in human and physical capital, an avoidable financial crisis, an unnecessarily slow recovery, a war in Iraq that was flawed from the outset and a war in Afghanistan that became flawed as its purpose evolved, recurring fiscal deficits, and deep political divisions. For the United States to continue to act successfully abroad, it must restore the domestic foundations of its power. Foreign policy needs to begin at home, now and for the foreseeable future.”

 “Restoration is… a prerequisite for effective American leadership‎. Only by putting it’s house in order will the United States have the resources needed to act in the world in a meaningful way, set an example others will be tempted to follow, and signal a latent capacity that will discourage would-be rivals and adversaries from crossing the line.”

 

Dr. Haass highlights five elements he sees as core to American Restoration:

 1. Reducing the federal deficit and the ratio of national debt to GDP,

 2. Putting into place a comprehensive energy strategy,

 3. Improving the quality of education,

 4. Upgrading the country’s infrastructure, and

 5. Modernizing an outdated immigration policy.

 

He makes other practical and reasonable suggestions, including:

 “[S]hortcomings here at home directly threaten America’s ability to project power and exert influence overseas, to compete in the global marketplace, to generate the resources needed to promote the full range of US interests abroad, and to set a compelling example that will influence the thinking and behavior of others. As a result, the ability of the United States to act and lead in the world is diminishing. I would prefer not to test the notion that this country requires a full-fledged crisis, be it in the form of a run on the dollar or some catastrophe brought about by terrorists or nature, to get its government to do what needs doing, in part because if it does, it will be that much more painful and expensive to address the shortcomings of America’s economy, schools, immigration policy, infrastructure, and much more.”

 Dr. Haass’ recommendations could in themselves form a substantial part of a Liberal Republican platform. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration does not appear willing to adopt any of it, perhaps with the exception of restoring the competitiveness of America’s infrastructure. But the Trump Administration, having put tax cuts ahead of infrastructure upgrades, may well have doomed future attempts to meaningfully restore old infrastructure, and build new cutting-edge Twenty-First Century infrastructure. Let’s hope not.


Mahbubani, Kishore. The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East. Reprint edition. PublicAffairs, 2009.

The author of the New Asian Hemisphere, Kishore Mahbubani, is the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. Mahbubani spent decades in Singapore’s diplomatic service, including  in New York as Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He served twice as the President of the United Nations Security Council.

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In The New Asian Hemisphere, Mahbubani asks whether Western democracies have been hijacked by processes of competitive populism and structural short-termism that prevent their addressing long-term challenges from a broader global perspective. I suspect that today there are a lot of Americans of all political stripes who would answer that question in the affirmative.‎

 Mahbubani also describes how, for most of the previous three centuries, the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America were objects of world history. The decisions that drove history were made in a few Western capitals. He also describes how, for a long time but no longer, it was commonplace for Asians to believe that their lives ‎were determined by fate. “Whatever would happen happened.” This Asian belief in the inevitability of destiny has gradually receded in favor of a belief that hard work does affect how you and the people you care about will live–that one can improve one’s life through one’s own efforts.[1] Mahbubani claims that this change in outlook has materially contributed to Asia’s incredible economic growth.‎

 

Is the opposite belief now taking hold in America? Americans have been buffeted by forces they feel are outside of their control. Are such feelings responsible for many Americans dropping out of the labor force or becoming addicted to‎ opioids?

 Americans of all economic classes remain dramatically better off than most people living in Asia, Africa and Latin America. But, is the direction and rate of change in people’s lives actually more important than their absolute level of comfort, once they have security, food and shelter?[2] And, if so, how should this influence public policy in America? ‎

 I believe that Liberal Republican politics should recognize both the importance of policies that facilitate economic growth and the need for such growth to be widely shared. Only then can Americans recover the optimism that has historically characterized our country.[3]

[1] There is a famous scene in the movie Lawrence of Arabia about the belief in fate versus individual effort controlling one’s destinyLawrence (Peter O’Toole) goes back into a supposedly uncrossable desert to rescue his assistant, whom Lawrence discovers had fallen off his camel during an all night ride somewhere in the vast desert. Lawrence’s colleague, Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif), says that Lawrence will die if he goes back into the desert to try to rescue his assistant, telling Lawrence that “it is written” that his assistant would meet his fate that night in the desert. Lawrence goes anyway and miraculously returns with his assistant. Upon returning, and before even taking a drink of water, he tells Sherif Ali, “Nothing is written.” ‎Are we headed towards a world where Asians will need to be telling Americans that “nothing is written”? (Lawrence of Arabia is a fabulous movie, well worth watching or rewatching if you saw it long ago. And while you are at it, watch Dr. Zhivago too‎, also a grand epic made by David Lean, and also starring Omar Sharif.)

[2] “A good government is expected not only to carry on and maintain standards. It is expected to raise them. And it is ultimately in the sphere of economics that results must be achieved. More jobs must be created; more prosperity diffused amongst more people.” Lee Kuan Yew, quoted in Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights.

[3] For a further discussion of the importance of economic growth from a liberal perspective, see Benjamin Friedman’s The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth.