No More Partisan Foreign Policy

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Beyond the gloomy prospects of renewed political polarization after Election Day, of House Republican vows to relentlessly investigate a new Democratic president – presuming, of course, that we avoid the nightmare of a Trump victory – hopeful signs of bipartisan progress are emerging in foreign policy.

Across the foreign policy establishment, key Democratic and Republican figures are coalescing around a more robust approach to foreign affairs that reflects Hillary Clinton’s longstanding view of how the United States should operate on the world stage.

Meanwhile, by virtue of the people who occupy key positions in Congress, and presuming they continue to do so, the pieces will be in place for more bipartisan policymaking between the president and Congress.

“Let me underscore the importance of the United States continuing to lead in the Middle East, in North Africa and around the world,” Clinton, then secretary of state, told Congress in her last testimony before leaving office in early 2013. “When America is absent, especially from unstable environments, there are consequences. Extremism takes root; our interests suffer; our security at home is threatened.”

That’s music to the ears of such key figures as Democrat Madeleine Albright, who served as President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state; Republican Stephen Hadley, who served as President George W. Bush’s national security adviser; and Robert Kagan, a leading neoconservative thinker – all of whom are calling for stronger U.S. action vis-à-vis Iran, Syria, Russia and other global challenges.

President Obama has mocked the “playbook” of America’s foreign policy establishment that he thought was too quick to promote U.S. military action, telling The Atlantic early this year, “Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap. … You get judged harshly if you don’t follow [it], even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”

Obama brought a different playbook, reducing America’s footprint abroad and realigning relations with allies and adversaries. He steered a global nuclear agreement with Iran in hopes of warmer ties with a hostile Tehran, largely ignored Iran’s subsequent military provocations against the United States, dismissed advice to more forcefully address Syria’s humanitarian horror, disparaged Israel over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sought to “reset” relations with a confrontational Russia and invited Moscow to play a larger role in the Middle East. Though not single-handedly, Obama has helped destabilize the global order.

“The American-led international order that has been prevalent since World War II is now under threat,” Martin Indyk, a diplomatic veteran of multiple Democratic administrations, including Obama’s, told The Washington Post recently. “The question is how to restore and renovate it.”

In the same spirit, said Philip Gordon, who was a senior foreign policy adviser to Obama, “There’s a widespread perception that not being active enough or recognizing the limits of American power has costs. So the normal swing is to be more interventionist.”

Albright and Hadley are co-chairing the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force to help foster a new global consensus on how to address the growing chaos across the Middle East, which, in their words, is witnessing “a century-old political order unravel, an unprecedented struggle for power within and between states and the rise of extremist elements that have already exacted a devastating human and economic toll on the region.”

To capitalize on this growing consensus in foreign policy circles, which reflects her basic approach to U.S. foreign policy, a President Hillary Clinton would have eager partners at key positions on Capitol Hill.

At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Chairman Bob Corker and top Democrat Ben Cardin are centrists, not ideological bomb throwers, and they’d surely welcome an opportunity to work with a more accommodating, less go-it-alone president than the current one.

The same is true at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where the chairman is Republican Ed Royce and the top Democrat is Eliot Engel. Among members and staff, that panel operates in a strikingly bipartisan manner that contrasts sharply with the growing partisanship in the House. Royce and Engel, too, would welcome a more collaborative president.

In the late 1940s, as the Soviet Union emerged as the new global threat to U.S. national security, President Harry Truman, a Democrat, and Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, a Republican, worked in close bipartisan fashion to enunciate the doctrines and build the architecture of what became the U.S.-led order.

Starting in 2017, a President Clinton may well find ready allies in both parties on Capitol Hill for an approach that would reassert U.S. global leadership and strengthen the international order that has grown shaky of late.

Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is the author of the new book Harry and Arthur: Truman, Vandenberg, and the Partnership That Created the Free World.


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