(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.
“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 Modernizing an outdated immigration policy.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.