In Search of an American Foreign Policy

By Howell, Llewellyn D. | USA TODAY, September 2004 | Go to article overview

In Search of an American Foreign Policy


Howell, Llewellyn D., USA TODAY


HIS ACCEPTANCE SPEECH was superb. A tone of strength and military readiness was set. In fact, this emphasis was almost overwhelming. It certainly overwhelmed any sense of foreign policy, let alone considerations of "it's the economy" that carried Bill Clinton into the White House. Now John Kerry's website does not even include a reference to foreign policy. National Security, yes. Homeland Security, yes. The environment, yes. But no foreign policy.

George W. Bush's website looks the same. Tabs across the top are for Economy, Compassion, Health Care, Education, Homeland Security, National Security, and Environment. American foreign policy has been disassembled and it has disappeared.

During the Cold War, foreign policy was coherent because everything was focused on the Soviet Union. "Containment," crafted as a policy by diplomat George F. Kennan and implemented by Pres. Harry S. Truman, provided a unifying philosophy that brought otherwise isolated segments together. We do not have a foreign policy anymore. What we have is a piecemeal set of responses to crises, issues, and challenges. This is the case for Republicans and Democrats. Pres. Bush may have conducted a war of choice in Iraq, but it does not seem to have been an element of concerted policy. It was an isolated act.

So, a critical question has become, "Do we need a foreign policy?," not just what is or should be American foreign policy. The answer has to be in the positive if for no other reason than the fact that, without coordination across all the factors that constitute the U.S.'s relationship with other nations, groups, and institutions, the initiatives all fall to enemies and rivals. We sit and wait for the next attack from Al Qaeda and play defense all the time. We never score.

In American Foreign Policy in the Nuclear Age, Cecil V. Crabb, Jr., speaks of U.S. foreign policy as being the national objectives of the American people and the means of achieving those objectives. Lost somewhere in the last couple of decades is that construct of policy being a representation of the people. Objectives have become day-to-day, achievements measured in single events and micro accomplishments. Crabb, writing in 1965, was quick to emphasize even then the preeminence of national security. He explained that the goal of a national security policy is the "preservation of the identity of the nation, which is a basic premise underlying the attainment of other foreign policy goals." Simple survival is a means, not an end.

What seems to be missing in the campaign against Al Qaeda and in the war in Iraq is the larger sense of what will make the U.S. more secure and some sense of what the larger objectives of the American people are. They remain as tactical wars, with unclear links to national strategy.

Both normative philosophers like John F. Kennedy, Jr., and empiricists like Rudolph Rummel long have insisted that democracies do not fight each other and that a more democratic world will be a safer world. …

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