New American Arsenal
I attended a briefing today at the National Press Club featuring some board members of the American Security Project promoting what they have dubbed “A New American Arsenal.” The bipartisan group, headed by Gary Hart and featuring the likes of John Kerry, Ken Duberstein, Richard Armitage, and several retired flag officers urges a return of a bipartisan foreign policy consensus and, more concretely, a rethinking of “national security policy” to encompass more than just military issues.
It was an interesting talk and I look forward to reading the report in detail. There are, however, two basic problems that need to be overcome.
First, the panel shares an undue fondness for the past, which they mistakenly recall as a time when “politics stopped at the water’s edge” and policy could be debated in a spirit of bipartisan comity. The reality, of course, is different. As bitter as the fight over Iraq is, it pales in comparison to the split over Vietnam. Foreign policy has been a tool of political campaigns for decades; certainly, it has been key to most Republican victories over the last 30-odd years. And the idea that the past was a golden era where everyone abroad loved the United States and looked to us for guidance is simply absurd. Ronald Reagan had every bit as many problems selling missile defense, the placement of Pershing IIs in Germany, and so forth as George W. Bush is having now.
Second, a bipartisan approach to foreign policy — which I heartily support in principle — can often be platitudinous. Here is the outline of the Arsenal:
• Building new alliances and international frameworks to fight extremists by coordinating military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies and creating a sustainable international legal framework to combat terrorist movements;
• Countering and undermining jihadist ideology in a more effective battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world by expanding development assistance, trade and investment opportunities and health and education programs to raise economic prospects and increasing public diplomacy; and
• Investing in alternative energy to begin to diversify energy sources for us and our allies.
• Strengthening the international concert of oil importing nations by encouraging the International Energy Association to admit China and India to its ranks;
• Diversifying U.S. energy supplies by encouraging investment in environmentally responsible development of new oil and gas fields and renewable energy and expanding domestic refining capacity; and
• Doubling annual U.S. investment in research and development of alternative energy, including hydrogen, clean coal and renewables.
• Actively leading the negotiation of an enforceable international framework to reverse global warming that is compatible with continued economic development;
• Leading by example by adopting rigorous climate policies and investing in clean energy; and
• Preparing now for the global consequences associated with predicted climate change, such as climate refugees and tropical disease migration.
• Taking the lead in creating a new international consensus opposed to nuclear proliferation that can mount meaningful economic, political, and even military sanctions to deter and dissuade would-be proliferators;
• Strengthening existing international frameworks, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;
• Changing the calculation states make of the cost and benefit in the pursuit of nuclear arms; and
• Preventing terrorist organizations from acquiring and using nuclear weapons.
With the possible exception of IEA expansion, a topic that’s sufficiently obscure as to be off my radar screen, this is all incredibly uncontroversial. There’s some genuine debate on how to deal with terrorism and whether change is something that requires substantial government action but there’s plenty of consensus at the level of these bullet points.
The problem, as Kerry himself admits, is actually building the political consensus to formulate and enact public policy surrounding these things. That’s much, much harder than agreeing on an outline. The hope, I suppose, is that having people of such high profile reaching across the aisle to speak on these issues will help forge consensus for action. I hope that’s the case.